The father of all research projects
November 1, 2013
Breadwinner. Authority figure. Affectionate at times, perhaps, but in a remote sort of way.
Playful, loving, cooing, willing and able to change a diaper when duty calls.
With a younger generation of men in developing countries being exposed to new ideas and changing cultures, the somewhat distant father figure of the past is transforming into a hands-on parent who spends quality time and energy with his young ones.
For nursing associate professor Lynn Rempel, that’s great news.
“The children of most involved fathers are found to have higher IQs, are more successful in school, have better emotional regulation and are less likely to have behavioural problems,” she says. “Even within the first year, you can see differences in cognitive development in infants who have responsive fathers who are engaged in play and other activities.”
Rempel is a member of a research team that aims to increase the involvement of fathers in their infants’ and toddlers’ lives as a way of improving children’s physical, cognitive and emotional development from conception to age two.
Funding the team is a $270,000 grant from the Saving Brains program, an initiative of Grand Challenges Canada, a program funded by the Government of Canada that supports “bold ideas with big impact in global health.”
Rempel and her colleague from St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, John Rempel, will be conducting research co-led by Tran Bich from Hanoi’s School of Public Health in Vietnam.
Their project – titled “Fathers Involvement: Saving Brains in Vietnam” – entails implementing a number of activities among 400 couples (and their 400 children) in several communities.
• small group antenatal and postpartum education through community health centres
• individual, home-based counselling
• multimedia messages about the importance of breastfeeding and fathers’ support for this
• “Fathers Clubs” developed with the labour trade union and the Farmers Association to provide peer support.
One goal is to train a few men to lead “Fathers Clubs,” which would encourage men to interact more with their children, Rempel says. In a past research initiative, groups of participants took part in a father contest, complete with poems, songs and skits, to see “who loves his wife and child the most” by encouraging mothers’ breastfeeding, Rempel says.
“The Saving Brains grant allows us to scale up work that’s already been happening in Vietnam and to support research in a way that will make it possible for us to do a strong test of whether father involvement can make a difference and how we can affect father involvement in Vietnam,” Rempel says.
She added her team hopes to create a model or “template” of activities that can be used to increase father involvement in other developing countries and that can be flexible ,according to the comfort level of men and their partners.
The Grand Challenges Canada Saving Brains program focuses on interventions that nurture and protect early brain development in the first 1,000 days of life. “It is designed to help millions of children in developing countries who fail to reach their full development potential due to such factors as malnutrition, infection, birth complications, or a lack of nurturing and stimulation at an early age,” says Laureen Harper, Saving Brains honourary chairwoman.
“Impoverished brains result in impoverished countries,” says Peter Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada. “For a wide range of sad, all-too-familiar and preventable reasons, an estimated 200 million children under five years old in the world’s 112 low- and middle-income countries will fail to reach their brain’s full development potential.”
A total of 14 projects will be implemented in five African, six Asian and three Latin American/Caribbean countries. Seed grants of $270,000 are given to partner organizations in these countries. Three other seed grants are given to Canadian organizations.
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REPOSTED WITH PERMISSION FROM BROCK UNIVERSITY.
The whole package
Teresa Pitman | September 26, 2014If you’ve ever bought ready-to-eat sushi, you may have noticed a blob of wasabi on the tray. It’s a convenient way to add pungent flavour to your lunch, but it also serves another purpose: it protects your food from micro-organisms. As food science professor Loong-Tak Lim explains, wasabi contains allylisothiocyanate, (AITC) a natural and potent anti-microbial that kills yeast and bacteria. Of course, not every food is enhanced by the strong flavour of wasabi, so Lim has developed a packaging system that offers the same antimicrobial benefits . Lim derives his AITC from ground mustard powder, and uses a patented nanotechnological process to spin tiny fibres that encapsulate the naturally sourced agent in the packaging. “The conventional approach to adding preservatives has been to add them to the food,” says Lim's research colleague Suramya Mihindukulasuriya. “But processing the food may break down the preservative. By having the preservative in the packaging, we don’t need as high a concentration to enhance the shelf-life, safety and quality of the food.” So-called “active packaging,” responds to changes in the environment and the food itself, Lim says. In this case, the membrane responds to a certain level of moisture and releases a preservative to prevent spoiling. Other active packaging materials respond to heat and light. Mihindukulasuriya works with a preservative called hexanal, the volatile organic compound you smell when you cut grass or slice a cucumber. Hexanal helps preserve cell membranes of fruits and vegetables so they don’t become soft or soggy as they ripen. The preservative also has some anti-microbial properties, which are activated by heat and humidity. Mihindukulasuriya calls her technique of enclosing the preservative using ultra-high electrical forces “electrospinning.” Lim jokes that “we are like Spiderman, spinning tiny fibres.” And the fibres are tiny – about 400 times smaller than a human hair. When exposed to humidity or water, these fibres become permeable and release the hexanal. During her PhD studies, Mihindukulasuriya also developed an oxygen indicator that is activated by ultraviolet radiation. When there is little or no oxygen in the package, the indicator is white, but if the package is damaged or torn, allowing oxygen to enter, the indicator turns blue. This matters because oxygen causes rapid deterioration of some foods, and higher levels of oxygen encourage the growth of more micro-organisms. These foods are sealed in vacuum packs or in packages flushed with nitrogen to remove the oxygen, but if the package becomes damaged at some point, oxygen can get inside. That’s where Mihindukulasuriya’s product comes in: a label with a blue line would indicate that the package should not be purchased. What’s next in active and intelligent packaging? Mihindukulasuriya is planning to develop a compound that will detect the volatile compounds produced by food when it spoils and indicate to consumers that the food should not be eaten. The technique would supplement expiry dates, which are only estimates based on typical situations. Not only would such packaging warn people that food had spoiled, it could also reassure them when it was safe to eat – even if the expiry date had passed. “People throw away lots of food that has expired but is still perfectly good to eat,” says Lim. This article was originally published by the University of Guelph. It has been edited for brevity, clarity and style, and is republished here with permission.