Arsenic and new tests

For the past two decades, arsenic contamination of groundwater has posed one of the most serious public health threats in the south Asian nation of Bangladesh, one of the world’s most densely populated countries. Compounding the problem over the years has been the costly – and sometimes dangerous – methods of testing water samples.

A 2008 World Health Organization report estimated up to 70 million people in Bangladesh drink water that contains unsafe arsenic levels. Health problems associated with arsenic poisoning include diarrhea, vomiting, convulsions and some types of cancers.

A researcher with the University of Ontario Institute of Institute of Technology (UOIT) is working hard to help develop a new paper-based method of testing water sources in Bangladesh that is both effective and inexpensive.

Brendan MacDonald, an Assistant Professor in UOIT’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, has been recognized for his innovative research approach with a new funding award of $112,000 from Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) through its Stars in Global Health seed grant program.

“Our research team travelled to Bangladesh for nine days at the end of April and early May, and we are getting very positive feedback for the tests we will be developing,” said MacDonald. “Field-test kits used in the past create a multi-stage reaction which can actually generate toxic chemicals. But we know paper works in medical diagnostics such as pregnancy tests. Paper is readily available, inexpensive, easy to use, disposable and does not require an external power source.”

GCC is funded by the Government of Canada and dedicated to supporting bold ideas with big impact in global health. MacDonald’s project is part of GCC’s $12 million new investment in projects worldwide, aimed squarely at improving the health and saving the lives of mothers, newborns and children in developing countries.

A simple, low-cost, paper-based test for arsenic developed by MacDonald’s project will help forewarn people when water’s arsenic content exceeds safe levels.

“We are grateful to Grand Challenges Canada for its generous support of our new approach to quickly identify contaminated water sources, a system we anticipate could be applied anywhere in the future,” said MacDonald. “We believe this is the right way to safely determine the level of arsenic in water sources, prior to human consumption.”

MacDonald is collaborating on the research with Professor Nadim Khandaker, North South University of Bangladesh.

“Our government is proud of the progress on promises Canada and other nations made as part of the Muskoka Initiative to improve the health and save the lives of women, newborns and children in the developing world,” said the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of International Development and Minister for La Francophonie. “By supporting innovative proof-of-concept projects and the scale-up of proven ideas, and by leveraging additional private sector knowledge and funds, a difference is being felt in health conditions in developing countries. The creation of jobs here and abroad serves as an added benefit.”

“All of the projects announced today illustrate the power of innovation to save and improve the lives of women and children,” said Peter A. Singer, Chief Executive Officer, GCC.

“Innovation really means that tomorrow will be a brighter day than today for those who need it the most in developing nations. I salute the global leadership Canada is showing in focusing the world’s attention on saving every woman and every child.”

 

Research Matters periodically publishes multiple blog posts based on a specific theme. This story is part of a series exploring Ontario university research’s impact beyond Canada’s borders. Some stories originally appeared in individual university’s publications, and are republished here with permission.

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Laurentian researchers study social, ...

Yvonne Robertson | September 19, 2016

With the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games just wrapping up, researchers at Laurentian University used the past few weeks to study the social and cultural aspects of the sporting world. Dr. Ann Pegoraro and her colleagues deemed Rio “the most social games ever”, as they studied social media interactions and engagement. Pegoraro, an associate professor in the School of Sports and Administration and director of the Institute for Sport Marketing, has been focusing on the digital world for the past decade. As one of the first researchers to recognize the impact of social media in sports, she began studying its role during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and examined the development of networks around three hashtags: #sochiproblems, #cheerstosochi, and #wearewinter. She watched how each hashtag evolved—the first, organically, the second was hijacked, and the third became team-related. The second hashtag, in particular, originally used as a marketing tool for sponsor McDonald’s, was hijacked by LGBTQ activists, leading Pegoraro to investigate social media as an activation tool by Olympic sponsors and the impact it has on brands. A fourth, and official, hashtag, #Sochi2014, was used to monitor dissent, which some individuals used to voice their disapproval. Pegoraro has continued her research over the past two years, working with the Canadian Olympic Committee and National Sport Federations, providing new research opportunities and ideas for Pegoraro. While she kept a close eye on the social aspect of the Rio Games, another Laurentian team of researchers studied cultural diversity in the Canadian male and female national boxing teams. Drs. Robert Schinke, Kerry McGannon, and Diana Coholic used these two teams to gain deeper insight into how new Canadians engage in their teams, where they encounter resistance and silencing, and the psychological, social, and performance implications of these factors. Their research helps to create more inclusive sport practices, healthier experiences, and better performances. Schinke, McGannon, and Coholic discovered that some of the initial barriers for newcomers included not knowing how to access a suitable coach and training environment, and being overlooked for possible national team spots. Once on the team, athletes also struggled with racism from their teammates, as well as with acculturation, their Canadian identities, and whether to become career-oriented or full time athletes. Initially, many newcomers believed they needed to excel in sport and career in order to be accepted Canadians, according to the researchers. They hope their work will lead to better Olympic performance through a deeper understanding of athletes’ needs and identities. Schinke was also featured in Al Jazeera earlier this summer, commenting on the ground-breaking inclusion of the refugee team.

Advancing an accessible future

Yvonne Robertson | September 16, 2016

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games have been making headlines this week with athletes setting new records and viewership hitting near-historic highs. While the Paralympians gear up for the final stretch—including some from our own Ontario universities—researchers at the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson continue to make important innovations in the education and research of accessibility. Such innovation has included the reinvention of the standards of biomechatronics to rehabilitate people with impaired mobility by Bionik Labs; Zagga Entertainment’s video-on-demand service enabling those with vision loss to stream popular movies and TV shows with described video; and multiple augmented seating devices for children with special needs. Deborah Fels, researcher and director of Ryerson’s Inclusive Media & Design Centre, has been testing a device that makes smart home technology accessible to people with upper mobility impairments. Smart home technology allows individuals to control aspects of their home such as lighting, heating/cooling, and security systems using their smartphones or tablets. However, this type of technology has been largely inaccessible to those with upper mobility impairments, who may only be able to control their environments with a single switch. The Tecla Shield 3, originally developed by Komodo OpenLab at OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Institute, works with assistive switches ranging from buttons, sip-and-puff controllers, head arrays, joysticks, and wheelchair driving controls. These switches all open up the touchscreen interface to those who would otherwise be unable to use them (those experiencing limitations as a result of spine or brain injuries, stroke, or diseases such as MS and muscular dystrophy), but would largely benefit from smart home technology. Through the Tecla Shield 3, individuals also gain full access to their smartphones, providing them the ability to communicate independently on their devices. The tool is invaluable in helping those with upper mobility issues live a more independent lifestyle and create accessible environments in both the workplace and the home.

Ryerson prof instrumental in ...

Yvonne Robertson | September 14, 2016

As we celebrate the second most attended Paralympic Games in history this week, one researcher at Ryerson University is partly responsible for the inclusion of athletes with intellectual impairments. This group of athletes was removed from the Paralympic Games after Sydney 2000 when it was discovered that some were not eligible for this classification. The Paralympic program consequently removed the group until a more reliable system for determining eligibility was developed. Dean Jennifer Mactavish, of the Yeates School of Graduate Studies at Ryerson, has since spent the last 15 years leading the research to get athletes with intellectual impairments re-introduced to the program. Her efforts saw success for the first time at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, with 120 intellectually impaired athletes competing, and now again at the Rio 2016 Games. “I’m very proud of what we have accomplished, and particularly so for the athletes who can again dream of representing their countries as Paralympians!” Mactavish told the university. Her research in the international sporting community for athletes with an intellectual impairment provided the framework for the Eligibility Classification Research project—directed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the International Sports Federation for Persons with an Intellectual Disability taskforce. Mactavish received the IPC’s 2015 Paralympic Scientific Award last year, which recognizes contributions in sports for people with impairments, and has been an expert in the field for the last 20 years. “This tribute rightfully belongs to a dedicated community of academics, graduate students, coaches, and sport federations from around the world, who have worked together over the years to address a complex question that unanswered would continue to exclude athletes with intellectual impairment from showcasing their talents at the highest level of sport,” Mactavish said. She was also awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013 for her national and international service to disability sport.  

Guelph Kids Love to ...

Andrea Buchholz and Joy Mackay | August 1, 2016

Snacking – what comes to mind?  Carrot sticks?  Granola bars?  Chips?  Yogurt?  Maybe all of the above?  Snacks can make up a large part of our calorie intake.  Ensuring that our snacking choices are healthy is especially important for children, because dietary patterns and other lifestyle habits established in childhood can carry into adulthood.  Despite this, little research has studied preschoolers’ snacking patterns. Enter the Guelph Family Health Study (www.guelphfamilyhealthstudy.com), an Ontario-based study of families with young children, housed at the University of Guelph.  The research team focuses on developing and testing ways to help families maintain healthy behaviours over many years.  We recently looked at snacking patterns (frequency, quality and quantity) of fifty-two preschool-aged boys and girls.  96% of children in our study snacked daily, with snacks making up an average of one-third of their daily calorie intake.  Children consumed an average of almost two and a half snacks each day, most frequently in the afternoon.  The most common snacks were crackers, apples, soft cookies, yogurt and granola bars. 78% of boys’ snacks contained at least one food group from Canada’s Food Guide, compared with 63% of girls’ snacks.  Girls consumed more sugary snacks than boys. What does all of this mean?  Guelph kids love to snack!  While their snacks are OK from a nutritional standpoint, there is room for improvement.  Girls’ snacks in particular could use a health boost.  Apples and yogurt (especially yogurt with less sugar) are great – two thumbs up!  However, not all granola bars are created equally.  Look for ones that are low in sugar (<5 grams per serving) and that contain healthy ingredients, like nuts (just watch those allergies). As for the crackers and soft cookies?  Not so much – these are typically high in salt or sugar and don’t contain a lot of nutrition.  Examples of healthy snacks for kids of all ages can include hummus and veggie sticks, peanut butter and banana on whole wheat toast or yogurt with low-sugar granola. In addition to investigating snacking patterns of young children, the Guelph Family Health Study is also looking at other health behaviours of families including dietary intake, food purchasing habits, physical activity, sleep patterns, body composition, and much more!  If you are interested in learning more about our findings, or interested in participating please visit our website below.  To be eligible for the study, you need to have at least one child aged 1.5-6 years and live in the Guelph area.  Visit www.guelphfamilyhealthstudy.com for more information.   Andrea Buchholz is a co-investigator of the Guelph Family Health Study, and a faculty member in the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition at the University of Guelph.  Joy Mackay is a dietetic intern, and was a student in the Applied Human Nutrition program and a research assistant for the Guelph Family Health Study.

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Sharon Oosthoek | July 26, 2016

University of Waterloo electrical and computer engineer delves deep into the health and safety of renewable energy Nanotechnology is poised to become the next big thing in solar panels, but before that happens Siva Sivoththaman wants to ensure workers who make the panels and consumers who use them aren't endangering their health. Most research into using nano particles in the manufacture of solar panels has focused on their potential for more effectively converting sunlight into energy. Scientists predict nano particles could boost efficiency from the current 20 per cent to about 60 per cent. But Sivoththaman, a University of Waterloo electrical and computer engineer, says we need to pay just as much attention to their safety. read more »
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