UWindsor Together: Student Mental Health and Remote Learning Services

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Updated: 11 hours 51 min ago

OHLers to suit up for Lancer hockey

18 hours 50 min ago

Two players from the Ontario Hockey League have committed to Lancer men’s hockey, head coach Kevin Hamlin announced Tuesday.

Forward Brady Hinz of the Niagara IceDogs and defender Holden Wale of the Kitchener Rangers will join the blue and gold this fall.

Hinz plans to initially study Liberal Arts and Professional Studies with the hopes of transferring into sports management after his first year; Wale will pursue studies in environmental science.

Read the full story at goLancers.ca.

Kevin HamlinBrady HinzHolden WaleAcademic Area: Arts, Humanities and Social SciencesScience

Undergrad accepted into artificial intelligence summer program

18 hours 59 min ago

Computer science major Lama Khalil will be virtually heading to Montreal this summer as the first UWindsor student to take part in the all-female AI4Good Lab, which offers lectures, workshops, and mentorship opportunities in artificial intelligence (AI).

She will join 29 other AI-focused students from around Canada in the bootcamp, blending academic and industry participation on the use of the technology for social good. In addition to meeting people in the industry and working in teams to solve social problems, Khalil receives a $500 stipend. She says she already has project ideas she wants to work on.

“For starters — the middle class who need legal representation are in a tough spot. They are too rich for legal aid, but too poor to afford lawyers,” says Khalil.

“I want to use AI to make legal information more accessible so by the time someone contacts a lawyer, they already have a good knowledge base of their legal options, saving them time and legal expenses.”

She also sees an opportunity for AI to become a doctor’s assistant by making medical diagnoses more efficient, which could cut down on wait times.

The AI4Good program is presented by CIFAR (formerly the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research) and the Montreal-based non-profit Osmo.

Khalil is a recipient of an Ontario Graduate Scholarship and will start Masters studies in computer science in fall 2021 under the supervision of Ziad Kobti, director of the School of Computer Science.

“Dr. Kobti is very empowering and supportive of women and he really wants to give women an equal chance,” says Khalil. “I am very proud to be a woman computer scientist and I think we will bring a big change in this domain.”

Dr. Kobti says he suggested Khalil apply to AI4Good Lab because she shows great promise.

“Women in computer science are generally very scarce, but at the School of Computer Science we have been diligently working over the years to promote CS to young female students, reaching out to them as early as middle school,” he says.

“The school has fundraised and allocated several undergraduate scholarships for female students; we invite the public and donors to help support these scholarships by donating to this worthy cause.”

—Sara Elliott

Lama KhalilZiad KobtiStrategic Priority: Provide an exceptional undergraduate experienceAcademic Area: ScienceComputer Science

Fruit flies could hold key to unlocking cancer mystery, says UWindsor researcher

Fri, 04/09/2021 - 00:42

The tiny insect attracted to overripe bananas and discarded apple cores is being used at the University of Windsor to unlock one of the mysteries surrounding cancer in humans.

UWindsor biologist Andrew Swan is using fruit flies to study a protein that holds cell division in check. The protein, called tuberin, is the product of a tumour suppressor gene in our DNA. It’s been established that tuberin is related to cell growth, but Dr. Swan says its role in mitosis, or cell division, requires further study.

“This is where we come in,” said Swan. “Our collaborator, Dr. Elizabeth Fidalgo Da Silva from Dr. Lisa Porter’s lab, found that tuberin has some responsibility in mitosis as well and we want to see if this protein is playing the role we think it is. If we’re right, this could represent a druggable target for many human cancers.”

Swan has been awarded a $30,000 research grant through the Windsor Cancer Centre Foundation’s annual Seeds4Hope program. It will fund his research for the initial year of what he envisions could be a five-year project.

Organ and tissue growth in humans involves two phenomena: cell division and cell growth. Cell division is how cells proliferate. Cell growth is how cells increase in mass, largely through the production of proteins. In healthy development, both of these phenomena are carefully controlled, Swan explained.

“The misregulation of growth and proliferation are two critical hallmarks of cancer,” he said. “Tuberin is a tumour suppressor protein that lies at the heart of cell and tissue growth regulation.”

Fruit flies have cancer genes just like humans do. By experimenting on the tiny insects, Swan hopes to identify how tuberin can be used to design drug therapies for cancer treatment.

“Fruit flies are one of the best model organisms for looking at cell growth and cell division,” he said.

Swan’s project is one of three UWindsor cancer studies being funded by the Windsor Cancer Centre Foundation this year. The foundation’s Seeds4Hope program provides start-up funding for locally based cancer research. The goal is to bring together local scientists and physicians to find better ways to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat cancer.

Graduate student Adam Pilon is working on the project. Swan said the funding will allow him to bring another researcher on board. In addition to research outcomes, the project provides hands-on training opportunities for UWindsor students.

—Sarah Sacheli

Andrew SwanAdam PilonElizabeth Fidalgo Da SilvaStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScienceBiology

Trivia night to test myth-busting skills

Tue, 03/30/2021 - 00:58

Test your health knowledge and skills busting myths about cancer at the “Don’t be Fooled” trivia night, taking place online April 1.

This graduate student-led event, hosted by WE-Spark Health Institute and Windsor’s Research Information Outreach Team (RIOT), is open to all ages. There’s something for everyone, including a chance to win a $25 raffle prize.

RIOT Windsor is a volunteer group of University of Windsor researchers comprised of graduate students and professors in cancer biology, chemistry, computer science, physics, psychology, and engineering.

The free trivia event will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday; register here.

Academic Area: Arts, Humanities and Social SciencesPsychologyEngineeringScienceBiologyChemistry & BiochemistryComputer Science

Health research gathering to provide project overview

Thu, 03/25/2021 - 00:19

WE-Spark Health Institute is preparing to host its next bi-monthly virtual Think Tank, a unique opportunity for researchers, healthcare providers, students, and the Windsor-Essex community to come together to share ideas, get to know each other, and learn what’s happening in the region.

The Think Tank is open to everyone and will take place Friday, April 9, 1 to 3:30 p.m. Click here for more information and to register.

Laura D’Alimonte, clinical practice manager for Windsor Regional Hospital, says that participating in previous Think Tanks has helped her to understand the research landscape in Windsor-Essex, allowed for networking opportunities with academic leaders across the region, and provided opportunities for collaborations with experts with similar academic interests.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the participants and I encourage people from all backgrounds to be part of these,” she says. “You don’t have to be thinking of being on a research team to enjoy sharing ideas and to benefit from the experience.”

The event will begin with an update on health research activities, new funding opportunities, and an overview of the three focused projects, followed by breakout sessions:

  • Future of Biobanking in Windsor-Essex - Building it Together
    Lisa Porter, University of Windsor, and David Cervi, Windsor Regional Hospital
  • Encouraging Vaccine Confidence in Windsor-Essex: Building a Knowledge Translation Strategy Using Vaccine Confidence as a Case Study
    Dora Cavallo-Medved, University of Windsor, and Adriana Baggio, WE-Spark Health Institute
  • Physiological Measure Detection for Mental State Monitoring
    Francesco Biondi, University of Windsor

“You don’t have to be an expert to participate,” says WE-Spark executive director Lisa Porter. “You’re guaranteed to learn something new and meet new people. And you’ll help us improve the health and wellness of our local community in the process. A win-win for everyone.”

Lisa PorterDora Cavallo-MedvedFrancesco BiondiStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScience

Provincial funding boosts research tracking COVID-19 through sewage

Tue, 03/23/2021 - 00:57

Researchers at the University of Windsor using sewage as an early warning system for COVID-19 outbreaks are receiving $540,000 in funding as part of a new provincial wastewater surveillance system co-ordinated by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks.

Mike McKay, executive director of UWindsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, is leading a team that has been collecting and testing weekly samples of wastewater from Windsor, Leamington, Amherstburg, Lakeshore, London, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay, and Thunder Bay. Dr. McKay’s project, launched early in the pandemic, was among the first in the province and is now part of a network of Ontario labs monitoring sewage for SARS-CoV-2.

The Ontario government has announced it is investing more than $12 million to support and expand the network. The province is partnering with 13 academic and research institutions across Ontario to enhance the ability of local public health units to identify, monitor, and manage potential COVID-19 outbreaks.

“Monitoring wastewater for COVID-19 gives us a close-to-real-time way to track the spread of the virus — even before people begin showing symptoms,” said environment minister Jeff Yurek. “Together with clinical and public health data, wastewater monitoring can help local public health units identify potential COVID-19 outbreaks and enable more timely decisions about how and where to mobilize resources in response.”

The new provincial funding builds on research already underway, expanding to some First Nation communities, long-term care homes, retirement residences, shelters, and correctional facilities.

Studies have shown that a significant proportion of people with active COVID-19 infections shed the virus in their stool before symptoms start. Since many people infected with virus are asymptomatic or experience mild symptoms and never seek medical care or are tested, detecting the virus’s genetic material in wastewater is a good indicator of the true infection rate in the community, McKay explained.

McKay’s group is collecting samples from sewers on UWindsor’s campus to monitor the health of students living in residence. It is part of a broader campus screening initiative that will include a COVID-19 dashboard to inform the campus community of testing results.

McKay is co-ordinating the project with Mitacs-funded post-doctoral fellow Qiudi Geng and research associate Ryland Corchis-Scott. Engineering professors Rajesh Seth and Nihar Biswas are overseeing the sampling of local sewers and biochemist Yufeng Tong and molecular biologist Lisa Porter are overseeing campus screening initiatives.

The team recently began collaborating with UWindsor biochemist Kenneth Ng who is studying SARS-CoV-2 variants.

“The team recognizes the power of tapping into the wastewater stream as a tool for discovery of SARS-CoV-2 variants,” McKay said. “In fact, we are already testing for the B.1.1.7 variant of concern in our wastewater samples from Windsor-Essex and samples are sent weekly to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Lab for sequencing analysis.”

Wastewater testing has been used by scientists and public health officials around the globe as a non-invasive way to monitor how diseases are spread within communities. McKay, who normally studies algal blooms, said scientists have pivoted during the pandemic to study the virus and control its spread.

“Little did I know a year ago the potential wealth of information contained in our wastewater stream. From tracking pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs to human pathogens, wastewater truly is a community swab, and wastewater-based epidemiology will become an important tool for public health beyond the current pandemic,” McKay said.

“From a personal perspective, the collaborations both within the University and across the country that have evolved over the past year have been a silver lining of the pandemic. Due to the urgent need for information to flow to public health, this has been one of the most collaborative environments I have encountered during my career.”

Called the Ontario Wastewater Surveillance Initiative, the provincial network will involve the Ontario Clean Water Agency which will provide technical expertise and equipment to ensure increased testing in sampling locations.

“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago, our government has been committed to using every resource at our disposal to keep Ontarians safe,” said Christine Elliott, deputy premier and minister of health.

“This initiative enhances Ontario's pandemic response by providing valuable data that will help to track and monitor COVID-19 and act as another tool to help stop the spread of this deadly virus in our communities.”

—Sarah Sacheli

Mike McKayGreat Lakes Institute for Environmental ResearchQiudi GengRyland Corchis-ScottRajesh SethNihar BiswasYufeng TongLisa PorterKenneth NgStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: EngineeringCivil and Environmental EngineeringResearchScienceBiologyChemistry & BiochemistryEnvironmental Studies

Cancer research gets $250,000 boost

Mon, 03/22/2021 - 00:51

Two UWindsor professors developing new therapies for particularly aggressive cancers have received another round of funding for their ground-breaking research.

Molecular biologist Lisa Porter and chemist John Trant have received $250,000 from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research to support their project for another year. They received $250,000 from the institute last year and $100,000 in 2019 for a total of $600,000 to date.

“Our funding has been based on progress,” said Dr. Trant. Combining biology, synthetic chemistry, and computational chemistry, Trant and Porter have gone from doing preliminary research into cancer-related proteins to creating new potential drugs to target those proteins, and devising the computational models and cell assays to test them on.

Trant and Porter’s teams are researching CdKs, short for Cyclin-dependent Kinases, a family of naturally occurring proteins in the body that protect cells from mutating into tumours. Cancers — especially aggressive ones like breast, brain, thyroid, pancreatic, lung, and ovarian cancers — hijack these proteins. Researchers have developed drugs made up of synthetic molecules that block these proteins, but they are easily overridden by another protein called Spy1. Porter, who has been studying Spy1 for more than a decade, found a correlation between Spy1 and a specific kinase called CDK2.

“This gave us a target to hit,” said Trant.

Likening the system to a car, Trant explained that normal cells have “gas pedals” called cyclins that speed up cell division, and other proteins that block them and act as “brakes” to slow down or stop the system. When Spy1 is present, cell division has only a gas pedal and no brakes. Trant said he and Porter have found ways to block Spy1 proteins by designing and making synthetic molecules, which may prove an effective cancer treatment.

We have been working to understand what these proteins do in cancer for 15 years,” said Dr. Porter. “We have high hopes that the drugs we are developing will save lives, but we won’t know if our approach truly works until it has been rigorously tested.”

Porter and Trant are refining the science, conducting experiments to determine whether their compounds can penetrate cells to disable them. Next, they hope to create the first generation of drugs and perform toxicology work on them to make sure the body can clear them.

“It’s always easy to kill cancer cells in a petri dish or a mouse,” said Trant. “It’s harder to do it in the human body without hurting the human.”

OICR is a not-for-profit research institute founded by the provincial government in 2005. It has its own team of scientists and it funds researchers across Ontario to accelerate the development of discoveries to benefit both cancer patients and the economy.

Trant and Porter are the first Windsor researchers to receive funding from the institute. The project involves six additional researchers in Trant’s lab and another four in Porter’s, offering training and employment opportunities to students and post-doctoral fellows.

“The progress Drs. Porter and Trant and their teams have made thus far has been outstanding and is a great example of the innovative cancer research happening in Windsor and at universities and colleges across Ontario,” said Laszlo Radvanyi, OICR president and scientific director.

“We are proud to continue to fund this important work to bring new therapies to patients with aggressive cancers.”

—Sarah Sacheli

Lisa PorterJohn TrantStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScienceBiologyChemistry & Biochemistry

Research into stabilizing polymers earns praise for chemistry prof

Wed, 03/17/2021 - 00:19

Stephen Loeb has won the Best Paper of the Year Award from the Canadian Journal of Chemistry for his research investigating how to create protective molecular suits, or jackets, for vulnerable molecules.

When creating new plastics, or synthetic polymers, chemists are sometimes faced with sensitive monomers, or building blocks, that degrade in certain environments. Dr. Loeb, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is working with an interlocked mechanism called a suitane that is designed to protect unstable polymers.

“For example, the durable thermoplastic polyethylene can be used in a range of every day applications — but not every polymer is this stable, “says Loeb, Canada Research Chair in Supramolecular Chemistry and Functional Materials.

“Many important polymeric materials are susceptible to degradation by contact with external reagents such as acids or bases and we are looking to build protective cages for the sensitive building blocks of polymers — like a wire with a plastic coating.”

The winning article, A hydrogen-bonded polymer constructed from mechanically interlocked, suit[1]ane monomers, was written by Loeb and his former post-doctoral fellow Kelong Zhu, who is now a professor at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou, China.

This protective jacket, says Loeb, builds on his previous research into molecular machines, which can be created by synthetically interlocking molecules together, allowing the molecular components to move about independent of each other.

“This type of 3D molecular structure is an underexplored area of research and only a handful of molecules have been made with this protective suit; this is a young area of science,” says Loeb.

“But if you discovered a useful new molecular building block that needed to be protected, in theory you could put this jacket on and proceed with polymerization.”

—Sara Elliott

Stephen LoebStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationRecruit and retain the best faculty and staffAcademic Area: ResearchScienceChemistry & Biochemistry

Student partnerships in science support local mental health organization

Wed, 03/17/2021 - 00:14

University of Windsor’s Pre-Medical Society partnered with the USci Network’s Sci of Relief in raising $1,100 for the Canadian Mental Health Association Windsor-Essex, which provides mental health and addiction resources to the region.

The no-contact fundraiser was held outside a local Starbucks in Fall 2020. The group raffled off a gift basket filled with items to promote mental health items, valued at nearly $1,000. More than 60 local businesses donated items including a gym membership, restaurant gift cards, and a spa kit. Goodie bags containing masks, stress balls, and other small treats were provided to supporters.

Volunteers included Rhonda Abdel-Nabi, Breanna Vasko, and Alexandra Sorge of the Pre-Medical Society and Sci of Relief representatives Sira Jaffri and Mansi Arora.

Pre-Medical Society science student representatives Rhonda Abdel-Nabi, Breanna Vasko and Alexandra Sorge helped out with the event. Sorge says they wanted to to put together items which promoted mental health while giving back to the local community in a safe, COVID-friendly way.

The students say they were motivated by the work the association has done during the pandemic.

“With the help of the community and in partnership with Sci of Relief, we are extremely proud to have donated $1,122.96 to the organization in support of our community,” says Vasko.

USci Network faculty advisor Dora Cavallo-Medved says that encouraging students to be focused on their own mental health, while supporting others, is a mandate of the club.

“By giving to back to the community, our science students have demonstrated they can rise above the downfalls of the pandemic and support others in need,” says Dr. Cavallo-Medved. “It really speaks to the tremendous spirit of our student body in science.”

Manager of community engagement for the association, Kerri Hill, says it appreciates the student effort.

“Each year weare thankful to be chosen and supported by so many student groups and organizations at the University of Windsor who initiate events to build awareness and raise funds to support the mental well-being of their peers and our community,” Hill says.

The Canadian Mental Health Association offers training and mental health education as well as programs for individuals struggling with their mental health. To learn more about its services, visit windsoressex.cmha.ca.

Rhonda Abdel-NabiBreanna VaskoAlexandra SorgeSira JaffriMansi AroraDora Cavallo-MedvedStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsAcademic Area: Science

Students join brain awareness campaign

Tue, 03/16/2021 - 00:49

Students in the behaviour, cognition, and neuroscience program have created a suite of activities for local Grade 5 classes in recognition of Brain Awareness Week — a global campaign to foster public enthusiasm and support for brain science.

From March 15 to 21, participants around the world will host imaginative activities in their communities that share the wonders of the brain.

The UWindsor team, working in partnership with Let’s Talk Science Outreach, developed modules suitable for distance learning, including a sensory scavenger hunt, an explanation of optical illusions, an experiment into the Stroop effect of verbal reactions, a demonstration of auditory threshold, and a memory game.

“My role was just to schedule meetings and visits, to be honest,” says experiential learning specialist Michelle Bondy. “The students came up with all of the content and engaging activities.”

The group started work on the project in December and will unveil it to the elementary students through March 25.

Alyssa ArundineMichelle BondyStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsProvide an exceptional undergraduate experienceAcademic Area: Arts, Humanities and Social SciencesPsychologyScience

Science celebrates accomplishments of faculty, staff, and students

Tue, 03/16/2021 - 00:47

The Faculty of Science has announced the 2021 winners of its Science Awards.

Faculty and staff award recipients:

  • Collaborative and Interdisciplinary Award ­– Dima Alhadidi, School of Computer Science
  • Outreach and Engagement Award – Marcus Drover, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Ikjot Saini, School of Computer Science
  • Research Impact Award – Christina Semeniuk, Department of Integrative Biology
  • Service Excellence Award – Sharon Rasul, Faculty of Science
  • Student Engagement Award – Tanya Noel, Department of Integrative Biology, and Lisa Porter, Department of Biomedical Sciences
  • Student Mentoring Award – Dora Cavallo-Medved, Department of Biomedical Sciences, and Dan Xiao, Department of Physics
  • Friend of Science Award – Tina Suntres, Office of Research and Innovation Services (outstanding service in support of research in the Faculty of Science)

Student Awards Recipients:

  • Ambassador Award – (Graduate) Mehedi Hassan Asif, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, (Undergraduate) – Madhumitha Yadiki, Department of Integrative Biology
  • Graduate Assistant Excellence Award – Ahmed Shafeek Abouhassan, School of Computer Science, and Patricia Okpara, Department of Integrative Biology
  • Going Above and Beyond in Research Award (Undergraduate) – Mikayla Bornais, Concurrent General Science, and Siddhartha Sood, Department of Integrative Biology
  • Going Above and Beyond in Research (Masters) – Tristhal Parasram, Department of Physics
  • Going Above and Beyond in Research (Doctoral) – Michael Nguyen, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Going Above and Beyond in Research (Post-Doctoral) – Christine Madliger, Department of Integrative Biology
  • Teaching Assistant Excellence Award (Undergraduate) – Jake Frank, Department of Integrative Biology

The Faculty and Staff Awards and the Student Awards are designed to formally recognize and celebrate the outstanding accomplishments of members within the Faculty of Science.

A ceremony to celebrate the winners will be held at a later date.

Strategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationRecruit and retain the best faculty and staffAcademic Area: Science

Researchers set to screen for COVID-19 on campus

Mon, 03/15/2021 - 01:02

UWindsor researchers launched a pilot project to screen 60 campus volunteers for COVID-19. Participants in the COVID Surveillance Platform study will have their saliva tested weekly, and will get results via a cellphone app called MyCap.

Phase one of the three-phase campus COVID screening program started on March 9, for individuals working in the Faculty of Science’s Essex Centre of Research (CORe) building.

“This will be critical for the rapid response and virus surveillance,” says lead researcher and biomedical sciences professor Lisa Porter.

“We’re using a low-cost, rapid PCR test, which was developed by chemistry and biochemistry’s Yufeng Tong as part of a WE-Spark Health Institute seed grant; this test has a very low number of false positives, similar to that of public health, and results can be achieved in 45 minutes.”

Dr. Porter says there is a lower viral load in saliva compared to the nasal swab, so when someone’s saliva tests positive, there is a heightened concern that they are capable of spreading the virus.

Researchers will pool samples and test participants’ saliva in groups to decrease costs and time, factors needed for increasing the number of individuals being screened. If one person tests positive, everyone in their group is notified on MyCap and is called back for individual testing.

“They are also instructed to immediately self-isolate and it is requested that they notify their supervisor,” says study manager Jackie Fong (BSc 2018, MSc 2021).

There is currently no unified preparedness plan for Ontario universities and colleges for Fall 2021.

“With studies suggesting that up to 45 per cent of COVID positive people are asymptomatic and possibly contagious for 12.3 days before symptoms arise, it is important that we are proactive to ensure the health and safety of students, staff, and faculty as we return to campus,” says Chris Houser, dean of science.

Test sites will be monitored by technicians who guide participants through the procedure. Each week, volunteers collect their own saliva, which is then transported to the third floor of CORe for processing.

“In phase two we’ll expand the number of volunteers and by September 2021 we hope to build up the capacity and a workflow to test every single person who comes on the campuses of UWindsor and St. Clair College and report the testing results in the same day,” says Porter.

“In addition to preventing outbreaks and creating a safer environment, this program will make us leaders in the province for encouraging face-to-face learning.”

The screening program is developing a dashboard that will also link to the wastewater database of the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER), which investigates COVID-19 trends in the local population and identifies prevalent strains.

“Director of GLIER, Mike McKay, is leading wastewater COVID testing, which is a great resource to identify any new variants of COVID that are surfacing in our population. We can modify our tests’ primers and screen for that particular variant,” Porter says.

The cross-discipline study brings together staff, faculty, and students from the Department of Biomedical Sciences, the School of Computer Science, GLIER, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the Department of Psychology, WE-Spark Health Institute, St. Clair College, and Markham-based industry partner Single Molecule Research Inc.

The study is still looking for volunteers for phase-one. Anyone who works in CORe is asked to email Fong to participate.

“It is important for campus to know that the heart of this study is about working together to try and get us back to some normalcy,” says Porter.

—Sara Elliott

Lisa PorterYufeng TongJackie FongElizabeth Fidalgo Da SilvaChris HouserMike McKayGreat Lakes Institute for Environmental ResearchStrategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: Arts, Humanities and Social SciencesPsychologyResearchScienceBiologyChemistry & BiochemistryComputer Science

Computer scientist leads global automotive cybersecurity academic network

Thu, 03/11/2021 - 00:58

Ikjot Saini spent 2020 collecting accolades for her endeavours as an automobile cybersecurity expert — and she was only hired as a lecturer halfway through the year. To add to her list of accomplishments, in February 2021, she became the academic director of the Automotive Security Research Group’s (ASRG) newly formed Academic Network.

The network bridges industry and academia on a global scale, building collaboration between professionals, hackers, and academics. The campus spaces, or research hubs, will be found at post-secondary institutions around the world, including UWindsor, and will offer educational resources as well as access to industry and academic experts.

“My role as academic director is to develop an educational framework in an effort to bring different research institutions together, and closer to industrial research.” says Dr. Saini (PhD 2020).

“Locally, this affords UWindsor the opportunity to connect the Windsor region and our students with global leaders in the automotive security sector.”

University of Windsor’s Academic Society will be paired with the ASRG Windsor chapter, ASRG-WIN, which Saini established as one of the first Canadian chapters in July 2020.

The cybersecurity expert’s research focuses on connected vehicle security and privacy. Saini says she has identified risks, designed privacy scheme, and modelled a privacy framework for the privacy assessment of vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

“All the apps and wireless communication services designed for road safety, traffic efficiency, navigation, and infotainment services can also put our safety at risk because of information sharing — sharing we might not be aware of,” says Saini.

“We are still trying to figure out what data is getting shared and this is potentially a big threat on privacy, because that captured data can share your behavioural patterns, your trips, and where you work.”

Saini appeared on the cover of Automotive News Canada’s 2020 Canadians to Watch issue. Most recently, she co-founded the SHIELD Automotive Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence, along with co-founder Mitra Mirhassani from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, to drive research and education in automotive cybersecurity.

Computer science professor Arunita Jaekel, Saini’s former supervisor, says she is proud of her accomplishments.

“There is a clear under-representation of women in STEM subjects and this imbalance is even more pronounced in computing sciences, so it is extremely important for women to encourage and mentor other women as they progress in their careers,” says Dr. Jaekel.

“Ikjot is a strong advocate for women in STEM and is an excellent role model for the next generation of female students who might be considering a career in computer science.”

In 2019, Saini co- founded the first Canadian student chapter of Women in Cybersecurity to create more opportunities for women to learn and get hands-on experience. It won the best student award in WiCyS 2020 conference, out of nearly 100 chapters.

“I’m passionate about cybersecurity and the promotion of women’s participation and leadership,” says Saini.

“As a female, I know the dire need to have that sense of community with other women in this sector, so I got together with fellow students to create a place that fosters the next generation of female cyber security researchers and innovators.”

Saini wrapped up 2020 being named 2020 Cyber Woman of the year by the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association’s Institute for Automotive Cybersecurity. This follows her win as the WEtech Alliance Woman in Tech of the Year in 2019. For a longer profile on the young professor, read the article, “Filtering out the Noise and Going Within: Cybersecurity Expert Ikjot Saini,” in Windsor’s Drive magazine.

—Sara ElliottIkjot SainiArunita JaekelStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationRecruit and retain the best faculty and staffAcademic Area: ResearchScienceComputer Science

Microbes may hold the key to degrading toxic algal blooms

Wed, 03/10/2021 - 00:56

Master’s student Chelsea Salter of the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER) is investigating why and how bacteria are able to naturally break down toxins in the sandy trenches of Pelee Island’s shore before those toxins can contaminate the residents’ drinking water.

Salter (BSc 2020) was awarded a graduate research fellowship with the Cooperative Institution for Great Lake Research (CIGLR) at the University of Michigan to pursue the project.

Harmful algal blooms are collections of cyanobacteria which produce toxic secondary metabolites and release them into water bodies, creating potentially significant human health risks in freshwater lakes around the world. Of the cyanobacterial toxins that exist, microcystins are the most common and most toxic.

“The history of cyanobacterial blooms in Lake Erie came to a climax in the summer of 2014 when a toxic algal bloom released high concentrations of microcystins into the city of Toledo, Ohio’s municipal water inlet, resulting in a three-day ‘do not drink’ advisory,” says Salter.

“During that same time period, Pelee Island, though also situated in the western basin of Lake Erie like Toledo, showed no toxic contamination in their drinking water treatment facilities.”

Pelee Island’s municipal water supply and residential drinking wells both gather their water directly from the lake that has passed through sand-filled trenches.

“Basically, the trenches of sand are teeming with microbes and it appears that these bacteria are degrading the toxins before they reach the water supply,” she says.

“We are mimicking Pelee’s natural microbe landscape in the lab by filling flow-through columns with lake water and beach sand collected from the island in the summer of 2020 with the aim of studying how microbe communities are able to degrade the toxins, and which species are specifically responsible.”

Salter’s plan is to analyze the microbial community to detect which species are active during exposure to microcystins. Even when boosting the toxic concentrations to levels higher than what would normally be present during a bloom event, the team has seen the toxins get broken down in less than a day.

“I’m very excited to work on this project and contribute to tangible, safe solutions to environmental issues,” says Salter. “It is why I went into science.”

For her fellowship, Salter receives a $18,000 U.S. one-year scholarship and guidance from mentors on both sides of the border. Chris Weisener, a professor with the School of the Environment and GLIER researcher, is the lead mentor.

“The potential outcomes of Chelsea’s work will provide a more detailed understanding of the bacterial community diversity and identify specific metabolic pathways involved in the degradation processes of the toxin,” says Dr. Weisener.

“Down the road, this information can be developed for potential industrial applications for biological freshwater treatment and other biotechnological breakthroughs.”

Judy Westrick, director of the Lumigen Instrument Center at Wayne State University, lends her expertise in cyanotoxins and harmful algal blooms, her analytical methodologies, and specialized instrumentation.

“Without Judy’s expertise and her mass spectrometer, there is no way I could get the same detail of information, which is crucial for my process,” Salter says.

Former GLIER researcher Subba Rao Chaganti is currently an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan and will be her CIGLR mentor.

“Chelsea's project has no borders,” says Dr. Chaganti. “People living across the Great Lakes can benefit from the results generated from this project, as it deals with the removal from drinking water of the microcystin toxin released by harmful algal blooms.”

Salter’s initial results were published in Science Direct’s journal, Chemosphere, “Investigating the Microbial Dynamics of Microcystin-LR Degradation in Lake Erie Sand,” in February 2020.

—Sara Elliott

Chelsea SalterChris WeisenerGreat Lakes Institute for Environmental ResearchSpotlight on Graduate ResearchStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: Graduate StudiesResearchScienceEarth & Environmental Sciences

Students working to bridge gap between science and policy

Wed, 03/10/2021 - 00:53

A new organization led by students in the Faculty of Science is working to bridge the gap between students in science and tech disciplines and policy making.

STEMxPolicy hopes to educate, engage, and empower students, and is hosting its first event, “COVID-19: Vaccine Edition,” on Friday, March 12. It promises critical discussion of the development of current policies surrounding the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines.

It will begin at 4 p.m. with a panel discussion featuring:

  • Lisa Porter, UWindsor professor of biomedical sciences and executive director of the WE-Spark Health Institute;
  • Taras Natyshak, Member of Provincial Parliament for the riding of Essex and New Democrat critic for job creation and economic development;
  • Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce; and
  • Suzanne McMurphy, associate professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology at the University of Windsor and director of its Office of Research Ethics.

A question-and-answer period will follow.

The event is open to all; register at bit.ly/3q1U4Xh by March 11 to receive a link to join the meeting online.

Lisa PorterSuzanne McMurphyStrategic Priority: Provide an exceptional undergraduate experienceAcademic Area: EngineeringScience

UWindsor chemist designs alternate treatment for brain cancer

Mon, 03/08/2021 - 00:49

Brain cancer has a new nemesis in UWindsor chemist John Trant.

Using zebrafish as test subjects and rust as a secret weapon, Dr. Trant is designing a benevolent Trojan horse that can sneak through the brain’s defence systems and deliver drugs to glioblastoma tumours.

He is setting out to see if he can attach a nanoparticle to a specific protein naturally occurring in the body. When receptors in the blood-brain barrier let the protein in, they will inadvertently open the door to Trant’s nanoparticle, too. Once inside, the iron oxide in the shell of the particle can be triggered with magnets to disintegrate, releasing the cancer-fighting agents inside.

“One of the reasons glioblastoma is so deadly is because we can’t get drugs into the brain to treat it,” said Trant. “One of the ways to currently do that is to cut your skull open and deposit wafers of drugs into your brain. Then they seal you back up and hope the wafers contain enough drugs to kill back the cancer.”

Post-operative treatments include radiation and chemotherapy which adversely affect patients’ quality of life because they don’t target only the tumours.

Trant hopes to come up with an alternative treatment that someday will be available by injection or nasal spray.

He has received a $50,000 grant from the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada to begin his research. He is dedicating two full-time researchers in his lab to the project and hopes to prove the viability of the concept within a year. Further research would be needed to make the treatment available to glioblastoma patients.

Glioblastoma, also known as glioblastoma multiforme, is the most aggressive form of brain cancer. It has a low survival rate. It’s the cancer that claimed the life of Gord Downie, lead singer of the Canadian band The Tragically Hip.

The blood-brain barrier has posed a daunting challenge to researchers. It forms a seal around the brain to protect it from viruses and bacteria.

“What we want to do is hijack a few mechanisms that are on that blood-brain barrier to help get drugs across,” Trant said. One of those mechanisms are receptors that allow specific proteins to enter from the bloodstream.

The particles Trant is proposing to introduce to the bloodstream and piggyback onto the proteins are 1/10,000th of a millimetre in diameter.

While other scientists have done similar research, Trant’s approach is novel in that it relies on a modified form of liposomal nanoparticles, soft particles made up of fats, that his group has designed to be perfectly stable until magnets are used to make them disintegrate on command. Under the magnetic field, created by the patient donning a magnetic helmet, the rust Trant will imbed in the shell of the nanoparticles will heat up to 3,000°C, causing it to break apart into benign biomolecules.

The heat generated will be so exceptionally localized, it will not adversely affect the drug in the nanoparticle nor any of the human tissue around it. The temperature change would be completely imperceptible to the patient.

“We can get the best of all worlds,” Trant said. “We can make a polymer that is super-stable and that doesn’t change until you want it to. When you trigger it, it falls apart completely and opens up and releases stuff. We can put drugs in there, we can target them for the blood-brain barrier, we can get them across the blood-brain barrier and, between the time they are introduced to your bloodstream and they get into your brain, they’re not releasing the drug.”

The zebrafish is often used in health research because it has a similar genetic structure to humans. The minnow-like fish is transparent, allowing researchers to use dyes as a visual cue to ensure their therapies are targeting the intended tissue.

UWindsor biology professor Lisa Porter, a founding director of the Windsor Cancer Research Group, uses zebrafish in her research, Trant explained. Trant and Porter often collaborate, and Trant will use the aquarium in Porter’s lab for his glioblastoma research.

If successful, Trant’s nanoscopic delivery system could be used to carry other things, like genetic material, radioactive elements, other drugs, or dyes that can be used to fight other diseases, too.

“Dr. Trant’s research is an example of the ground-breaking work taking place at the University of Windsor,” said K.W. Michael Siu, vice-president, research and innovation. “This is his first research project funded by the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada and we wish him great success.”

—Sarah Sacheli

John TrantLisa PorterK.W. Michael SiuStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScienceChemistry & Biochemistry

UWindsor researcher signs on to effort building new Canadian neutron beams

Fri, 03/05/2021 - 00:55

The University of Windsor is part of a national initiative to increase Canadian researchers’ access to neutron beams, with a $14.25 million grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) for a project called “Building a Future for Canadian Neutron Scattering,” led by McMaster University.

Neutron beams for materials research require extremely expensive equipment and are crucial to myriad fields of research, including clean energy technology, biomedicine, and the auto industry.

“This is one of the most exciting parts of the proposal, we don’t know which new materials will be discovered as a result of these new resources,” says Drew Marquardt, grant co-applicant and assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, cross-appointed in the Department of Physics.

“It’s a massive win for the scientists whose research relies on neutron scattering and it’s equally impressive for UWindsor to be a part of this project. It is important to realize that growing these resources is key to the research, but it also helps us train the next highly-skilled generation of scientists.”

Canada’s major neutron source for the study of materials was shut down in 2018. Dr. Marquardt says materials research helps create and study materials for clean energy technology, the structural integrity of reliability-critical components of vehicles or nuclear power plants, biomaterials for understanding and combating disease, and materials for information technology.

“Researchers who use neutron beams are contributing to many key areas of technological innovation that are important to Canadians — from reducing greenhouse emissions, fighting cancer and antibiotic resistance to auto parts manufacturing — just to name a few,” says Marquardt, president of the Canadian Institute for Neutron Scattering.

The CFI Innovation grant will be used for completing McMaster University’s neutron beam lab and for adding three new neutron beamlines to the Hamilton facility, as well as to form partnerships with two neutron beam facilities in the United States.

“McMaster will install a modern neutron powder diffractometer, a neutron reflectometer, and a neutron stress scanner optimized for engineering materials applications, and together, this set of five neutron diffractometers will cover a comprehensive range of key applications which benefit my lab’s research directly,” Marquardt says.

He notes establishing partnerships with two world-leading international neutron scattering facilities will integrate Canadian researchers into the design and building of new neutron spectrometers.

The Canadian neutron scattering community includes more than 240 scientists, engineers, and students from more than 40 Canadian institutions across eight provinces.

“It is exciting to participate in a pan-Canadian initiative like this, which includes 17 contributing universities across Canada,” says K.W. Michael Siu, UWindsor’s vice-president, research and innovation.

“This CFI-IF infrastructure will enable the University of Windsor to conduct insightful studies and exciting discoveries, as well as to train the next-generation of highly qualified personnel in the field of neutron scattering and materials science.”

—Sara Elliott

Drew MarquardtMichael NguyenMitchell DiPasqualeBrett RickeardStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ScienceChemistry & BiochemistryPhysics

Professor to join discussion of diversity in research

Thu, 03/04/2021 - 00:42

UWindsor biomedical sciences professor Lisa Porter, executive director of the WE-Spark Health Institute, will participate in an online panel discussion offering insight on the impact of equity, diversity, and inclusivity in innovative research on Monday, March 8.

The free public event will be livestreamed on YouTube by the Ontario Research and Commercialization Alliance as part of its observance of International Women’s Day.

The day’s activities will be emceed by Dominique Bérubé, vice-president of research at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). A second panel will discuss overcoming barriers to women and equity-seeking researchers in achieving entrepreneurial success.

The full event will run 1 to 3 p.m. Find details of the speakers and register to attend at www.orcawomensday.eventbrite.ca.

Lisa PorterStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScienceBiology

Report details progress by WE-Spark Health Institute

Wed, 02/17/2021 - 00:45

WE-Spark Health Institute has released its third-quarter progress report highlighting key accomplishments covering the period November 2020 to January 2021.

Successes include:

  • 18 local grants awarded totalling $346,725.00;
  • 452 members, an increase of 209 per cent over its first year;
  • the launched of a web-based question-and-answer program featuring local experts in healthcare, research, and education;
  • a new research request portal for those seeking collaborators, assistance with research project and budget development, data management and analysis, equipment, facilities, or fresh tissue trials; and
  • designed and launched a knowledge translation workshop series.

Read the report here.

WE-Spark Health Institute is a partnership between the University of Windsor, Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, St. Clair College, and Windsor Regional Hospital that brings together health research strengths, expertise, and infrastructure from across the Windsor-Essex region. Its mission is to enhance the health, well-being, and care of people through transformative research and knowledge translation.

Strategic Priority: Engage in community partnershipsPursue strengths in research and graduate educationAcademic Area: ResearchScience

Presentation to introduce careers in genetic counselling

Tue, 02/09/2021 - 00:17

Are you an undergraduate student unsure of what career path to follow? Are you interested in learning about a unique career in the sciences?

If you said yes to these questions, join Maheen Arshad (BSc 2020) for an interactive presentation on Thursday, Feb. 11, to learn about the career of a genetic counsellor.

Genetic counsellors are healthcare professionals with specialized education in medical genetics and psychosocial counselling to provide personalized advice to patients as they make decisions about their genetic health.

Most genetic counselors work in a clinical setting alongside a team of healthcare professionals including physicians, nurse practitioners, psychologists, occupational therapists and more. They may provide general care or specialize in areas such as pediatrics, cancer, prenatal, cardiovascular, neurology and others.

Arshad, a graduate of the UWindsor program in behaviour, cognition, and neuroscience, is currently pursuing Master’s studies at Wayne State University’s Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics.

Attend her presentation in MS-Teams at 7 p.m. Thursday to learn more about the profession of genetic counselling. To receive an invitation, email sdutoit@uwindsor.ca.

Maheen ArshadAlumniCurrent StudentsAcademic Area: Science