As I write this on Friday, August 13, 2021 there seems seems to be unanimous consensus that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will drop the writ this weekend (Update: He did on Sunday, August 15, 2021) and Canadians will be are voting in a federal election on September 20, 2021.
Consequently, it seems like an opportune moment to feature the Periodically Political podcast and its parent organization, Elect STEM.
These are very high minded people: Darren Anderson, Christopher Caputo, and Monika Stolar.(click on the photos)., each of whom has at least one PhD in one science or other. (There’s a little more about the co-founders at the end of this posting.)
Here’s more about Elect STEM (STEM = science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), from the website homepage,
What We Do
We seek to make science non-partisan by engaging more scientists in politics.
Issues We Focus On
We provide information and support for Canadians with a STEM background who want to engage in politics across all parties and levels of government.
I have a few questions:
How does engaging more scientists in politics make it non-partisan? Any evidence?
Perhaps I missed it but where on the website is the toolkit or detailed information about how to enter politics (municipal, provincial, federal)?
How is the Elect STEM website and its podcast being funded? (Is it self-funded?)
Why not include STEAM (the A is for arts) and STEMM (the second M is for medicine)? (My suggestion: call the organization Elect STEM+)
Clever name for the podcast series! It is an allusion to the Periodic Table of Elements, yes?
For some reason, it was decided that the December 28, 2020 podcast would be called Episode 0. (I’m not a big fan of that decision.)
Their Season 1 Episode 1 (Kyle Demes interview) was posted January 20, 2021. Note: Demes who has a PhD in Zoology works as a strategist and consultant. He does not list any political experience on his website.
I recognized a couple of politician’s names (Preston Manning and Dalton McGuinty) as being part of season 1. I’m sure there are others. Do check out the list. From the little I’ve seen, it’s quite eclectic.
You will notice that after their 13th episode, which was a recapitulation (recap) of their first season, they added more episodes (Political Bonus Track no. ?). Dr. Mona Nemer’s, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, interview (episode 15, also known as, Political Bonus Track 2) was added on Friday, August 13, 2021.
I imagine this election campaign will either jumpstart season 2 or spawn several ‘Political Bonus Tracks’. Perhaps they’ll be able to interview:
Marc Garneau, former astronaut, PhD in Electrical Engineering, and current Minister of Foreign Affairs
Kirsty Duncan, PhD in Geography, former minister of science and minister of sport and persons with disabilities, current MP (Member of Parliament)
Gary Goodyear, incomplete undergraduate degree in biomechanics and psychology, Doctor of Chiropractic (?), and former Minister of State for Science & Technology
Ted Hsu, PhD in physics, former MP
Molly Shoichet (pronounced shoy, then, ket or quette), PhD in polymer science and engineering, biomedical engineer, briefly, Chief Scientist for Ontario (it’s first)
Pascal Lapointe, science journalist, editor-in-chief of Agence Science-Presse (Québec’s Science Press Agency) and founder of Je Vote Pour La Science,
Andrew Weaver, PhD in Applied Mathematics, former leader of the BC (British Columbia) Green Party and former MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly)
Moira Stilwell, MD, originator of a BC government science’ initiative (scroll down my April 28, 2020 posting to the ‘Year of Science in British Columbia’ subhead for a brief comment about how that idea changed shape as it went through the political process), and former Minister of Advanced Education, Minister of Regional Economic and Skills Development, and Minister of Social Development, currently head of Nuclear Medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Radiology at the University of British Columbia
Jane Philpott, MD and former Minister of Health, Minister of Indigenous Services, and President of the Treasury Board, currently Dean of Health Sciences and Diector of the School of Medicine for Queen’s University
Rémi Quirion, neuroscientist, PhD (I’m not able to identify in which field), The Chief Scientist of Québec
Someone (Mehrdad Hariri?) from the Canadian Science Policy Centre?
Perhaps there’s someone who could talk about indigenous science and politics?
What about someone from the Northern territories? (climate change and Arctic anyone?)
As for Kennedy Stewart who’s currently mayor of Vancouver, read on as to why that might be interesting.
A few comments
I don’t have any great moral objections to Elect STEM’s purpose (get more scientists to run for political office) but I’m not convinced that elected officials with scientific training will make a big difference.
Running for office at the federal and provincial and, even, municipal (of the larger cities) levels requires name recognition, which is acquired through party affiliation. There are very few successful independent politicians at any of these levels.
Once you’ve joined a political party and decided to run under their banner, you are obliged to support the party and its leader. Should you be successfully elected, you will vote along party lines or there will be consequences.
Since the book’s publication, Kennedy Stewart has left federal politics and become mayor of the city of Vancouver. Somewhere along the way, he appears to have lost interest in science policy. (See my November 14, 2012 posting for the first of many posts covering Stewart’s science policy efforts. Just search ‘Kennedy Stewart’ in the blog search engine for the others.)
A PhD in political science, Stewart has focused his efforts on more newsworthy topics as he campaigns for the next election. He seems to have been in campaign mode since he first got elected as mayor.
Whatever you or I may think of that approach, the current Canadian political system rewards the behaviour. It’s something to keep in mind when insisting that scientists run for political office.
More about Stolar, Caputo, and Anderson (plus a bonus)
All three co-founders have ties to either or both the University of Toronto and York University.
I don’t have much about Monika Stolar, “scientist, graphic designer, communicator, and Research & Industry Relations Officer at Simon Fraser University,” other than her website
Christopher Caputo, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair. at the Caputo Lab at York University has his profile page here.
Darren Anderson, chief executive officer (CEO) Vive Crop Protection, was featured here in an interview (thank you! in a February 25, 2011 posting) when he was Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of the company then known as Vive Nano. Most recently, the company was mentioned here on the occasion of its 15th anniversary in a July 20, 2021 posting (scroll down about 45% of the way).
I imagine that most anyone who’s been in contact with Ms. Shoichet is experiencing a thrill on hearing this morning’s (November 10, 2020) news about winning Canada’s highest honour for science and engineering research. (Confession: she, very kindly, once gave me a brief interview for a posting on this blog, more about that later).
Why Molly Shoichet won the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal
Emily Chung’s Nov. 10, 2020 news item on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) website announces the exciting news (Note: Links have been removed),
A Toronto chemical engineering professor has won the $1 million Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal, the country’s top science prize, for her work designing gels that mimic human tissues.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced Tuesday [Nov. 10, 2020] that Molly Shoichet, professor of chemical engineering and applied chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering at the University of Toronto is this year’s recipient of the award, which recognizes “sustained excellence” and “overall influence” of research conducted in Canada in the natural sciences or engineering.
Shoichet’s hydrogels are used for drug development and delivery and regenerative medicine to heal injuries and treat diseases.
NSERC said Shoichet’s work has led to the development of several “game-changing” applications of such materials. They “delivered a crucial breakthrough” by allowing cells to be grown in three dimensions as they do in the body, rather than the two dimensions they typically do in a petri dish.
Hydrogels are polymer materials — materials such as plastics, made of repeating units — that become swollen with water.
“If you’ve ever eaten Jell-o, that’s a hydrogel,” Shoichet said. Slime and the absorbent material inside disposable diapers are also hydrogels.
Shoichet was born in Toronto, and studied science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After graduating, she worked in the biotech industry alongside “brilliant biologists,” she said. She noticed that the biologists’ research was limited by what types of materials were available.
As an engineer, she realized she could help by custom designing materials for biologists. She could make materials specifically suit their needs, to answer their specific questions by designing hydrogels to mimic particular tissues.
Her collaborations with biologists have also generated three spinoff companies, including AmacaThera, which was recently approved to run human trials of a long-acting anesthetic delivered with an injectable hydrogel to deal with post-surgical pain.
Shoichet noted that drugs given to deal with that kind of pain lead to a quarter of opioid addictions, which have been a deadly problem in Canada and around the world.
“What we’re really excited about is not only meeting that critical need of providing people with greater pain relief for a sustained period of time, but also possibly putting a dent in the operation,” she said.
The Herzberg Gold Medal is awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) in recognition of research contributions characterized by both excellence and influence.
“I was completely overwhelmed when I was told the good news,” says Shoichet. “There are so many exceptional people who’ve won this award and I admire them. To think of my peers putting me in that same category is really incredible.”
A pioneer in regenerative medicine, tissue engineering and drug delivery, Shoichet and her team are internationally known for their discovery and innovative use of 3D hydrogels.
“One of the challenges facing drug screening is that many of the drugs discovered work well in the lab, but not in people, and a possible explanation for this discrepancy is that these drugs are discovered in environments that do not reflect that of the body,” explains Shoichet.
Shoichet’s team has invented a series of biomaterials that provide a soft, three-dimensional environment in which to grow cells. These hydrogels — water-swollen materials — better mimic human tissue than hard two-dimensional plastic dishes that are typically used. “Now we can do more predictive drug screening,” says Shoichet.
Her lab is using these biomaterials to discover drugs for breast and brain cancer and a rare lung disease. Shoichet’s lab has been equally innovative in regenerative medicine strategies to promote repair of the brain after stroke and overcome blindness.
“Everything that we do is motivated by answering a question in biology, using our engineering and chemistry tools to answer those questions,” says Shoichet.
“The hope is that our contributions will ultimately make a positive impact in the cancer community and in treating diseases for which we can only slow the progression rather than stop and reverse, such as with blindness.”
Shoichet is also an advocate for and advisor on the fields of science and engineering. She has advised both federal and provincial governments through her service on Canada’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council and the Ontario Research Innovation Council. From 2014 to 2018, she was the Senior Advisor to the President on Science & Engineering Engagement at the University of Toronto. She is the co-founder of Research2Reality [emphasis mine], which uses social media to promote innovative research across the country. She also served as Ontario’s first Chief Scientist [emphasis mine], with a mandate to advance science and innovation in the province.
Shoichet is the only person to be elected a fellow of all three of Canada’s National Academies and is a foreign member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, and fellow of the Royal Society (UK) — the oldest and most prestigious academic society.
Doug Ford (premier of Ontario) and Molly Shoichet
She did serve as Ontario’s first Chief Scientist—for about six months (Nov. 2017 – July 2018). Molly Shoichet was fired when a new provincial government was elected in the summer of 2018. Here’s more about the incident from a July 4, 2018 article by Ryan Maloney for huffingtonpost.ca (Note: Links have been removed),
New Ontario Premier Doug Ford has fired the province’s first chief scientist.
Dr. Molly Shoichet, a renowned biomedical engineer who teaches at the University of Toronto, was appointed in November  to advise the government and ensure science and research were at the forefront of decision-making.
Shoichet told HuffPost Canada in an email that the she does not believe the decision was about her, and “I don’t even know whether it was about this role.” She said she is disappointed but honoured to have served Ontarians, even for a short time.
Ford’s spokesman, Simon Jefferies told The Canadian Press Wednesday that the government is starting the process of “finding a suitable and qualified replacement.” [emphasis mine]
The move comes just days after Ford’s Progressive Conservatives officially took power in Canada’s largest province with a majority government.
Almost a year later, there was no replacement in sight according to a June 24, 2019 opinion piece by Kimberly Girling (then the Research and Policy Director of the Evidence for Democracy not-for-profit) for the star.com,
Premier Doug Ford, I’m concerned for your government.
I know you feel it too. Last week, one year into your mandate and faced with sharply declining polls after your first provincial budget, you conducted a major cabinet shuffle. This shuffle is clearly an attempt to “put the right people in the right place at the right time” and improve the outcomes of your cabinet. But I’m still concerned.
Since your election, your caucus has made many bold decisions. Unfortunately, it seems many are Ontarians unhappy with most of these decisions, and I’m not sure the current shuffle is enough to fix this.
 I think you’re missing someone.
What about a Chief Scientist?
It isn’t a radical idea. Actually, you used to have one. Ontario’s first Chief Scientist, Dr. Molly Shoichet, was appointed to advise the government on science policy and champion science and innovation for Ontario. However, when your government was elected, you fired Dr. Shoichet within the first week.
It’s been a year, and so far we haven’t seen any attempts to fill this vacant position. [emphasis mine]
I wonder if Doug Ford and his crew regret the decision to fire Shoichet especially now that the province is suffering from a new peak in rising COVID-19 case numbers. These days government could do with a little bit of good news.
The only way we might ever know is if Doug Ford writes a memoir (in about 20 or 30 years from now).
Molly Shoichet, Research2Reality, and FrogHeart
A May 11, 2015 posting announced the launch of Research2Reality and it’s in this posting that I have a few comments from Molly Shoichet about co-founding a national science communication project. Given how busy she was at the time, I was amazed she took a few minutes to speak to me and took more time to make it possible for me to interview Raymond Laflamme (then director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo [Ontario]) and a prominent physicist.
“I’m very excited about this and really hope that other people will be too,” says Shoichet. The audience for the Research2Reality endeavour is for people who like to know more and have questions when they see news items about science discoveries that can’t be answered by investigating mainstream media programmes or trying to read complex research papers.
This is a big undertaking. ” Mike [Mike MacMillan, co-founder] and I thought about this for about two years.” Building on the support they received from the University of Toronto, “We reached out to the vice-presidents of research at the top fifteen universities in the country.” In the end, six universities accepted the invitation to invest in this project,
I missed a few science journalists (part 1 of this series, under the Science Communication subhead; Mainstream Media, sub subhead) as the folks at the Science Media Centre of Canada (SMCC) noted on Twitter,
Thanks for the mention. But I think poor @katecallen at the Toronto Star would be dismayed to read that @IvanSemeniuk is the only science reporter on a Canadian newspaper. And @row1960 Bob Weber at Canadian Press is carried in every newspaper in the country.
In addition, @mle_chung at CBC News Online (#1 news source in Canada) is read more than any other science writer in the country, as is her colleague @NebulousNikki
***ETA April 29, 2020 at 0910 PT: Yesterday, April 28, 2020, Postmedia announced that it was closing 15 community newspapers and a number of jobs elsewhere in the organization. Earlier in the month on April 7, 2020 Postmedia announced that 85 positions were being eliminated, including 11 in the editorial department of TorStar (Toronto Star). I hope they keep a position for a science writer at the Toronto Star.***
Alice Major, a poet mentioned in Part 3 under The word subhead; Poetry sub subhead, wrote with news of two other poets who focus on science in their work.
Christian Bök[needs IPA] (born August 10, 1966 in Toronto, Canada) is an experimental Canadian poet. He is the author of Eunoia, which won the Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize.
On April 4, 2011 Bök announced a significant break-through in his 9-year project to engineer “a life-form so that it becomes not only a durable archive for storing a poem, but also an operant machine for writing a poem”. On the previous day (April 3) Bök said he received confirmation from the laboratory at the University of Calgary that my poetic cipher, gene X-P13, has in fact caused E. coli to fluoresce red in our test-runs—meaning that, when implanted in the genome of this bacterium, my poem (which begins “any style of life/ is prim…”) does in fact cause the bacterium to write, in response, its own poem (which begins “the faery is rosy/ of glow…”).”
The project has continued for over fifteen years at a cost exceeding $110,000 and he hopes to finish the project in 2014. He published “Book I” of the resulting Xenotext in 2015.
Internationally best-sellling poet Christian Bök has spent more than ten years writing what promises to be the first example of ‘living poetry.’ After successfully demonstrating his concept in a colony of E. coli, Bök is on the verge of enciphering a beautiful, anomalous poem into the genome of an unkillable bacterium (Deinococcus radiodurans), which can, in turn, “read” his text, responding to it by manufacturing a viable, benign protein, whose sequence of amino acids enciphers yet another poem. The engineered organism might conceivably serve as a post-apocalyptic archive, capable of outlasting our civilization.
Book I of The Xenotext constitutes a kind of ‘demonic grimoire,’ providing a scientific framework for the project with a series of poems, texts, and illustrations. A Virgilian welcome to the Inferno, Book I is the “orphic” volume in a diptych, addressing the pastoral heritage of poets, who have sought to supplant nature in both beauty and terror. The book sets the conceptual groundwork for the second volume, which will document the experiment itself. The Xenotext is experimental poetry in the truest sense of the term.
Adam Dickinson is a poet and an associate professor at Brock University (Ontario). He describes himself and his work this way (from the Brock University bio page),
Adam Dickinson is a poet and a professor of poetry. His creative and academic writing has primarily focused on intersections between poetry and science as a way of exploring new ecocritical perspectives and alternative modes of poetic composition. His latest book, Anatomic (Coach House Books), involves the results of chemical and microbial testing on his body, and was shortlisted for The Raymond Souster Award. Sections of it were also shortlisted for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Poetry Prize. His book, The Polymers (House of Anansi ), which is an imaginary science project that combines the discourses, theories, and experimental methods of the science of plastic materials with the language and culture of plastic behaviour, was a finalist for both the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. He has published two previous books, Kingdom, Phylum (also nominated for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry) and Cartography and Walking (nominated for an Alberta Book Award). His scholarly work (supported by SSHRC [Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada]) brings together research in innovative poetics, biosemiotics, pataphysics, and Anthropocene studies.
His current research-creation project, “Metabolic Poetics,” (also supported by SSHRC) is concerned with the potential of expanded modes of reading and writing to shift the frames and scales of conventional forms of signification in order to bring into focus the often inscrutable biological and cultural writing intrinsic to the Anthropocene, especially as this is reflected in the inextricable link between the metabolic processes of human and nonhuman bodies and the global metabolism of energy and capital.
He has been featured at prominent international literary festivals, such as Poetry International in Rotterdam, The Harbourfront International Festival of Authors in Toronto, and the Oslo International Poetry Festival in Norway. Adam has also been a finalist for the K.M. Hunter Artist Award in Literature, Administered by the Ontario Arts Council. Adam welcomes potential student supervisions on topics in poetry and poetics, environmental writing, science and literature, and creative writing.
This last addition may seen a little offbeat but ARPICO (Society of Italian Researchers & Professionals in Western Canada) has hosted a surprisingly large number of science events in Vancouver. Two recent examples include: The Eyes are the Windows to The Mind; Implications for Artificial Intelligence (AI) -driven Personalized Interaction on March 4, 2020 and, the relatively recent, Whispers in the Dark: Underground Science on June 12, 2019.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to resist the impulse to make any more additions.
***ETA April 30, 2020: Research2Reality (R2R) was launched in 2015 as a social media initiative featuring a series of short video interviews with Canadian scientists (see more in my May 11, 2015 posting). Almost five years later, the website continues to feature interviews and it also hosts news about Canadian science and research. R2R was founded by Molly Shoichet (pronounced shoyquette) and Mike MacMillan.***
For anyone who stumbled across this addendum first, it fits on to the end of a 5-part series:
I have two stories about lungs and they are entirely different with the older one being a bioengineering story from the US and the more recent one being an artificial tissue story from the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa (both in Canada).
Lab grown lungs
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Quirks and Quarks radio programme posted a December 29, 2018 news item (with embedded radio files) about bioengineered lunjgs,
There are two major components to building an organ: the structure and the right cells on that structure. A team led by Dr. Joan Nichols, a Professor of Internal Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, were able to tackle both parts of the problem
In their experiment they used a donor organ for the structure. They took a lung from an unrelated pig, and stripped it of its cells, leaving a scaffold of collagen, a tough, flexible protein. This provided a pre-made appropriate structure, though in future they think it may be possible to use 3-D printing technology to get the same result.
They then added cultured cells from the animal who would be receiving the transplant – so the lung was made of the animal’s own cells. Cultured lung and blood vessel cells were placed on the scaffold and it was placed in a tank for 30 days with a cocktail of nutrients to help the cells stick to the scaffold and proliferate. The result was a kind of baby lung.
They then transplanted the bio-engineered, though immature, lung into the recipient animal where they hoped it would continue to develop and mature – growing to become a healthy, functioning organ.
The recipients of the bio-engineered lungs were four pigs adult pigs, which appeared to tolerate the transplants well. In order to study the development of the bio-engineered lungs, they euthanized the animals at different times: 10 hours, two weeks, one month and two months after transplantation.
They found that as early as two weeks, the bio-engineered lung had integrated into the recipient animals’ body, building a strong network of blood vessels essential for the lung to survive. There was no evidence of pulmonary edema, the build of fluid in the lungs, which is usually a sign of the blood vessels not working efficiently. There was no sign of rejection of the transplanted organs, and the pigs were healthy up to the point where they were euthanized.
One lingering concern is how well the bio-engineered lungs delivered oxygen. The four pigs who received the trasplant [sic] had one original functioning lung, so they didn’t depend on their new bio-engineered lung for breathing. The scientists were not sure that the bio-engineered lung was mature enough to handle the full load of oxygen on its own.
You can hear Bob McDonald’s (host of Quirks & Quarks, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation science radio programme) interview lead scientist, Dr. Joan Nichols if you go to here. (Note: I find he overmodulates his voice but some may find he has a ‘friendly’ voice.)
This is an image of the lung scaffold produced by the team,
In 2014, Joan Nichols and Joaquin Cortiella from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston were the first research team to successfully bioengineer human lungs in a lab. In a paper now available in Science Translational Medicine, they provide details of how their work has progressed from 2014 to the point no complications have occurred in the pigs as part of standard preclinical testing.
“The number of people who have developed severe lung injuries has increased worldwide, while the number of available transplantable organs have decreased,” said Cortiella, professor of pediatric anesthesia. “Our ultimate goal is to eventually provide new options for the many people awaiting a transplant,” said Nichols, professor of internal medicine and associate director of the Galveston National Laboratory at UTMB.
To produce a bioengineered lung, a support scaffold is needed that meets the structural needs of a lung. A support scaffold was created using a lung from an unrelated animal that was treated using a special mixture of sugar and detergent to eliminate all cells and blood in the lung, leaving only the scaffolding proteins or skeleton of the lung behind. This is a lung-shaped scaffold made totally from lung proteins.
The cells used to produce each bioengineered lung came from a single lung removed from each of the study animals. This was the source of the cells used to produce a tissue-matched bioengineered lung for each animal in the study. The lung scaffold was placed into a tank filled with a carefully blended cocktail of nutrients and the animals’ own cells were added to the scaffold following a carefully designed protocol or recipe. The bioengineered lungs were grown in a bioreactor for 30 days prior to transplantation. Animal recipients were survived for 10 hours, two weeks, one month and two months after transplantation, allowing the research team to examine development of the lung tissue following transplantation and how the bioengineered lung would integrate with the body.
All of the pigs that received a bioengineered lung stayed healthy. As early as two weeks post-transplant, the bioengineered lung had established the strong network of blood vessels needed for the lung to survive.
“We saw no signs of pulmonary edema, which is usually a sign of the vasculature not being mature enough,” said Nichols and Cortiella. “The bioengineered lungs continued to develop post-transplant without any infusions of growth factors, the body provided all of the building blocks that the new lungs needed.”
Nichols said that the focus of the study was to learn how well the bioengineered lung adapted and continued to mature within a large, living body. They didn’t evaluate how much the bioengineered lung provided oxygenation to the animal.
“We do know that the animals had 100 percent oxygen saturation, as they had one normal functioning lung,” said Cortiella. “Even after two months, the bioengineered lung was not yet mature enough for us to stop the animal from breathing on the normal lung and switch to just the bioengineered lung.”
For this reason, future studies will look at long-term survival and maturation of the tissues as well as gas exchange capability.
The researchers said that with enough funding, they could grow lungs to transplant into people in compassionate use circumstances within five to 10 years.
“It has taken a lot of heart and 15 years of research to get us this far, our team has done something incredible with a ridiculously small budget and an amazingly dedicated group of people,” Nichols and Cortiella said.
Here’s a citation and another link for the paper,
Production and transplantation of bioengineered lung into a large-animal model by Joan E. Nichols, Saverio La Francesca, Jean A. Niles, Stephanie P. Vega, Lissenya B. Argueta, Luba Frank, David C. Christiani, Richard B. Pyles, Blanca E. Himes, Ruyang Zhang, Su Li, Jason Sakamoto, Jessica Rhudy, Greg Hendricks, Filippo Begarani, Xuewu Liu, Igor Patrikeev, Rahul Pal, Emiliya Usheva, Grace Vargas, Aaron Miller, Lee Woodson, Adam Wacher, Maria Grimaldo, Daniil Weaver, Ron Mlcak, and Joaquin Cortiella. Science Translational Medicine 01 Aug 2018: Vol. 10, Issue 452, eaao3926 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aao3926
This paper is behind a paywall.
Artificial lung cancer tissue
The research teams at the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa worked on creating artificial lung tissue but other applications are possible too. First, there’s the announcement in a February 25, 2019 news item on phys.org,
A 3-D hydrogel created by researchers in U of T Engineering Professor Molly Shoichet’s lab is helping University of Ottawa researchers to quickly screen hundreds of potential drugs for their ability to fight highly invasive cancers.
Cell invasion is a critical hallmark of metastatic cancers, such as certain types of lung and brain cancer. Fighting these cancers requires therapies that can both kill cancer cells as well as prevent cell invasion of healthy tissue. Today, most cancer drugs are only screened for their ability to kill cancer cells.
“In highly invasive diseases, there is a crucial need to screen for both of these functions,” says Shoichet. “We now have a way to do this.”
In their latest research, the team used hydrogels to mimic the environment of lung cancer, selectively allowing cancer cells, and not healthy cells, to invade. In their latest research, the team used hydrogels to mimic the environment of lung cancer, selectively allowing cancer cells, and not healthy cells, to invade. This emulated environment enabled their collaborators in Professor Bill Stanford’s lab at University of Ottawa to screen for both cancer-cell growth and invasion. The study, led by Roger Y. Tam, a research associate in Shochet’s lab, was recently published in Advanced Materials.
“We can conduct this in a 384-well plate, which is no bigger than your hand. And with image-analysis software, we can automate this method to enable quick, targeted screenings for hundreds of potential cancer treatments,” says Shoichet.
One example is the researchers’ drug screening for lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), a rare lung disease affecting women. Shoichet and her team were inspired by the work of Green Eggs and LAM, a Toronto-based organization raising awareness of the disease.
Using their hydrogels, they were able to automate and screen more than 800 drugs, thereby uncovering treatments that could target disease growth and invasion.
In the ongoing collaboration, the researchers plan to next screen multiple drugs at different doses to gain greater insight into new treatment methods for LAM. The strategies and insights they gain could also help identify new drugs for other invasive cancers.
Shoichet, who was recently named a Distinguished Woman in Chemistry or Chemical Engineering, also plans to patent the hydrogel technology.
“This has, and continues to be, a great collaboration that is advancing knowledge at the intersection of engineering and biology,” says Shoichet.
I note that Shoichet (pronounced ShoyKet) is getting ready to patent this work. I do have a question about this and it’s not up to Shoichet to answer as she didn’t create the system. Will the taxpayers who funded her work receive any financial benefits should the hydrogel prove to be successful or will we be paying double, both supporting her research and paying for the hydrogel through our healthcare costs?
Getting back to the research, here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,
A team of researchers at the University of Toronto (Canada) have developed a technique for the therapeutic use of proteins that doesn’t require ‘nanoencapsulation’ although nanoparticles are still used according to a May 27, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,
A U of T [University of Toronto] Engineering team has designed a simpler way to keep therapeutic proteins where they are needed for long periods of time. The discovery is a potential game-changer for the treatment of chronic illnesses or injuries that often require multiple injections or daily pills.
For decades, biomedical engineers have been painstakingly encapsulating proteins in nanoparticles to control their release. Now, a research team led by University Professor Molly Shoichet has shown that proteins can be released over several weeks, even months, without ever being encapsulated. In this case the team looked specifically at therapeutic proteins relevant to tissue regeneration after stroke and spinal cord injury.
“It was such a surprising and unexpected discovery,” said co-lead author Dr. Irja Elliott Donaghue, who first found that the therapeutic protein NT3, a factor that promotes the growth of nerve cells, was slowly released when just mixed into a Jello-like substance that also contained nanoparticles. “Our first thought was, ‘What could be happening to cause this?'”
Proteins hold enormous promise to treat chronic conditions and irreversible injuries — for example, human growth hormone is encapsulated in these tiny polymeric particles, and used to treat children with stunted growth. In order to avoid repeated injections or daily pills, researchers use complicated strategies both to deliver proteins to their site of action, and to ensure they’re released over a long enough period of time to have a beneficial effect.
This has long been a major challenge for protein-based therapies, especially because proteins are large and often fragile molecules. Until now, investigators have been treating proteins the same way as small drug molecules and encapsulating them in polymeric nanoparticles, often made of a material called poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) or PLGA.
As the nanoparticles break down, the drug molecules escape. The same process is true for proteins; however, the encapsulating process itself often damages or denatures some of the encapsulated proteins, rendering them useless for treatment. Skipping encapsulation altogether means fewer denatured proteins, making for more consistent protein therapeutics that are easier to make and store.
“This is really exciting from a translational perspective,” said PhD candidate Jaclyn Obermeyer. “Having a simpler, more reliable fabrication process leaves less room for complications with scale-up for clinical use.”
The three lead authors, Elliott Donoghue, Obermeyer and Dr. Malgosia Pakulska have shown that to get the desired controlled release, proteins only need to be alongside the PLGA nanoparticles, not inside them. …
“We think that this could speed up the path for protein-based drugs to get to the clinic,” said Elliott Donaghue.
The mechanism for this encapsulation-free controlled release is surprisingly elegant. Shoichet’s group mixes the proteins and nanoparticles in a Jello-like substance called a hydrogel, which keeps them localized when injected at the site of injury. The positively charged proteins and negatively charged nanoparticles naturally stick together. As the nanoparticles break down they make the solution more acidic, weakening the attraction and letting the proteins break free.
“We are particularly excited to show long-term, controlled protein release by simply controlling the electrostatic interactions between proteins and polymeric nanobeads,” said Shoichet. “By manipulating the pH of the solution, the size and number of nanoparticles, we can control release of bioactive proteins. This has already changed and simplified the protein release strategies that we are pursuing in pre-clinical models of disease in the brain and spinal cord.”
“We’ve learned how to control this simple phenomena,” Pakulska said. “Our next question is whether we can do the opposite—design a similar release system for positively charged nanoparticles and negatively charged proteins.”
As of May 11, 2015, Canadians will be getting an addition to their science media environment (from the May 4, 2015 news release),
Research2Reality to celebrate Canadian research stars
Social media initiative to popularize scientific innovation
May 4, 2015, TORONTO – On Monday, May 11, Research2Reality.com goes live and launches a social media initiative that will make the scientist a star. Following in the footsteps of popular sites like IFLScience and How Stuff Works, Research2Reality uses a video series and website to engage the community in the forefront of scientific discoveries made here in Canada.
The interviews feature some of Canada’s leading researchers such as Dick Peltier – director of the Centre for Global Change Science at the University of Toronto, Sally Aitken – director of the Centre for Forest Conservation Genetics at the University of British Columbia and Raymond Laflamme – executive director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo.
“Right now many Canadians don’t understand the scope of cutting-edge work being done in our backyards,” says Research2Reality co-founder and award-winning professor Molly Shoichet. “This initiative will bridge that gap between researchers and the public.”
Also launching Monday, May 11, courtesy of Research2Reality’s official media partner, Discovery Science, is a complementary website www.sciencechannel.ca/Shows/Research2Reality. The new website will feature the exclusive premieres of a collection of interview sessions. In addition, Discovery Science and Discovery will broadcast an imaginative series of public service announcements through the end of the year, while social media accounts will promote Research2Reality, including Discovery’s flagship science and technology program DAILY PLANET.
Research2Reality is a social media initiative designed to popularize the latest Canadian research. It was founded by Molly Shoichet, Professor of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering at the University of Toronto, and Mike MacMillan, founder and producer of Lithium Studios Productions. Research2Reality’s founding partners are leading research-intensive universities – the University of Alberta, the University of British Columbia, McMaster University, the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo, and Western University – along with the Ontario Government and Discovery Networks. Discovery Science is the official media partner. Research2Reality is also supported by The Globe and Mail.
A Valentine of sorts to Canadian science researchers from Molly Shoichet (pronounced shoy [and] quette as in David Arquette) and her producing partner Mike MacMillan of Lithium Studios, Research2Reality gives Canadians an opportunity to discover online some of the extraordinary work done by scientists of all stripes, including (unusually) social scientists, in this country. The top tier in this effort is the interview video series ‘The Orange Chair Sessions‘ which can be found and shared across
Shoichet and MacMillan are convinced there’s an appetite for more comprehensive science information. Supporting The Orange Chair Sessions is a complementary website operated by Discovery Channel where there are
links to other resources
Discovery Channel is also going to be airing special one minute public service announcements (PSA) on topics like water, quantum computing, and cancer. Here’s one of the first of those PSAs,
“I’m very excited about this and really hope that other people will be too,” says Shoichet. The audience for the Research2Reality endeavour is for people who like to know more and have questions when they see news items about science discoveries that can’t be answered by investigating mainstream media programmes or trying to read complex research papers.
This is a big undertaking. ” Mike and I thought about this for about two years.” Building on the support they received from the University of Toronto, “We reached out to the vice-presidents of research at the top fifteen universities in the country.” In the end, six universities accepted the invitation to invest in this project,
the University of British Columbia,
the University of Alberta,
Western University (formerly the University of Western Ontario),
Waterloo University, and, of course,
the University of Toronto
(Unfortunately, Shoichet was not able to answer a question about the cost for an individual episode but perhaps when there’s time that detail and more about the financing will be made available. [ETA May 11, 2015 1625 PDT: Ivan Semeniuk notes this is a $400,000 project in his Globe and Mail May 11, 2015 article.]) As part of their involvement, the universities decide which of their researchers/projects should be profiled then Research2Reality swings into action. “We shoot our own video, that is, we (Mike and I) come out and conduct interviews that take approximately fifteen minutes. We also shoot a b-roll, that is, footage of the laboratories and other relevant sites so it’s not all ‘talking heads’.” Shoichet and MacMillan are interested in the answer to two questions, “What are you doing? and Why do we care?” Neither interviewer/producer is seen or heard on camera as they wanted to keep the focus on the researcher.
Three videos are being released initially with another 67 in the pipeline for a total of 70. The focus is on research of an international calibre and one of the first interviews to be released (Shoichet’s will be release later) is Raymond Laflamme’s (he’s also featured in the ‘quantum PSA’.
Who convinces a genius that he’s gotten an important cosmological concept wrong or ignored it? Alongside Don Page, Laflamme accomplished that feat as one of Stephen Hawking’s PhD students at the University of Cambridge. Today (May 11, 2015), Laflamme is (from his Wikipedia entry)
… co-founder and current director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo. He is also a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo and an associate faculty member at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Laflamme is currently a Canada Research Chair in Quantum Information.
Laflamme changed his focus from quantum cosmology to quantum information while at Los Alamos, “To me, it seemed natural. Not much of a change.” It is the difference between being a theoretician and an experimentalist and anyone who’s watched The Big Bang Theory (US television programme) knows that Laflamme made a big leap.
One of his major research interests is quantum cryptography, a means of passing messages you can ensure are private. Laflamme’s team and a team in Vienna (Austria) have enabled two quantum communication systems, one purely terrestrial version, which can exchange messages with another such system up to 100 km. away. There are some problems yet to be solved with terrestrial quantum communication. First, buildings, trees, and other structures provide interference as does the curvature of the earth. Second, fibre optic cables absorb some of the photons en route.
Satellite quantum communication seems more promising as these problems are avoided altogether. The joint Waterloo/Vienna team of researchers has conducted successful satellite experiments in quantum communication in the Canary Islands.
While there don’t seem to be any practical, commercial quantum applications, Laflamme says that isn’t strictly speaking the truth, “In the last 10 to 15 years many ideas have been realized.” The talk turns to quantum sensing and Laflamme mentions two startups and notes he can’t talk about them yet. But there is Universal Quantum Devices (UQD), a company that produces parts for quantum sensors. It is Laflamme’s startup, one he co-founded with two partners. (For anyone unfamiliar with the Canadian academic scene, Laflamme’s home institution, the University of Waterloo, is one of the most actively ‘innovative’ and business-oriented universities in Canada.)
LaFlamme’s interests extend beyond laboratory work and business. He’s an active science communicator as can be seen in this 2010 TEDxWaterloo presentation where he takes his audience from the discovery of fire to quantum physics concepts such as a ‘quantum superposition’ and the ‘observer effect’ to the question, ‘What is reality?’ in approximately 18 mins.
For anyone who needs a little more information, a quantum superposition is a term referring the ability of a quantum object to inhabit two states simultaneously, e.g., on/off. yes/no, alive/dead, as in Schrödinger’s cat. (You can find out more about quantum superpositions in this Wikipedia essay and about Schrodinger’s cat in this Wikipedia essay.) The observer effect is a phenomenon whereby the observer of a quantum experiment affects that experiment by the act of observing it. (You can find out more about the observer effect in this Wikipedia essay.)
The topic of reality is much trickier to explain. No one has yet been able to offer a viable theory for why the world at the macro scale behaves one way (classical physics) and the world at the quantum scale behaves another way (quantum physics). As Laflamme notes, “There is no such thing as a superposition in classical physics but we can prove in the laboratory that it exists in quantum physics.” He goes on to suggest that children, raised in an environment where quantum physics and its applications are commonplace, will have an utterly different notion as to what constitutes reality.
Laflamme is also interested in music and consulted on a ‘quantum symphony’. He has this to say about it in an Sept. 20, 2012 piece on the University of Waterlo website,
Science and art share a common goal — to help us understand our universe and ourselves. Research at IQC [Institute for Quantum Computing] aims to provide important new understanding of nature’s building blocks, and devise methods to turn that understanding into technologies beneficial for society.Since founding IQC a decade ago, I have sought ways to bridge science and the arts, with the belief that scientific discovery itself is a source of beauty and inspiration. Our collaboration with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony was an example — one of many yet to come — of how science and the arts provide different but complementary insights into our universe and ourselves.
From deep inside the sewers of Vienna, site of groundbreaking quantum teleportation experiments, to cutting-edge quantum computing labs, to voyages into the minds of the world’s brightest thinkers, including renowned British scientist Stephen Hawking, this documentary explores the coming quantum technological revolution.
All of this suggests an interest in science not seen since the 19th century when scientists could fill theatres for their lectures. Even Hollywood is capitalizing on this interest. Laflamme, who saw ‘Interstellar’, ‘The Imitation Game’ (Alan Turing), and ‘The Theory of Everything’ (Stephen Hawking) in fall 2014 comments, “I was surprised by how much science there was in The Imitation Game and Interstellar.” As for the Theory of Everything, “I was apprehensive since I know Stephen well. But, the actor, Eddie Redmayne, and the movie surprised me. There were times when he moved his head or did something in a particular way—he was Stephen. Also, most people don’t realize what an incredible sense of humour Stephen has and the movie captured that well.” Laflamme also observed that it was a movie about a relationship and not really concerned with science and its impacts (good and ill) or scientific accomplishments. Although he allows, “It could have had more science.”
Co-producer Shoichet has sterling scientific credentials of her own. In addition to this science communication project, she runs the Shoichet Lab at the University of Toronto (from the Dr. Molly Shoichet bio page),
Dr. Molly Shoichet holds the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering and is University Professor of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry, Chemistry and Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto. She is an expert in the study of Polymers for Drug Delivery & Regeneration which are materials that promote healing in the body.
Dr. Shoichet has published over to 480 papers, patents and abstracts and has given over 310 lectures worldwide. She currently leads a laboratory of 25 researchers and has graduated 134 researchers over the past 20 years. She founded two spin-off companies from research in her laboratory.
Dr. Shoichet is the recipient of many prestigious distinctions and the only person to be a Fellow of Canada’s 3 National Academies: Canadian Academy of Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada, Canadian Academy of Engineering, and Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. Dr. Shoichet holds the Order of Ontario, Ontario’s highest honour and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2013, her contributions to Canada’s innovation agenda and the advancement of knowledge were recognized with the QEII Diamond Jubilee Award. In 2014, she was given the University of Toronto’s highest distinction, University Professor, a distinction held by less than 2% of the faculty.
MacMIllan’s biography (from the Lithium Studios website About section hints this is his first science-oriented series (Note: Links have been removed),
Founder of Lithium Studios Productions
University of Toronto (‘02)
UCLA’s Professional Producing Program (‘11)
His first feature, the dark comedy / thriller I Put a Hit on You (2014, Telefilm Canada supported), premiered at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival in Park City. Guidance (2014, Telefilm Canada supported, with super producer Alyson Richards over at Edyson), a dark comedy/coming of age story is currently in post-production, expected to join the festival circuit in September 2014.
Mike has produced a dozen short films with Toronto talents Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart (CAN – Long Branch, Margo Lily), Samuel Fluckiger (SWISS – Terminal, Nightlight) and Darragh McDonald (CAN – Love. Marriage. Miscarriage.). They’ve played at the top film fests around the world and won a bunch of awards.
Special skills include kickass hat collection and whiskey. Bam.
It’s nice to see the Canadian scene expanding; I’m particularly pleased to learn social scientists will be included.Too often researchers from the physical sciences or natural sciences and researchers from the social sciences remain aloof from each other. In April 2013, I attended a talk by Evelyn Fox Keller, physicist, feminist, and philosopher, who read from a paper she’d written based on a then relatively recent experience in South Africa where researchers had aligned themselves in two different groups and refused to speak to each other. They were all anthropologists but the sticking point was the type of science they practiced. One group were physical anthropologists and the other were cultural anthropologists. That’s an extreme example unfortunately symptomatic of a great divide. Bravo to Research2Reality for bringing the two groups together.
As for the science appetite Shoichet and MacMillan see in Canada, this is not the only country experiencing a resurgence of interest; they’ve been experiencing a science media expansion in the US. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Star Talk television talk show, which also exists as a radio podcast, debuted on April 19, 2015 (Yahoo article by Calla Cofield); Public Radio Exchange’s (PRX) Transistor; a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) audio project debuted in Feb. 2015; and video podcast Science Goes to the Movies also debuted in Feb. 2015 (more about the last two initiatives in my March 6, 2015 posting [scroll down about 40% of the way]). Finally (for the burgeoning US science media scene) and neither least nor new, David Bruggeman has a series of posts titled, Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of …, on his Pasco Phronesis blog which has been running for many years. Bruggeman’s series is being included here because most people don’t realize that US late night talk shows have jumped into the science scene. You can check David’s site here as he posts this series on Mondays and this is Monday, May 11, 2015.
It’s early days for Research2Reality and it doesn’t yet have the depth one might wish. The videos are short (the one featured on the Discovery Channel’s complementary website is less than 2 mins. and prepare yourself for ads). They may not be satisfying from an information perspective but what makes The Orange Chair Series fascinating is the peek into the Canadian research scene. Welcome to Research2Reality and I hope to hear more about you in the coming months.
[ETA May 11, 2015 at 1625 PDT: Semeniuk’s May 11, 2015 article mentions a few other efforts to publicize Canadian research (Note: Links have been removed),
For example, Research Matters, a promotional effort by the Council of Ontario Universities, has built up a large bank of short articles on its website that highlight researchers across the province. Similarly, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which channels federal dollars toward research infrastructure and projects, produces features stories with embedded videos about the scientists who are enabled by their investments.
What makes Research2Reality different, said Dr. Shoichet, is an approach that doesn’t speak for one region, field of research of [sic] funding stream.
One other aspect which distinguishes Research2Reality from the other science promotion efforts is the attempt to reach out to the audience. The Canada Foundation for Innovation and Council for Ontario Universities are not known for reaching out directly to the general public.]