Christine Zeindler

Email: christine.zeindler@ubc.ca


 

UBCO experts share sweet advice about sugar and artificial sweeteners

Researchers offer top tips for a healthy Halloween

Like so many other areas of life, Halloween festivities may look a little different this year in the midst of COVID-19. As health authorities ask people to take precautions and parents grapple with what is safe for their children, one thing remains constant: Kids love candy.

To help provide some relief, experts at UBC Okanagan are weighing in on what the best treats are and how to avoid being tricked by clever marketing.

Although sugar doesn’t cause diabetes, eat mindfully says Jonathan Little, associate professor in the Faculty of Health and Social Development's School of Health and Exercise Sciences

"One of the biggest nutrition myths is that sugar causes diabetes. Sugar intake alone won’t do this; the major risk factors for Type 2 diabetes are age, genetics and obesity. You obviously can’t do much about the first two but your lifestyle can influence your weight status. Excess calories from any source, combined with physical inactivity, can promote weight gain, which in turn, increases the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

Also, it is important to monitor sugar and carbohydrate intake for those who have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. It should be routine to avoid foods with added sugars and refined carbohydrates. During holidays and festivities rather than reaching for sugary treats, look for those with higher protein and flavour, such as nuts, homemade granola or trail mix, or cheese. Not only will this most likely be healthier, they will also provide more sustained energy."

Sugar has many disguises, says Wesley Zandberg, assistant professor of chemistry in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

"Sugar is a whole group of sweet-tasting carbohydrates that may often go by other names such as glucose, fructose, lactose, dextrose—anything with the ‘-ose’ ending. Although chemically different, the body sees them as the same, whether from a candy bar or in concentrated fruit juices. And all are very, very high sources of calories.

In the case of whole fruit, though, sugars are also found linked together to form dietary fibres which the body cannot digest and instead powers the good bacteria living in the human gut. So, stick with the whole fruit, not the concentrated juice!

And keep your eye on labels. Smuggled-in sugars could be listed as carbohydrates, fruit juice concentrate, corn, malt or maple syrup. When searching for sugar-free treats, don’t let the labels fool you and learn the sugar synonyms.”

Artificial sweeteners may be harmful to your good gut bacteria, says Deanna Gibson, an associate professor of biology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

"Artificial sweeteners are calorie-free synthetic sugar substitutes added to food and drinks to make them taste sweet. Although this seems like a good idea, there has been controversy around how healthy and safe these additives actually are. One of their side-effects is that they are toxic to the healthy bacteria in our guts, which are necessary for many bodily functions, including digestion and immunity. In fact, the consumption of these sweeteners has been associated with altering the gut bacteria, throwing off the immune and metabolic balance.

Recently, a study by Raylene Reimer at the University of Calgary has shown that maternal consumption of low-calorie sweeteners including aspartame and stevia during pregnancy pre-programs their offspring to gain weight. This study highlights that artificial sweeteners promote obesity-causing gut microbes that are passed from the mother to their babies.

While eating large amounts of sugar is not good for those with diabetes, eating artificial sugar substitutes are not a healthy alternative. My recommendation is to eat little processed food and enjoy small amounts of natural sugars on Halloween!"

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

Research suggests infant immunity may be compromised

Letting nature take its course may be the best advice for nursing mothers, according to researchers from UBC Okanagan. Their findings show taking fish oil supplements while nursing may not be beneficial and may even negatively impact babies’ immunity.

The study, published in the ISME Journal, is the first to investigate the impacts of fish oil supplementation on the composition of breast milk and infant gut bacteria.

Deanna Gibson, associate professor of biology.

Deanna Gibson, associate professor of biology.

“While maternal fish oil supplementation is widely believed to support infant health, the effect on gut microbiology is relatively unknown,” says senior author Deanna Gibson, an associate professor of biology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science. “We demonstrated that supplementation corresponded with an increase in breast milk fats but a decrease in the immune-protective components of the milk. We also observed a change in infant gut microbiology—away from the bacteria normally present.”

For the study, Gibson and the research team evaluated 91 women and their babies; half took daily doses of fish oil while the other half did not supplement. Breast milk samples, infant stools and immune function markers were compared between the two groups.

Women who took supplements had a higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acids but lower protective molecules, such as antibodies, in their breast milk. The supplemented infants had a lower diversity of bacteria in their stools, something that is considered negative.

“We showed that fish oil supplementation decreases the critically important defence factors of breast milk, one of the only sources of immunity infants get during early life,” says former doctoral student and study co-author, Candice Quin. “We also showed that increased fatty acids in breast milk as a result of supplementation was associated with an altered composition of infant gut bacteria, both in numbers and diversity.”

“This is a change that could result in infection risk for the infant,” she warns.

With these findings in mind, Gibson cautions that the practice of prenatal fish oil supplementation may induce long-term dysfunctional gut immunity.

“We know that the gut microbiome is intricately linked to infant health,” she says. “Further large-scale studies will clarify whether early fish oil exposures alter infectious disease susceptibility, including persistent asymptomatic chronic infections.”

For more information about this study, visit Gibson’s blog.

Quin’s work was supported by funds from the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology and the Canadian Institute of Health Research. Gibson was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Crohn’s and Colitis Canada and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO experts offer tips on how to camp and hike cleanly.

UBCO experts offer tips on how to camp and hike cleanly.

Experts offer advice on how to enjoy nature in an eco-friendly way

The last long weekend of the summer is approaching and many will seek refuge in nature. However, this doesn’t bring comfort to all. Conservationists and border communities on provincial and national parks are concerned about increased visits and cavalier attitudes toward protected spaces.

Experts from UBCO’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science offer a few suggestions on how to leave only footprints behind for campers, hikers and nature enthusiasts.

Think about wastewater, says Jeff Curtis, associate professor, earth, environmental and geographic sciences

“All our waste, liquid or otherwise, that we leave behind seeps into the ecosystem. Lakes, rivers and other bodies of water can easily become polluted with so many people washing, rinsing and flushing.

Consider using biodegradable soap and toothpaste. Also, be aware of where you dispose of liquid waste. Be at least 60 metres away from any body of water and think of humans and wildlife downstream.”

Mind the rules and be respectful, says Kevin Hanna, associate professor, earth, environmental and geographic sciences and director of UBC’s Centre for Environmental Assessment Research

“Be considerate of our Indigenous communities and their land—we are guests. Rules for hunting, fishing, and land and water vehicles are there for a reason—to protect BC’s natural environments for future generations.

Know the rules and stick to them. It’s especially important this year as more people are using the backcountry, and many are trying new outdoor activities.

All wild animals should be treated with care and caution; no matter how big or small they are. Be respectful of wildlife and help protect their habitats. We are visitors to their homes.”

Be fire-smart, says Mathieu Bourbonnais, assistant professor, earth, environmental and geographic sciences

“We have been very fortunate with the limited number of wildfires this summer. However, just because there aren’t fire bans in place doesn’t mean we can relax on fire safety. Wildfire risk changes quickly and a few sparks from an ATV or a campfire in the right conditions can quickly lead to an uncontrolled blaze.

Campfire restrictions can occur at any time so be aware and be prepared. If you are lucky enough to roast marshmallows, keep the fire in the pit, keep it manageable and pour water on the coals and stir them to fully extinguish it.”

Leave no trace, says Lael Parrott, professor in sustainability and director of the Okanagan Institute for Biodiversity, Resilience and Ecosystem Services

“It is intuitive to pack out what you pack in, but this also applies to materials like banana and orange peels which decompose slowly. Also, stay on the trail. This may be slow-going and frustrating if you’re behind someone, but vegetation that gets trampled may never recover. Keep your groups small and be mindful of others when stopping to pose and snap.

Be sure to only camp in designated areas to avoid trampling vegetation and use outhouses and wastewater disposal pits where available to protect nearby streams and lakes. Alpine plants have a very short growing season and survive in especially difficult conditions. Many people straying from designated tent sites and trails can have a large cumulative impact on the backcountry environment.

Before heading out, have a back-up plan so that if a trail or campsite is too busy, you can visit another. BC and other provinces have many beautiful spots to explore; seek out the less well-known ones that can accommodate your group enjoy the wonder.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

‘Seeing the light’ behind radiation therapy

UBC research measures an accurate and precise dose of radiation

Delivering just the right dose of radiation for cancer patients is a delicate balance in their treatment regime. However, in a new study from UBC Okanagan and Duke University, researchers have developed a system they say may improve the ability to maximize radiation doses to cancer tissues while minimizing exposure to healthy ones.

“Radiation is a significant part of cancer therapy and it’s important to make it as effective as possible,” says Andrew Jirasek, a UBC Okanagan physics professor and senior author of the study. “The challenge is that radiation, while great at attacking rapidly dividing cancer cells, is also damaging to the surrounding healthy cells. Our solution is to make it easier to see exactly which tissues are getting a radiation dose and how much.”

The new system uses a specialized polymer gel used to assess both the 3D location and the dose of the treatment. The team’s first step was to validate the spatial accuracy of the gel, known as a dosimeter. They compared the dosimeter readings with traditional radiation treatment planning algorithms and found that the gel dosimeter was accurate in mapping the spatial location of the delivered radiation. Measurements of the radiation dose were also validated and visualized with the dosimeter.

The new system also allows for direct visualization of the radiation dose immediately after therapy, which results in highly efficient and accurate testing.

“Advances in delivery technology have enabled radiation beams to be rotated and adjusted to target the tumour and spare the healthy tissue, which reduces side effects,” he adds. “Now more advanced measuring devices are required to ensure that the dose and delivery of the treatment is accurate.”

Jirasek worked with colleagues from Duke University to take advantage of positioning systems already in place on most linear accelerators that deliver a radiation beam to the patient. The advantage of using the existing systems allowed for a new adjustment to be implemented without significant changes to the equipment.

“For the first time we are able to visualize a radiotherapy dose in true 3D and very quickly after the radiation has been delivered,” says Jirasek.

More than 50 per cent of all cancer patients benefit from radiation therapy as it helps manage their disease. However, because radiation affects both healthy and tumour tissue, accurate and tightly controlled dosing is crucial. This new system may lead to improvements in dose accuracy, sensitivity and localization during therapy.

“The next steps are to improve the process so that it can move into the clinic—the sooner successful therapy is implemented, the better for the patient,” he adds.

Supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada grant, this research was published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, and Physics.

April is Daffodil Month

For more than 60 years, Canadians have been acknowledging and supporting those affected by cancer by purchasing daffodils during the month of April. Donations to the Canadian Cancer Society have funded research, information and patient support services. Partially through these efforts, the cancer survival rate has increased from 35 to 60 per cent since 1950. In 2017, about 565 Canadians were diagnosed with cancer each day.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca.

UBC experts discuss relationship between academic ability and hirability

As grade-schoolers concentrate on the three Rs, many university students are already planning their future careers. Many believe top grades are the key to landing successful jobs, but does this always hold true? UBC Okanagan researchers, including Assoc. Prof. Andis Klegeris and Heather Hurren, have published new findings that highlight the importance of problem-solving skills and how these are not always correlated with an A+.

What do you believe employers are looking for?

Assoc. Prof. Andis Klegeris: Today’s job market is highly competitive across almost all sectors. Previous research findings have shown that the most sought-after skills of new employees are the ability to work in a team environment and being able to apply meaningful problem-solving skills.

Can you explain how you define problem-solving skills?

AK: Problem-solving skills involve several interconnected tasks such as processing information, reasoning, planning and decision-making. We believe that these are learnable, with experience, but they tend to be unteachable through classical lecturing because often, there is no clear path or “right answer.”  Examples may include how to fix a broken appliance, putting furniture together and travelling abroad without knowledge of the local language.

What was your most recent research and what are the take-homes?

AK: In our latest study, we administered a generic problem-solving test to almost 1,000 university students. We compared the scores achieved in this test with the students’ academic marks and found that these two measures were not correlated. In other words, academic learning and problem-solving may represent two independent skill sets for students. This further suggests that high academic grades are not are not a predictor of problem-solving ability. And receiving great marks doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be an exemplary employee.

What can universities do to enhance a student’s employment success?

AK: Many employers already distinguish academic and job-related abilities as independent skills by placing less emphasis on grade-point-averages than students do.

We believe that different classroom approaches can be used to enhance problem-solving skills and employability. For example, some of our instructors are already using flipped classroom approaches with self-guided learning, interactive discussion and collaborative work.

A helpful approach might be to develop a problem-solving skills testing tool, with the aim of eventually developing a comprehensive student portfolio that would highlight achievements in various categories of skills. This would provide future employers with broader information about a student’s ability.

We think it would be interesting to follow up with students to see if this is something they would like.

About the authors

  • Andis Klegeris is an Associate Professor of Biology in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences
  • Emelie Gustafsson is a sessional instructor of Statistics in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences
  • Heather Hurren is the Manager of Academic Development at UBC Okanagan

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world. For more visit ok.ubc.ca

UBC Okanagan’s John Braun is one of several statistics professors making significant contributions to financial risk modelling and probability theory.

UBC Okanagan’s John Braun is one of several statistics professors making significant contributions to financial risk modelling and probability theory.

UBC is poised to accelerate cybersecurity and financial risk research in Canada and beyond, thanks to a $2-million donation from Scotiabank.

Over the next five years, The Scotiabank Cybersecurity and Risk Analytics Initiative will support research and educational initiatives, including internships, speaker series, engagement activities like “hackathons,” and other collaborative events to advance our understanding of the impacts of cyber attacks and refine risk management tools.

“Data theft costs organizations billions of dollars a year worldwide, and cause psychological and social harm for individual customers. The Scotiabank Cybersecurity and Risk Analytics Initiative at UBC will advance the industry’s collective understanding of how to further protect digital assets,” says Michael Zerbs, Scotiabank's chief technology officer. “At the same time, Scotiabank’s support will contribute to research and engage students to advance financial modelling to help manage risks and protect customers. We’re proud to support UBC as part our digital strategy and our commitment to building talent in the digital economy.”

Scotiabank’s donation will support ongoing work led by UBC researchers Konstantin Beznosov and Hasan Cavusoglu, who specialize in cyber attack research and the human, social and economic issues concerning privacy and security. Statistics professors Natalia Nolde, Harry Joe, and UBC Okanagan's John Braun, are making significant contributions to financial risk modelling and probability theory.

The donation will also support the Creative Destruction Lab West (CDL West) at the UBC Sauder School of Business, an extension of the Scotiabank-supported Creative Destruction Lab at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. CDL West helps entrepreneurs transition from science-based innovations to high-growth companies.

“There is an urgent need to advance our understanding of information security and financial risk management in an ever more connected, complex world. Thanks to Scotiabank’s generous donation, leading UBC researchers can now deepen their knowledge and train the next generation of financial risk analysts and cyber security experts,” says Professor Santa J. Ono, UBC president and vice chancellor.

About Scotiabank

Scotiabank is Canada's international bank and a leading financial services provider in North America, Latin America, the Caribbean and Central America, and Asia-Pacific. They are dedicated to helping some 23 million customers become better off through a broad range of advice, products and services, including personal and commercial banking, wealth management and private banking, corporate and investment banking, and capital markets. With a team of more than 88,000 employees and assets of $887 billion (as at January 31, 2017), Scotiabank trades on the Toronto (TSX: BNS) and New York Exchanges (NYSE: BNS). For more information, please visit www.scotiabank.com or follow them on Twitter @ScotiabankViews.

About UBC

The University of British Columbia is a global centre for research and teaching, consistently ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world.

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UBC Professor Lael Parrott

UBC Professor Lael Parrott.

The American black bear can rest easier thanks to conservation research conducted at UBC’s Okanagan campus. A recent study indicates that while urban sprawl results in more human-bear interactions, human education can hinder negative encounters.

“Unless steps are taken to reduce human-bear interactions, we will see an increase in bears that are habituated to humans, leading to property damage, human injuries and more dead bears,” says Lael Parrott, professor of Biology and Earth and Environmental Sciences at UBC Okanagan.

“These situations are unacceptable and sustainable solutions are needed. One approach is to implement education programs that teach humans how to keep their properties attractant-free and how to behave during a bear encounter.”

Parrott, along with UBC mathematics Associate Professor Rebecca Tyson and student research assistants, developed a computer model to simulate the effectiveness of human-bear awareness education about bear movement and foraging behaviour in an urban setting. The program, based on field data, made it possible to run hundreds of scenarios and investigate the outcomes and best practices. In the model, bear awareness education included training about proper garbage disposal and deterrent use.

UBC research indicates bear management strategies need to improve to educate people and protect the bear population.

UBC research indicates bear management strategies need to improve to educate people and protect the bear population.

The researchers found that the biggest contributor to bear status was urban land use. A one per cent increase in urbanization resulted in a 91 per cent increase in human-bear conflict. The model also suggests that education targeting the border areas between the residential community and bear habitats will have the biggest impact on limiting bear conflict.

“Our model suggests that bear management strategies involving education programs reduce the number of 'conflict bears,'” says Parrott. “Although this is a computer simulation, it is required since some field studies are unethical or extremely difficult to take on. Modelling provides a useful and cost-effective alternative and can be used to select promising programs for further field study."

Parrott's team is testing some of these solutions in Whistler, BC.

The American black bear’s habitat includes Canada, the United States, and Northern Mexico. According to Wildsafe BC, British Columbia has one of the highest populations of black bears in the world—between 120,000 and 150,000 animals. And there are some 25,000 reported sightings each year. Bears require about 20,000 calories a day to prepare for hibernation; during this time, some bears are attracted to residential areas by fruit trees and unsecured garbage.

The study, published in Ecological Modelling, was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

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