UBC research finds online advice for alzheimer’s disease often problematic

New study finds that many online resources for preventing Alzheimer’s disease are not accurate and could lead people in the wrong direction.

An online survey revealed many of the websites provide poor advice with 20 percent promoting products for sale.

“The quality of online information about preventing Alzheimer’s disease ranges,” said Julie Robillard, assistant professor of neurology at UBC with the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health and the National Core for Neuroethics. “The few websites offering high-quality information can be hard to distinguish from the many low-quality websites offering information that can be potentially harmful.”

Currently 564,000 Canadians have dementia. Considering the increase in aging population, this number is expected to grow close to one million in the next 15 years. With Alzheimer’s disease being the most common form of dementia there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the cause of the disease and how to prevent its onset.

Earlier research has shown about 80 percent of people , and half of the older adults turn to the internet for health information.

Robillard and Tanya Feng, an undergraduate student, examined close to 300 online articles on preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Their studies revealed that websites with high-quality content usually provided high-level advice recommending individuals to take on lifestyle changes such as controlling their diabetes and exercising regularly.

The scientists determined a few common red flags for low-quality information. These speculative websites were the ones recommending products for sale alongside the content. Other signs of low-grade content included websites with very precise recommendations and nutritional guidance.

“Many red flags were not specific to what they were saying, but rather how they were saying it,” said Feng. “For example, using strong language like ‘cure’ or ‘guarantee’, promoting their own products, and relying on anecdotal evidence instead of empirical research is suggestive of poor-quality information in online dementia information.”

The researchers stated this type of information is pricey with people spending money into products with little or no scientific proof for their effectiveness.

In addition, the advice could cause tension and may have an effect on the physician-patient relationship. The patients may lose their trust in their physician, if the Dr. disagrees with the recommendations on the websites. In other cases, the patients may keep their Dr. in the dark about the changes they have made in their daily habits.

The researchers are creating a tool named QUEST, a simple test of six questions to help people recognize high-level information online.

climate change could result in $10-billion revenue loss in future fisheries

New UBC study finds global fisheries are at a risk of loosing close to $10 billion of their annual income by 2050, if climate change is left unchecked. According to the study the countries most dependent on fisheries for food will be the ones most effected.

In a previous study, UBC’s Institute for Oceans and Fisheries found the effects of climate change including rise in temperatures, changes in ocean salinity, acidity and oxygen levels will likely result in decreased catches.

“Developing countries most dependent on fisheries for food and revenue will be hardest hit,” said Vicky Lam, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, and the study’s lead author. “It is necessary to implement better marine resource management plans to increase stock resilience to climate change.”

A woman arranges fishes and crabs for selling at Nochikuppam in Madras, India, 20th Feb. 2005. Fishermen back to normal life after nearly 2 months of tsunami attack in the southern coast of India on Dec. 26th.

Scientists found the most vulnerable countries to be the ones that highly rely on fish including island countries like Tokelau, Cayman Islands and Tuvalu. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

To compensate the financial losses of fishing under climate change and to improve food security, many communities are leaning toward aquaculture, also known as fish farming, as a solution. However,  researchers found it may aggrevate the existing economic losses by further decreasing the price of seafood.

“Climate adaptation programs such as aquaculture development may be seen as a solution,” said William Cheung, associate professor at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and a study co-author. “However, rather than easing the financial burden of fishing losses and improving food security, it may drive down the price of seafood, leading to further decreases in fisheries revenues.”

Co-author Rashid Sumaila, professor at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and fisheries said global fisheries revenues add up to about $100 billion annually. Sumaila further added that their modelling shows that high emission scenario could result in an average 10 percent reduction in global fishing revenue, while a low emissions scenario could lead to a 7 percent decrease.

Scientists found the most vulnerable countries to be the ones that highly rely on fish including island countries like Tokelau, Cayman Islands and Tuvalu. However, many developed countries like Greenland and Iceland could see increase in revenues as fish migrate to colder waters.

Management of high sea fisheries could compensate losses due to climate change

New UBC study finds, a 10 percent increase in fish catches in coastal waters when high seas are closed off to fishing. This increase could help the most vulnerable cope with the expected losses of fish caused by climate change.

“Many important fish stocks live in both the high seas and coastal waters. Effective management of high seas fisheries could benefit coastal waters in terms of productivity and help reduce climate change impacts,” said lead author William Cheung, associate professor and director of science of the Nippon Foundation-Nereus Program at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.

The high seas cover close to two-thirds of the ocean’s surfaces and are outside the jurisdiction of any country.

By using computer models, researchers used three different management scenarios to predict catches of 30 important fish stocks in 2050, living in both the high seas and coastal waters.

The three different scenarios were as followed: international cooperation to manage fishing, closing the high seas to fishing, and maintaining the status quo.

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By using computer models, researchers used three different management scenarios to predict catches of 30 important fish stocks in 2050, living in both the high seas and coastal waters.(Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

Strengthening governance and closing the high seas to fishing were found to increase resilience of coastal countries to climate change. This effect was especially noticed in tropical countries which are highly dependent on fisheries for food and livelihood.

“The scenarios of closing the high seas may greatly reduce the issue of inequity of benefits and impacts among different countries under climate change,” said co-author Vicky Lam, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.

Countries in the South Pacific, Indo-Pacific, West African coast and west coast of central America are expected to be disproportionately impacted by climate change.

According to previous UBC studies, these countries could face a 30 percent decrease, if carbon dioxide levels continue to rise in a similar manner. This decrease would be due to the fish migrating to cooler waters.

“The high seas can serve as a fish bank of the world by providing the insurance needed to make the whole global ocean more resilient,” said paper co-author Rashid Sumaila, professor at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and director of OceanCanada, one of the research funders. “By closing the high seas to fishing or seriously improving its management, the high seas can help us mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems.”

African bird shows preferential treatment toward male subordinates

A new research published in “Biology Letters”, suggests African desert-dwelling birds prefer their biological sons and alienate their stepsons.

“Nepotism has likely played a vital role in the evolution of family life in this species,” said Martha Nelson-Flower, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia’s faculty of forestry.

The group’s dominant male bird decides which of the subordinate males to tolerate. Nelson-Flower’s research reveals subordinate male birds spend less time in a group if they are unrelated to the dominant male bird. The subordinate males are actually sent out of the group by their stepdads and in some instances by their brothers-in-law. They are then forced to live alone or to join other groups as subordinates.

The species is the southern pied blabber, a black and white bird found in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The chicks are raised by both parents as well as other adult birds and live in groups. The size of the groups range from three to 14 birds.

However, this kind of preferential treatment was not seen among the females.

“The research is some of the first to show that the sex of both dominant and subordinate birds, and the genetic relationship between them, has a significant impact on their family groups and cooperative breeding behaviour,” said Nelson-Flower.

The researchers used data from 11 years of observation.

Incretin-based drugs for diabetes and their adverse effect

A popular group of drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes was shown to have no association with acute pancreatitis but an increased risk of bile duct and gallbladder disease. This was revealed  based on the  first population-based study investigating the possibility of an association with incretin-based drugs. These drugs are proven to be excessively popular for their effectiveness without causing hypoglycaemia, a problem with other classes of diabetes medications. Furthermore, they are shown to have beneficial effects on body weight.

“Early signal detection studies suggested that an association might exist. The suspicion was credible because these drugs act directly on the pancreas and there was a concern that they could be responsible for inflammation,” said Dr. Laurent Azoulay, Senior Investigator at the Lady Davis Institute at the Jewish General Hospital and Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, at McGill University. “However, ours was the largest study ever to address the question – involving a cohort of more than 1.5 million patients – and there is no evidence to support that either type of incretin-based drug causes acute pancreatitis.”

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Two studies led by Dr. Azoulay at Mcgill University, demonstrated that despite an increased risk of bile duct and gallbladder disease, incretin-based drugs are not associated with increasing the risk of acute pancreatitis. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

 

Although  they have been prescribed to millions of patients, the safety of the drug remains controversial. Two studies led by Dr. Azoulay, demonstrated that despite an increased risk of bile duct and gallbladder disease, these drugs are not associated with increasing the risk of acute pancreatitis. Both studies are published in the JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Notwithstanding the latter finding, the totality of the evidence accumulated to date suggests that incretin-based drugs are effective and generally safe,” Dr. Azoulay concludes. “Nonetheless, it’s important that clinicians and patients alike be well informed about possible adverse effects. As a result of the gallbladder finding, it would be prudent for doctors to warn their patients to seek treatment if they experience symptoms, such as pain in their right side.” The most prevalent adverse effect is gallstones which are treatable but can cause extreme pain. In very severe cases the surgical removal of the gallbladder may be required.

The study concluded that nearly 3 more individuals per 1000 will exhibit symptoms as compared with those not taking this medication.

“Clinical trials are the gold standard to assess whether medications are effective, but because of their relative small sample sizes and short durations of follow-up, they are not designed to assess the risk of uncommon but clinically important adverse events,” said Dr. Azoulay, “this is where well designed studies conducted in the real-world setting can provide critical information on the safety of medications.”

Evolution effects the speed of plant migration in the face of climate change

A new study proposes evolution as the driving force behind plant migration. The study also suggests scientists could be underestimating how fast species could move.

The study published in the journal ‘Science’ reveals some animals and plants are moving farther north to cooler temperatures due to climate change.

“We know from previous research that evolution might play a role in how fast a species can move across a region or continent,” said Jennifer Williams, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor in UBC’s department of geography. “But what our study suggests is that evolution is not only a factor in movement, but that it can, in fact, accelerate the spread, and can do so predictably.”

Evolving plant populations dispersed seeds and migrated 11 per cent farther in landscapes with favourable conditions. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

Evolving plant populations dispersed seeds and migrated 11 per cent farther in landscapes with favourable conditions. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

For the study the scientists used a small flowering plant (Arabidopsis thailana) to test the role of evolution in plant migration. Two sets of population were cultivated, evolution was active in one set and hindered in the other.

The study showed, after six generations, evolving plant populations migrated 11 percent farther than the other non-evolving populations in favourable conditions. However, in the more challenging environment seeds dispersed 200 percent farther in the set with the evolving plants.

Williams suggested, the findings show evolution accelerates the speed of migration.

Nonetheless, more research is required to find the reason for the increased speed of migration in challenging conditions.

“We know, for example, that there are some species of butterflies and plants that are expanding their ranges with climate change and moving north or up in elevation,” she said. “What our results suggest is that, with evolution, the species can move faster and faster because the traits that make them better at moving are becoming more common at the front of the invasion. In the case of our plants, in the evolving populations, their seeds can disperse a bit further.”

In addition, she said the findings emphasize the importance for scientists to acknowledge evolutionary change when predicting how quickly native species will move as the Earth’s temperature rises.

Scientists find how hummingbirds avoid high-speed collisions

Researchers have discovered hummingbirds process visual information differently from other animals. This difference helps them in their extreme aerial acrobatics.

They can travel faster than 50 kilometres per hour and stop on a dime while flying through dense vegetation.

“Birds fly faster than insects and it’s more dangerous if they collide with things,” said Roslyn Dakin, a postdoctoral fellow in the UBC’s department of zoology who led the study.

In order to figure out how hummingbirds avoid collision, scientists at UBC placed the birds in a specially designed tunnel while projecting patterns on the walls. Observations were then made to see how the birds navigate to avoid collisions.

“We took advantage of hummingbirds’ attraction to sugar water to set up a perch on one side of the tunnel and a feeder on the other, and they flew back and forth all day,” said Douglas Altshuler, associate professor in the department of zoology. “This allowed us to test many different visual stimuli.”

When scientists simulated this information on the tunnel walls, the hummingbirds showed no reaction. On the other hand, Dakin and her colleagues found the hummingbirds depended on the size of an object to determine their distance. As something grew bigger, it was a signal that the object is getting closer and vice-versa. This is in contrary to the humans and the bees where speed of an object indicates its distance as the object goes passed their field of vision.

“When objects grow in size, it can indicate how much time there is until they collide even without knowing the actual size of the object,” said Dakin. “Perhaps this strategy allows birds to more precisely avoid collisions over the very wide range of flight speeds they use.”

Highest cancer centre designation awarded to Stanford Cancer Institute

The National Cancer Institute has designated the Stanford Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

Recognition of the institute’s robust and integrated programs including laboratory research, clinical care, community outreach and education led to this designation.

The institute’s goal is to guide and coordinate a wide range of cancer related activities. These activities take place at Stanford University, Stanford Health Care and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, along with its partner institution, the Cancer Prevention Institute of California.

Scientists and physicians are among its nearly 400 members who are from a wide range of disciplines. They all collaborate in translating research advances into improved cancer treatments.

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The institute in partnership with Stanford health Care and Stanford Children’s Health has embarked on a broad effort to change the cancer patient experience. (Photo courtesy of: Azadeh Kojouri)

The institute’s exceptional discovery research and patient care led to its initial NCI “cancer centre” designation in 2007. In less than eight years it earned the coveted “comprehensive” status by expanding its reach and programs.

“I want to recognize Dr. Beverly Mitchell, who has worked tirelessly since becoming the SCI director in 2008 to achieve this prestigious honour for Stanford Medicine,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. “The combined effort of the institute’s multidisciplinary membership exemplifies how we are applying precision health to complex diseases and improving patient outcomes.”

The NCI’s site review summary noted that the institute “is clearly poised to make significant contributions to cancer research in the next five years.”

Beverly Mitchel, MD, director of the Stanford Cancer Institute and a professor of medicine said this achievenmet confirms the talent and dedication of their members. Mitchel also added their staff and faculty work hand in hand on a daily basis to improve the understanding and treatment of cancer which in turn, lessens its burden on patients and their families.

The institute in partnership with Stanford health Care and Stanford Children’s Health has embarked on a broad effort to change the cancer patient experience. This initiative has been accomplished by blending Stanford science with new models of patient care which incorporate concern for the psychological welfare of patients and families.

During extreme heat, neighbourhoods with poorer and hotter conditions at higher risk of death

A new UBC study finds extreme heat in hotter and poorer areas increases the risk of mortality.

In Vancouver, social vulnerability and heat exposure can be a fatal combination.

“Climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme hot weather events,” said Sarah Henderson, senior author on the study and an assistant professor in UBC’s school of population and public health. “Being able to map and target the most vulnerable areas will be highly beneficial for public health intervention.”

To examine the relationship between temperature and mortality on very hot days between 1998 to 2014, the researchers used the Vancouver Area Neighbourhood Deprivation Index (VANDIX) and maps of urban heat islands where the humidex exceeded 34.4 degrees Celsius. The VANDIX is a public health research tool which measures material and social deprivation factors such as education and unemployment rate.

This study revealed areas at risk  are throughout the region including Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside but also in less deprived neighbourhood such as Abbotsford, Surrey, New Westminster and throughout the Lower Mainland.

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New UBC study finds extreme heat in hotter and poorer areas increases the risk of mortality. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

In addition, the death risk is higher in neighbourhoods without trees and with lots of concrete or where people are not working due to unemployment or retirement.

Henderson stated in 2009, in one week 110 people died due to the outside heat. He also said that most of them were young seniors aged 60 to 70 and not the very elderly.

Henderson believes that a factor leading up to the deaths could be that people stay in hot homes during the day instead of going to offices or other places that might be cooler or air conditioned.

According to her more people die at home during hot waves.

“Keeping cool is the key to staying safe in hot weather,” said Henderson. “Go to places with air conditioning, wet down your shirt with cool water, and you must drink plenty of water even if you don’t feel thirsty”, said Henderson.

Professor at UBC boosts sustainable energy research

To improve renewable energy generation and power conversion, Martin Ordonez, Fred Kaiser Professor in Power Conversion and Sustainability at UBC is expanding a research and education program. This research is funded by a $ 1-million investment by the Fred Kaiser Foundation and will help store and use renewable energy.

Ordonez said as Canadians are trying to reduce greenhouse emissions, the efficiency in generating energy is critical not only to them but also to the future on a global scale.

The goal of this project is to derive maximum amounts of energy from sustainable resources in order to compete with hydrocarbon alternatives. To support this objective, at least five top-tier researchers are added, doubling the program’s current size.

According to Professor Martin Ordonez advances in renewable energy generation and power conversion are key not only for Canadians but also to the future on a global scale. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

According to Professor Martin Ordonez advances in renewable energy generation and power conversion are key not only for Canadians but also to the future on a global scale. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

He said the main challenge is to change existing electrical infrastructure to support the expansion of low carbon energy sources like wind and solar.

However, according to Ordonez developing countries have a different challenge to face. With a clean slate they can envision a better system by developing an electrical system with sustainable energy sources in mind

The development of sustainable resources would be economically feasible for developing countries after research and testing.

Ordonez said as part of the program, they will train graduate students and research professionals who will be skillful engineers  capable of tackling challenges associated with sustainable electrical energy. An outreach program will be planned to draw undergraduates from across the globe in different engineering disciplines. They will join a team of researchers investigating sustainable power solutions for developing countries.