The optimal walking and cycling speeds minimizing air pollution inhalation

To minimize inhalation of air pollution while walking and cycling and still reaping the benefits of exercising, UBC researches say cyclist should be riding at speeds between 12 to 20 km/h, while pedestrians should be walking at two to six km/h. “The faster you move, the harder you breathe and the more pollution you could potentially inhale, but you also are exposed to traffic for a shorter period of time. This analysis shows where the sweet spot is,” said Alex Bigazzi, a UBC transportation expert in the department of civil engineering and school of community and regional planning who conducted this analysis.


Alex Bigazzi. (Photo courtesy of: UBC)

Using a US Census-based computer model of 10,000 people, Bigazzi calculated ideal travel speeds, called the minimum-dose speeds (MDS) for different age and sex groups. The ideal speed linked to the least pollution risk for female and male cyclists under 20, on a flat road was calculated to be at 12.5 and 13.3  kilometres per hour, respectively. For pedestrian in the same age group, a walking speed around 3 kilometres per hour was determined to be associated with least pollution risk. Their older counterparts on the other hand should aim at reaching at least four kilometres per hour in order to breath in the least amount of pollution over a distance. Ideal travel speeds for other road grades were also computed by Bigazzi. “If you move at much faster speeds than the MDS—say, cycling around 10 kilometres faster than the optimal range—your inhalation of air pollution is significantly higher,” said Bigazzi. “The good news is, the MDS numbers align pretty closely with how fast most people actually travel.” A recently published paper in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation describes the findings from Bigazzi’s research on the amount of toxic chemicals absorbed by cyclist on busy street. More research is needed to further assess the minimum-dose speed estimates with on-road data.

(Photo courtesy of: UBC)

(Photo courtesy of: UBC)

Friedman foundation makes huge donation for health scholarships

Sydney Friedman and his wife Constance donated $3.3-million to fund scholarships for students studying  in the broad area of health. This donation comes after the recent sale of the late couple’s home.

They both dedicated their professional lives to UBC and their legacy of generosity will live on with this huge donation.

The Friedmans were the first appointment to UBC’s new Faculty of Medicine in 1950, teaching the first graduating class of 1954.

They founded the department of anatomy, where Sydney Friedman lead from 1950-1981.

Constance researched and taught at UBC until retiring in 1985. She and her husband published over 200 papers together. Sydney Friedman passed away in February 2015 while Constance passed away in June 2011.

“The Friedmans were instrumental in making the UBC Faculty of Medicine the exceptional medical school that it is today,” said UBC President Prof. Santa Ono. “The university is grateful for everything they did and the endowment that allows that good work to continue.”

The Constance Livingstone Friedman and Sydney Friedman Foundation fund scholarships, following the sale of the couple’s former home this summer. The donation funds two awards — the Friedman Scholars in Health Award and the Friedman Travel Award.

The objective of the Friedman Travel Award is to provide the recipient with the chance to experience different cultures in order to enrich their global viewpoint with patients.

In 2016, four Friedman Scholars in Health (graduate students in the broad field of health) were granted $25,000 to $50,000 each to further their work through studying outside of Canada.

In addition, two MD program graduates were awarded with $5,000 each to travel in the course of their first year out of school.

More than 60 years later, the Friedman house and its gardens stand as an example of the mid century modern artistic taste.

Many feared the house would be knocked down, but following media coverage a buyer was found who was happy to preserve the property.

“Everyone at the foundation was relieved the home would be preserved. It’s what Sydney and Constance wanted. They would be thrilled to know that the medical school they helped to build and the students they so cherished will be able to benefit,” said Dr. Al Boggie, co-president of the Friedman Foundation.

Insulin resistance could be explained by gene

New study finds the mechanism for insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes.

Earlier work by  Joshua Knowles, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford, and his team showed the connection of a human gene, NAT2, variant with insulin resistance in humans.

The fact that type 2 diabetes was caused by insulin resistance was known to researchers for decades. However, the cause for this phenomenon was a mystery.

Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, helps fat and muscle cells take up glucose from the blood. Insulin resistance is caused when human cells don’t respond to insulin, resulting in the build up of glucose in the blood and subsequently leading to the production of even more insulin.


The cause of insulin resistance is starting to be untangled by a team led by Joshua Knowles. (Photo courtesy of: Stanford University)

“We’ve identified a mechanism for insulin resistance that involves a gene that ties insulin resistance to mitochondrial function, “ said Knowles.

Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of Wisconsin have begun to find the connections between a gene, mitochondria, insulin resistance, and how well the body’s metabolism functions in causing diabetes.

Suppressing a similar gene in mice called Nat1, causes metabolic dysfunction, such as lower insulin sensitivity and higher levels of blood sugar, insulin and triglycerides. In addition, mice without the Nat1 gene gained more weight and showed a decreased ability to use fat for energy.

This new study reveals that suppressing the expression of the Nat1 gene in mice hinders the function of mitochondria. These cell structures make ATP, the energy of cells, without which the cells cannot survive.

Individuals with Insulin resistance don’t necessarily develop type 2 diabetes. However, the condition will result in decreased uptake of sugar by muscle and fat cells leading to cardiovascular disease, inflammation, polycystic ovary syndrome, fatty liver diseases and other health conditions.

Severe Insulin resistance leading to damaged body tissues is common. A study in 2015 estimated that close to 35 percent of US adults are insulin-resistant to a degree to be at a higher risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Knowles said, the reasons for this skyrocketing increase in the US are poor diet and  sedentary habits.

Within two decades COPD epidemic could strain health care systems

According to a new UBC study, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) will become an epidemic over the next two decades despite a decline in smoking rates.

COPD is a progressive disease associated with smoking, air pollution and age.

Researchers have concluded, the number of COPD cases will increase by more than 150 percent between 2010 and 20130, in the province. COPD rates will be more than triple hiking up by 220 percent, even surprising the researchers.


Researchers have concluded, the number of COPD cases will increase by more than 150 percent between 2010 and 20130, in the province. (Photo courtesy of: UBC press release)

“Everyone who has seen the results has been surprised,” said senior author Dr. Mohsen Sadatsafavi, assistant professor in the faculties of pharmaceutical sciences and medicine. “Many people think that COPD will soon be a problem of the past, because smoking is declining in the industrialized world. But aging is playing a much bigger role, and this is often ignored. We expect these B.C.-based predictions to be applicable to Canada and many other industrialized countries.”

Researchers say COPD will overtake all other age related diseases even though they are also expected to increase over the next decades. The study foresees annual inpatients days related to COPD to increase by 185 percent.

Co-author Dr. Don Sin, professor in UBC department of medicine’s division of respiratory medicine and head of respiratory medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital said this situation is a burden the health-care system is not equipped to handle. “Our only hope of changing this trajectory is to find new therapeutic and biomarker solutions to prevent and treat COPD, and this can only happen through research and innovation,” said Sin. “Our UBC team is poised to make these breakthroughs.”

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.

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.”


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:


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.”

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.


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.


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

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.

UBC receives $27 million in research funding

Honourable Amrik Virk, Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizen’s Services announced the provincial government has granted the University of British Columbia more than $27 million for a variety of research infrastructure projects.

The grant from the BC Knowledge and Development Fund (BCKDF) will provide the necessary funds needed for new laboratories, facilities and equipment for 40 research projects.

The projects range from investigations into childhood diabetes to genome sequencing and cancer treatment.

The funding will help investigate a variety of projects from childhood diabetes to genome sequencing and cancer treatment. (Photo courtesy of :

The funding will help investigate a variety of projects from childhood diabetes to genome sequencing and cancer treatment.
(Photo courtesy of :


One of the projects is the Canucks for Kids Fund Childhood Diabetes Laboratories. This project is led by UBC diabetes researcher Bruce Verchere at BC Children’s Hospital, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority.

“The research enabled by this infrastructure will lead to new ways to predict, prevent, and treat diabetes for the many children in this province affected by this devastating disease,” said Verchere.

The BCKDF also invests in Strengthening scientific research and fosters talents at post-secondary institutions, research hospitals and affiliated non-profit agencies province wide.

“Our government invests tens of millions of dollars in innovation at public post-secondary institutions to build on the growth and diversification of our economy and advance technology. Research at UBC offers students hands-on study opportunities and leads to the jobs and investment that makes our technology sector an important contributor to the provincial economy”,  said Andrew Wilkinson, Minister of Advanced Education.

Helen Burt, UBC associate vice-president, research and international said, UBC is appreciative of the support from the provincial government. The funding will enable talented scientists to make discoveries in the fields of health, life sciences, and science and technology. She further added, this investment could bring significant social and economic benefits to British Columbians.

Mom’s voice stimulates a variety of regions in children’s brains

According to a study by Stanford University School of Medicine, a greater area of children’s brains is activated by their mother’s voice than by the voice of women they don’t know.

Brain regions in children that are strongly activated by the voice of their mothers extend beyond auditory ares to include regions involved in emotion, reward processing, social functions, detection of what is personally relevant and face recognition.

The study found that the strength of connections between the brain regions stimulated by the voice of the child’s mother would predict the child’s social communication abilities.

“Many of our social, language and emotional processes are learned by listening to our mom’s voice,” said lead author Daniel Abrams, PhD, instructor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “But surprisingly little is known about how the brain organizes itself around this very important sound source. We didn’t realize that a mother’s voice would have such quick access to so many different brain systems.”

Many years of research has revealed children prefer their mother’s voice. In one classic study, one year old babies sucked harder on their pacifiers once they heard their mother’s voice as opposed to the voice of other woman.


Mother’s voice not only affects the auditory region in the brain of their children but also has an effect on other areas. (Photo courtesy of :

However, the mechanism behind this inclination was not known.

“We want to know: Is it just auditory and voice -selective areas that respond differently, or is it more broad in terms of engagement, emotional reactivity and detection of salient stimuli?”, said senior author Vinod Menon, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

This study tested 24 children aged between 7 to 12 with an IQ of at least 80. Children were all raised by their biological mothers and did not have any developmental disorders.  Before the brain scans the voice of each mother was recorded saying three nonsense word.

Menon said these nonsense words were used to prevent the activation of a whole different set of circuitry in the brain.

The voice of two mothers whose children were not included in the experiment were recorded to use as controls.

The brain scans, revealed that even from very short clips, less than a second long, the children could distinguish their own mother’s voices with more than 97 percent accuracy.

“The extent of the regions that were engaged was really quite surprising”,  said Menon.

“We know that hearing mother’s voice can be an important source of emotional comfort to children,” said Abrams. “Here, we’re showing the biological circuitry underlying that.”

Children whose brains showed a stronger degree of connection between all the different regions while hearing their mother’s voices had the strongest social communication ability.

This finding shows increased brain connectivity between the regions, is a neural fingerprint for increased social communication abilities in children.

Menon said this finding is an important template to examine social communication defects in children with disorders such as autism.

“Voice is one of the most important social communication cues, It’s exciting to see that the echo of one’s mother’s voice lives on in so many brain systems.”