Study: social clubs could empower individuals with early-onset dementia

According to a new UBC study, community-based social groups could play a major role in helping people with early-onset dementia.

UBC nursing professor, Alison Phinney, led the study which focuses on an independently run program known as Paul’s Club. The club offers social and recreational activities three days per week, members are from their mid-40s to late 60s.

“Of the estimated 1.4 million Canadians living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia by 2031, a few thousand in every major city will be diagnosed before age 65,” said Phinney.

According to her research she believes day program’s like Paul’s Club could help patients continue to live at home for as long as possible. This club was founded by retired nurse, Rita levy and her husband, Michael, in 2012.

The club members meet at a hotel with a friendly ambience without medical or hospital associations.

The club runs from 10 am to 4pm to give members’ families a break from caring for their loved ones.

The day starts with coffee, mostly followed by chair yoga, dance or other light workout before the group goes for lunch and a walk in the neighbourhood. And finally the day ends with an ice cream at a local gelato shop.

“Young-onset dementia is incredibly challenging because they’re still fairly active and healthy and suddenly they’re no longer able to work,” said Phinney.

The research is funded by the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada.  The next stage of the study will examine a more conventional adult day program for the elderly, including some with dementia.

Study: adding natural elements to playgrounds reduces depression in children

According to a new UBC study, adding natural elements to playgrounds like grass, bamboo and sand can change it into an imaginative playground for children leading to reduced depression signs.

The study included 46 children between the ages of two and five and was conducted over six months in 2014 in two Vancouver daycare centers. New features such as grass, sand and water were added to the outdoor facilities of the daycares. Scientists then observed the children’s behaviour before and after the change and again two weeks following the transformation.

“Both play spaces were quite plain and were really just open spaces, dotted with a play set or two,” said lead author and UBC landscape architecture professor Susan Herrington in a statemtn. “We transformed the play spaces using the seven C’s principles, which highlight the importance of concepts like character, context and change in designing great play areas.”

The modified environment resulted in an increase in the children’s activity on the playgrounds. Herrington said many kids would just wander around without any particular interest or do the same activity over and over again. “After the redesign, they were much more energetic and creative, exploring their environment, touching things, inventing games and interacting with their peers a lot more.”

The study also resulted in happier children with a decline in depressive behaviours.

“Depressive symptoms like looking sad or not smiling much went down after the modifications. The videos showed kids much more engaged in play and engaged in positive ways with each other,” said co-researcher Mariana Brussoni, an associate professor in UBC’s school of population and public health and pediatrics.

Brussoni further added, these changes made the kids less dependent on their teachers. When spending time in the new play spaces the interaction with the adults was decreased to 7% compared to 19% before the redesign.

“Our study shows that you don’t even need a huge budget to add nature into a space—you can be creative with just a few inexpensive twists,” said Herrington.

UBC study: low income groups need affordable dental care

According to a new UBC study, all Canadians especially the lowest-income groups should have dental care as part of their basic health care plan.

Researchers surveyed 567 clients from four major health care clinics in Ontario and British Columbia that served a large number of Aboriginal and low-income groups. Close to half (46 percent) of the participants considered their oral health being fair to poor and about the same number (44 Percent) said they often have pain in their mouth and teeth.

“Those numbers are three times higher than the general Canadian population as reported by the Canadian Health Measures Survey–clearly, the people we interviewed face tremendous oral health issues,” said UBC nursing professor Annette Browne, who led the study.

Browne said many of the participants may have underestimated their dental issues mainly because they were already tackling other social and health problems due to their financial burden.


According to a new UBC study dental care should be part of basic health care for all Canadians. ( Photo courtesy of :


The research also revealed that individuals with fair oral health had difficulty eating a variety of foods due to missing teeth.

Co-researcher and UBC PhD graduate, Bruce Wallace, says the findings indicate the necessity for affordable dental services for some of Canada’s low-income groups.

Wallace said, economically disadvantaged groups have no dental insurance and have only access to public dental health benefits. Therefore, they often skip dental work due to the cost and other problems.

“No one should have to depend on charitable dentistry or volunteer dental clinics. We need to integrate oral health benefits within universal health insurance and consider offering dental care in alternate health care settings, such as community health care centres,” said Wallace.

Stanford scientists bring back discarded drug to help human cells fight off viruses

Stanford University scientists think a newly improved drug might help fight off viruses causing Ebola, dengue and Zika among others.

Attempts to destroy viruses, including common cold viruses have failed up until now.

Scientists at Stanford decided to solve this problem from a different angle by boosting the human body’s ability to resist the virus rather than directly fighting the virus. This work was published in ‘Nature Chemical Biology’.

This approach has worked, in a lab dish at least, with a drug that fights two disease-causing viruses and potentially many more.

Stanford scientists have resurrected a discarded drug that helps human cells fight off two different viruses in a lab dish. (Photo courtesy of :

Stanford scientists have brought back a discarded drug that helps human cells fight off two different viruses in a lab dish.
(Photo courtesy of :

Chaitan Khosla, a professor of chemistry and of chemical engineering who was one of the senior authors on the paper said, the drug could be effective against viruses that use RNA instead of DNA as their genetic material.

“Most of the really nasty viruses use RNA,” Khosla said, including Ebola, dengue, Zika and Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV), a mosquito-borne virus which infects horses but can also kill people.

In addition, the team is conducting tests on animals to check the safety of the drug and to see which viral diseases it can fight off.

A drug with a similar concept was initially developed by GlaxoSmithKline . However, after its few initial publications it was found that over time it prevented the cells from dividing and therefore, it was shelved. Khosla and his team studied the drug and decided to resurrect it by improving its mechanism of action.

With the new approach Khosla and his team created a solution by feeding the cells a slightly different building block that is only used for DNA generation and not RNA. In this way, the cells successfully fought against dengue and VEEV and continued with their cell division. Hence, the drug could become less toxic to animals and ultimately to people.

Khosla said if the drug combination works in animals, they hope it might be among the first antiviral approaches for human disease.

Breakthrough in psychology may lead to new treatments for depression

A new study has shown the link between noradrenergic neurons and susceptibility to depression for the first time.

The study was published by Bruno Giros’ team, a researcher at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and Professor of psychiatry at McGill University, in the journal ‘Nature Neuroscience’.

“We know that a small cerebral structure, known as the ventral tegmental area, contains dopaminergic neurons that play a key role in vulnerability to depression,” said Bruno Giros, whose team is part of the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal research network.

By mimicking stressful events in animal models, the researchers found out that an increase in dopaminergic activity increases cases of depression.

The dopaminergic neuron is controlled by the noradrenergic neuron. “It is this control that steers the body’s response toward resilience or toward vulnerability to depression,” said Giros.

Giros’ team showed, animals incapable of releasing noradrenaline, are more likely to develop depression following chronic stress. However, this is not the case if the situation is reversed ; Increasing noradrenaline production does not lead to higher resilience and less depression.

The noradrenergic neurons are found in a Cerebral structure called the Locus Coeruleus. These neurons connect with each other via a neurotransmitter molecule called noradrenaline. It regulates emotions, sleep and mood disorders – and now, Giros believes, it is also involved in resilience and depression.

Stressful life events like  job loss, accident and death of a loved one can cause  major depression in some but not in others. A determining factor is resilience, a biological mechanism that enables an individual to snap out from a traumatic or stressful event. However, researchers are still working on how resilience plays a role.

“Beyond this discovery about the brain mechanisms involved in depression, our results help explain how adrenergic drugs may work and could be used to treat major depression,” said Giros.

New technique could rewire and grow new neurons

A new technique will potentially create new neurons and allow them to reconnect in people with central nervous system damage.

A research team led by McGill University and the Montreal Neurological Institute has created new functional connections between neurons for the first time.

These artificial neutrons grow 60 times faster, but are identical to naturally growing neurons in the human body.

(Courtesy of: McGill University)

“It’s very exciting, because the central nervous system doesn’t regenerate”, said Montserrat Lopez in a statement, a McGill post-doctoral fellow who spent four years developing, fine-tuning and testing the new technique. “What we’ve discovered should make it possible to develop new types of surgery and therapies for those with central nervous system damage or disease.”

To make healthy neuronal connections that transmit electrical signals in the same way that naturally grown neurons do, precise manipulation and specialized instruments are needed. This amount of precision is due to the minute size of the neurons, which are 1/100th of a single hair strand. An atomic force microscope is used to stretch the transmitter part of a neuron and reconnect with the part of the neuron that acts as a receiver.

Margaret Magnesian, a neuroscientist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and an author on the paper “Rapid Mechanically Controlled Rewiring of Neuronal Circuits,” says ”this technique can potentially create neurons that are several [millimetres] long, but clearly more studies will need to be done to understand whether and how these micro-manipulated connections differ from natural ones.”

Fining hospitals for readmission rates might be a key to improve patient care: Study

Canadian residents admitted to hospital are more likely to be readmitted within a three-year period – in Canada readmission rates are stable, while in other countries they are falling.

“Reducing readmission rates is one of the most feasible ways to improve patient care and reduce health-care costs,” said Jason Sutherland in a statement, an associate professor in the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health.

Heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia were the three conditions analyzed for the study between 2010 and 2013. Of 18 B.C. hospitals, readmission cost the province $13 million for the three conditions alone.

Sutherland analyzed a tactic called “Hospital Readmission Reduction Program” (HRRP), which was implemented in the U.S. to fine hospitals for their readmission rates – creating an incentive to provide better care and increase rehabilitation.

Researchers calculated if the HRRP were implemented in B.C., many hospitals would lose less than $40,000, while the largest financial penalty would reach up to $217,000.

Although technically possible in B.C., Sutherland believes the impact would be too small to influence hospital protocol, “Canadian health care systems need to be making changes to get more value for health spending and to improve the quality of care patients receive.”