Remembering Mohammad Asadi Lari: 2017 Interview. Honouring his passion for youth and STEM Fellowship

It is with great sadness that we share the news that our friend Mohammad Asadi Lari passed away along with his sister, Zeynab onboard Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 in Tehran. Mohammad was an outstanding human being on so many levels – kind, intelligent, a community giver – his passing is a great loss to the many lives and communities he impacted. 

He inspired many youth to pursue STEM, to make it fun, engaging, and it’s one of the reasons why we at IdeasXChange featured his work back in 2017 as an Campus Innovator – because aside from his passion to make a difference, he was just a good human being in so many ways. Our deepest condolences are with Mohammad’s family, the many whose lives he touched and all those who tragically lost their lives onboard this flight.

Many of us knew Mohammad and in his honour, below you will find the original piece featuring his interview with us in 2017. These are his words. You can hear his unequivocal passion for change making as he shares his achievements and dreams. Let us remember him and honour his commitment to make this a better world.

– Miguel A. Rozo, Steven Zhang and Priscilla Ng


Priscilla Ng, the Editor-in-Chief of IdeasXChange had the opportunity to talk to Mohammad Asadi Lari, a third-year Honours Physiology student who is involved primarily in research and youth engagement. His passion in facilitating an innovative, sustainable, and paradigm-shifting discussion in STEM research and data education prompted him to be involved in various organizations in research and scholarly publishing that are well-known within Canada and beyond.

Please describe yourself and your passion in 3 words:
Two of these words can actually be integrated into one word – ‘social’ and ‘innovation’. I like the social aspect and the innovation aspect of the fields that I am engaged in. I first learned about this term at the National Youth Leadership and Innovation Summit in Toronto. Before that, I was never engaged with people who were involved in start-ups, but this was a buzzword that kept coming up during the conference. I would also want to choose the word ‘compassion’ too, because I care about the people who I work with. Compassion is required in social innovation and the work that I do in that area. I think that my own growth is intertwined with the growth of my peers – they grow, I grow, and I hope that when I grow, I am able to share it with others, so that they also grow as individuals. That’s actually why I think ‘compassion’ is the most important word out of the three.

You had mentioned your interest in educational innovation and working with UBC students to cultivate young leaders. What inspired you to be a part of STEM Fellowship, and what would you like UBC students to be able to take away from getting involved with the organization?
STEM Fellowship started when Dr. Sacha Noukhovich, a highly seasoned teacher from Toronto, invited me to work with two students currently at UCalgary and UofT on a new organization. It kick-started in April 2015, and from that point onwards, it became my most important involvement! My immediate social circle was in UBC, so we had recruited a lot of people here initially, which was followed by establishing our first club here in March 2016, and expanding our presence into a total of twelve campuses (and counting!). Our primary focus is on data science and scholarly communication, but we want students to see these as tools where they could both get engaged with STEM leadership, innovation and research, as well as getting to share their work. There is a lot of good work out there by students, but they are unaware of how they can share them, and this is not just limited to writing. We are also working closely with a company called Digital Science, probably one of the largest innovation companies in the scholarly publishing field, and they push for a number of tools used for analyzing research around the world. In doing this, we are also aiming to connect major non-profit organizations and companies in the scholarly publishing field to campuses all across Canada, and this is where our scholarly communication, ‘Editing 101’ and peer review workshops come in. We hope to create an international network, that is brought together by the collective action of local clusters of STEM Fellows, and given the strong presence we have in UBC, we hope to see this campus as a leading element of the broader project!

The Big Data Challenge and the STEM Fellowship Journal seem to be two of the major projects at work by the organization (along with many others). Please tell us more about what lies behind this year’s theme, ‘Using impact data to understand and predict the future directions of science’, why Data Science is important, and some of the challenges faced in pushing for this initiative. The Big Data Challenge in Toronto is an initiative where we provide data sets to students, and they will use a total of 3 months using the tools and options to analyze data in order to come up with their own projects. Eight projects will be selected to enter the finale in Toronto, and our ultimate goal is to make this initiative nation-wide. We are also, of course, looking to bring this into UBC. Our Big Data events are currently sponsored by IBM-Big Data University, Microsoft, SAS and SciNet (Canada’s largest super computer centre). What was interesting about this year is that our students were working on open-access data and the data from the city of Toronto last year, and this year, students are working with Alternative Metrics (AltMetrics). They ended up becoming our sponsors for the Big Data Challenge, and the source of research data that our students to work with. A lot of very interesting projects emerged from this collaboration which were extremely impressive for high school students, and we will be publishing three of them in our next issue. Over the past year, I also had the opportunity to talk to a number of indigenous student leaders, and they were interested in the idea of the Big Data Challenge because they saw potential in working with data that were relevant to their respective communities, especially the environmental issues regarding the construction of the pipeline. I think STEM is very empowering; giving students the tools they need to solidify their projects, as well as mentorship with data and coming up with trends, and finding things that they would be able to share. Our ultimate goal is to be a platform that would give students tools to do things themselves, which is why we want to bring data education online. This will also become an important component of our STEMpowerment initiative.

As the Managing Director at the STEM Fellowship and the co-director of the STEM Fellowship Journal Editorial Board, what is your definition of a successful research project, and what are some of your tips for students who are interested in research and learning more about getting their work published?
The STEM Fellowship Journal is actually the only Canadian science publishing journal that is dedicated only to publishing high school and undergraduate work. The idea is that we want to be a national platform journal to show student research, and promote interdisciplinary research. We are arranging the publication of research with institutions across Canada, such as the undergraduate engineering research in the University of Toronto, inter-disciplinary research from McGill University, the top project from the Science One program at UBC, and the Sanofi Biogenius Challenge. These institutions work with students and research fairs, and are able to produce high-quality student research from a mix of different fields, disciplines, and year groups. Recently, we have also been able to secure with two major granting agencies, NSERC and CIHR, to promote SFJ and allow for a select number of publications coming from publicly funded research by undergraduate students.  We also published works from our High School Scholarly Writing challenge, where students had submitted their IB extended essays, for example, and had gotten feedback on it. Four of them were chosen and could publish their work in the journal. We are also getting in touch with the Harvard Undergraduate Research Society, and the Stanford Undergraduate Research Society, to publish their research work and expand the network as well – it’s a win-win situation. The journal is our flagship scholarly aspect, but what I see happening in the long-term are the workshops, so students can have access to tools to write, to share, and to see themselves as capable to be writing more. The tools are not limited to STEM, as they are as applicable to humanity as they are to science, so we would want to get the interdisciplinary feature as solid as possible.

We are interested in knowing more about your involvement in the Canadian Commission for UNESCO (CCUNESCO)! What are some of the action plans in progress for bringing a more sustainable and internationally connected future for the Canadian and global youth? What are some of the way in which the youth can become more engaged? UNESCO’s Education Week had focused on education for sustainable development, and global citizenship education. My involvement in the CCUNESCO Youth Advisory Group (YAG) stems from my will to promote more novel educational philosophies, to change paradigms in education, and make them wider so students can avoid perceiving the world in a narrow way. A big part of what we are aiming to do is to connect students from different countries, and because of my personal connections, we did publish some works by students from Iran. These students from Central Iran were working on projects that were quite basic, but they were incredibly impressive for those students, as they were in grade nine and I had doubted that they had written the work themselves! But after talking to them, I was convinced that it was their work indeed. A lot of these initiatives are catered towards North America and Western Europe, but the world is so much bigger, and I see a lot of arrogance sometimes that a shifting in education paradigms can help us break. We are currently seeing interest from university students from outside North America, including Iran, Russia and South Africa!

What are some of the biggest challenges and setbacks in establishing Gene Researching for A Week, and how did you go about tackling it? Were your larger visions in starting this initiative carried through to your current endeavours in STEM Fellowship? The Gene Researching for A Week was established twelve years ago, and it helped me a lot with the initiatives and project that I am working on in STEM Fellowship today. The reason that this project has been so successful is because we have been getting applications from throughout Canada. 40-50 high school students are paired up with a supervisor during the spring break, and these students get to shadow their supervisors in their labs for a week, full time, to observe and also to get involved one way or another. Even though the organization that was originally running the Gene Research for A Week project was dissolved, the project still carried on under CIHR’s leadership because it was so effective and executed in high-quality. For me, I would love to see STEM Fellowship’s STEMpowerment program getting the amount of recognition that Gene Research for A Week did, gaining that representation and being able to garner people’s interest from all over Canada, so we can further this paradigm and be a part in changing people’s lives.

Tell us about an inspiring figure who you have always looked up to. How and why did they inspire you? It’s cliché – but my mom! I have to persist on naming her, and actually also my grandmothers, because they have incredible impact on my life. They have inspired me in different ways, by being resilient and patient, while strengthening my resolve to try harder and harder. I share with my grandmothers the details of the work that I am involved in, and they give me advice…the whole compassion aspect has its roots in these discussions, and from listening to my elders.

Lastly, are there any major plans for 2017 and beyond that you’d like us to look out for? For STEM Fellowship, there are a lot of things that we would like to see happen. Our biggest strive at the moment is to establish a strong membership base, and actually have STEM fellows. We do not have a membership program as of now, so that is something for us to look into, and it would be geared both to high school students and university students on different aspects. Our ongoing goal is centered on expansion, but aside from this, I am exploring the global health ecosystem in the hope of starting a health startup with one of my close friends from the physiology program, Geoffrey Ching. We are at a very baseline phase, but the process is very exciting!

Campus Innovator The IdeasXChange Campus Innovator is a forward-thinking, proactive individual who has kickstarted their own sustainable initiative on the UBC Vancouver campus. Their involvement surrounds the core values of a sustainable, innovative and interdisciplinary mindset, which they are eager to share with the rest of the UBC student body. If you would like to nominate yourself or someone else to be featured as a Campus Innovator, please send your pitch to:

Learn more about STEM Fellowship at:

New study finds controversial “liberation therapy” fails to treat Multiple Sclerosis

According to a study led by the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health, opening up narrowed veins from the brain and spinal cord is not effective in treating multiple sclerosis.

The conclusions derived from the so-called “liberation therapy,” which thousands of MS patients have undergone since 2009, debunk the claim that MS patients could achieve huge improvements from a one-time medical procedure.

“We hope these findings, coming from a carefully controlled, ‘gold standard’ study, will persuade people with MS not to pursue liberation therapy, an invasive procedure that carries the risk of complications, as well as significant financial cost,” said Dr. Anthony Traboulsee, a UBC associate professor of neurology and director of the MS Clinic at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. Traboulsee pointed out that luckily there is a wide range of drug treatments available for MS patients. He also added that these treatments have been proven to be safe and effective at slowing disease progression through extensive studies.

The findings from the $5.4-million study was jointly funded by the Canadian Institutes of health Research, the MS Society of Canada, and the provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec. The findings were presented at the Society for Interventional Radiology’s annual scientific meeting in Washington, DC.

Dr. Paolo Zamboni of Italy introduced the use of venoplasty to treat MS. Zamboni demonstrated that narrowing of the veins in the neck could result in iron accumulating in the brain and spinal chord, triggering an autoimmune response. He named his theory chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency (CCSVI). He cited several dozen patients who improved after undergoing venoplasty performed by him.

Upon learning of those anecdotal results through the news media, many patients in canada and Europe asked for imaging of their veins and subsequent venoplasty. However, almost all Canadian physicians declined performing the treatment, due to the lack of supporting evidence. As a result, some patients sought treatment in the US, Latin America and Eatern Europe.

This is the second study led by UBC and Vancouver Coastal health team along with other researchers from across Canada. The goal of the study was to find more evidence on the CCSVI theory. The first study was supported by the MS Society of Canada, and was aimed at finding whether narrowed veins were a distinct feature of MS. The study found that the narrowing was just as common in people without the disease.

“Despite the negative findings of that diagnostic study, many patients wanted to know if the venous dilation procedure could help,” said Dr. Lindsay Machan, a UBC associate professor of radiology who presented the findings at today’s interventional radiology conference. “We were committed to meticulously evaluating this treatment with robust methods and patient-focused outcomes.”

MS is an autoimmune disease, leading to the body’s own defences attacking the protective coating of brain cells, or neurons. The attack degrades the insulation of the cells slowing the neurons’ ability to conduct electrical signals causing problems with movement, sensation and cognitive function. The causes of the disease are unknown, however, scientists have implicated genetic variation and environmental factors, including a lack of Vitamin D.

Nation wide coverage for essential medications would improve access, save billions

By publicly funding essential medicines and covering the cost of nearly half of all prescriptions in Canada, $3 billion per year will be saved while removing financial barriers for Canadians.

“Universal pharmacare has been long-promised but undelivered in Canada, in part because of concerns about where to start,” said Steve Morgan, a professor in the school of population and public health. “We show that adding universal public coverage of essential medicines to the existing system of drug coverage in Canada is a significant and feasible step in the right direction.”

Steve Morgan (Photo courtesy of: UBC)

A list of 117 essential medicines were identified by researchers including, antibiotics, insulin, heart medication, anti-depressants, oral contraceptives and more. They found that the list accounted for 44 percent of all prescriptions written in 2015 and up to 77 per cent of all prescriptions when therapeutically similar medications were considered.

According to The World Health Organization (WHO) these essential medicines should be provided to everyone who needs them. Dr. Persaud, a family physician, leading the team developing the essential medicines list, said the WHO’s list has been adapted based on clinical practice in Canada.

Currently, Canadians depend on a mix of private and public coverage leaving millions facing high out-of-pocket costs for drugs.

Research shows that due to the high out-of-pocket costs which many Canadians cannot afford, many do not take medication as prescribed.

“Access to medicines can be the difference between life and death,” said Dr. Nav  Persaud. “There are treatments for HIV and heart disease that save lives but only when they are in the hands of people who need them.”

Morgan and Dr. Persaud propose governments purchase these essential medicines in bulk for all of Canada. They believe this approach will save patients and private drug plans $4.3 billion per year while costing government only an additional $1.2 billion per year. This would lead to a total net savings of $3.1 billion per year for Canadians.

“A program of this kind is a feasible way of improving the overall health of Canadians while dramatically lowering drug costs,” said Morgan. “Other countries that do similar things pay 40 to 80 per cent less for these essential medicines.”

Dr. Persaud is leading a clinical trial with patients in four Family health Teams in Ontario. Through these trials he will compare the health outcomes and health-care use of people receiving the free essential medicines and those who did not.

New forecasting tool predicts houses at risk of being torn down

According to a new forecasting tool developed by a UBC researcher and industry collaborator, around one-quarter of detached homes in Vancouver’s hot housing market could be demolished between now and 2030.

This forecasting tool, called the teardown index, reveals that the lower the value of the residence relative to the value of the overall property (its relative building value, or RBV), the house is more likely to be torn down and replaced.

“An RBV of between 60 per cent and 70 per cent is generally considered healthy for a new building. But when a building is worth less than 10 per cent of the total value of the property, the probability of teardown and replacement increases dramatically,” said Joseph Dahmen, a professor of architecture at the University of British Columbia and a Wall Scholar at UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.

To illustrate this point, the researcher traced the RBV of a house constructed in 1940. It revealed that with the increase in the overall price of the property over 75 years, its relative building value decreased until it hit a low point of 4 percent.

According to Dahmen, with such a low RBV, there is a 50:50 chance the house will be torn down by the new owner, and a new house will be built more in line with the overall price of the property.

According to research collaborator and mathematician Jens von Bergmann of MountainMath Software, with the recent surge in Vancouver real estate values, half of single-family homes in Vancouver have RBVs below 7.5 percent.

“If RBVs continue to slide, one-quarter of all single-family homes will be torn down between now and 2030, replaced by new single-family houses that seek to maximize size,” said von Bergmann. “It’s not clear how that will help affordability. We should ask ourselves how to replace these teardowns with more units of ground-oriented, family-friendly homes on each lot.”

Given that a quarter of all-single-family homes sold in Vancouver proper are torn down and replaced, researchers are contemplating on using their findings to gauge the projected environmental impact of the new homes.

“As building operations become more efficient, materials will account for an even larger share of overall environmental impacts. Focusing on the materials as well as energy efficiency would improve RBVs while helping to break the cycle of demolition and construction in Vancouver,” said Dahmen.

Campus Innovator: Zamina Mithani on IC-Kindness and Social Sustainability

Campus Innovator The IdeasXChange Campus Innovator is a forward-thinking, proactive individual who has kickstarted their own sustainable initiative on the UBC Vancouver campus. Their involvement surrounds the core values of a sustainable, innovative and interdisciplinary mindset, which they are eager to share with the rest of the UBC student body.

If you would like to nominate yourself as a Campus Innovator, or would like to interview another Campus Innovator you know, please send your pitch to:

(Interview by Phebe Ferrer)

On Friday, February 17, I sat down with Zamina Mithani, President of the IC-Kindness Foundation, to talk about her work on social sustainability. IC-Kindness has recently been involved in the SLC as well as the UBC Sustainability Fair, where its social approach to sustainability was highlighted by the fair’s organizers. It has also done projects towards helping Syrian refugees and residents in the DTES.

Zamina and I talk about these and more in the interview below.


P: So to start off, tell me a little bit about yourself, what you do, what you’re passionate about…

Z: My name is Zamina Mithani, and I’m the President of the IC-Kindness Foundation – the Interfaith Collaboration for Kindness Foundation. I’m also the President of the Thaqalayn Muslim Association. Both of those things really embody two values which are important to me, and that’s identity and diversity. So identity – being authentic to yourself, understanding what your values are, and then leading from that.

My background is in Science and Master of Management, so I really enjoy business, but I also enjoy business with a purpose, and business with social responsibility attached to it, which I think is where sustainability fits in really nicely, and where the themes of the main two clubs I’m working with right now fit in, in terms of diversity. Embracing different ways of thinking, embracing the whole idea of social sustainability and empowering communities, but also embracing the idea that it comes from within, and it comes from having a good sense of who you are, your values and what’s important to you, and then building from that.

So those are the two main things that I’m doing on campus!

P: Sounds great! So focusing on IC-Kindness, tell me a bit more about it. What does the name mean, why did you set it up, what work does the organization do, and what do you hope it will accomplish.

Z: Sure! So the IC-Kindness Foundation is kind of a punny name. It stands for “I see kindness,” but also Interfaith Collaboration for Kindness, and that’s exactly what our mandate is. It’s to bring together and unite youth of different backgrounds, different races, religions and cultures towards a common goal of social responsibility and doing good.

We really have a triangle approach to how we try and do things in the organization. It starts off with being kind to yourself, and so that includes mental health, random acts of kindness, embracing that within yourself, then being kind to others, obviously again, through having wonderful conversations, doing events like how we did for the Syrian refugees. We had a big fundraiser for them and we actually volunteered with an organization that helped give out food to those families. We have done work with the DTES in the past as well. And then the environment – the Earth and being kind to the Earth, but the environment can also mean society, and raising awareness about global issues and how we can be kinder.

P: Cool! You also mentioned before to me in another conversation that part of your passions and the organization’s mandate is towards social sustainability, and I was wondering what work IC-Kindness is doing towards that, or what maybe you personally are doing towards that?

Z: Yeah! So IC-Kindness is still pretty new, so it’s an area we’re still exploring, and it’s still something we’re working towards. We did have a booth at the UBC Sustainability Fair this year which was really awesome. We really got to talk about the whole idea that sustainability and the culture of sustainability. Often we just link it to the environment – recycling, being clean and being green – and those are all very important and absolutely necessary for our efforts to lobby governments and mitigate climate change, as well as work towards adaptation, mitigation, and public awareness. But in that whole idea of sustainability also comes people’s attitudes towards it and towards their environment, not just being something that they can take for granted, which is sometimes what we do here, but part in parcel of how you live your life, and you live your life with kindness and respect of the Earth around you.

I think different cultures, and also in terms of IC-Kindness and the spirit of the organization being interfaith and intercultural; different cultures have beautiful variations of how they are sustainable. You look at India, you look at China, you look at the Philippines, you look everywhere – you see different ideas of what the Earth means to different people. It’s about embracing that and allowing that to guide how people form and engage their communities, in acts that protect our environment with the spirit that you’re also doing it for each other. I think that’s so important, because we need strong communities who are respectful and kind, and have that sense of empathy and aren’t divisive. Division is contrary to the goals of sustainability, if we want to be united in our effort towards global change, environmental sustainability, and social sustainability.

Social sustainability is really connected to environmental sustainability, but it can also exist by itself, because I feel like it’s about having sustainable communities. I think that social sustainability is such a cool term, it’s like adopting this mindset where whatever you do comes back from a set of values, and our societies are governed always by values. Social sustainability is then having those values be enduring, having those values be a driving force for continual progression for a community. Take UBC as a small example, with our values of being together when horrible things happen, like what happened in Quebec, and then coming together and doing protest and other activities – that all comes from a sense of value, and that value contributes to the drive of social sustainability, and how as people we’re ultimately affected by everything, be it to other people, ourselves, or be it to the environment.

It’s a pretty broad concept and I think IC-Kindness is a very small, small part in that whole movement, but what I hope to do is just empower people to embrace whatever they feel they can impact and whatever their passions are in that sort of web in how we can make sustainable communities. This would be different for different people, but I think that’s what makes it such a cool concept.

At an IC-Kindness event, Feb 17 2017. Image courtesy of Phebe Ferrer.

P: I was going to ask you how you would define social sustainability, and you kind of allude to the fact that it’s a very broad concept, though not in a bad sort of way.

Z: I think that it’s something that’s still very new, and I’m still learning about how different people define it too, but it’s generally part of a whole idea that protecting our world is a systemic thing. You can’t just look at one aspect of sustainability and say like, c’est la vie and that’s it and call it a year, but it’s a movement of people getting together, the environment and different factors. It’s a whole systemic approach to knowing that everything is a system – something you do affects somebody else.

P: So IC-Kindness is focused on the value of kindness – what role do you think kindness plays towards social sustainability, and towards sustainability in general?

Z: I think kindness has a huge role to play in sustainability, because I think part of the movement that drives consumerism, and drives this extra spending and waste, is this movement that we’re not fulfilled with our lives, and we’re not fulfilled with what we have. But we have this obligation to look after the environment around us, and that comes from adopting a mindset of kindness. The problem is, when you ask how kindness fits in with social sustainability and sustainability in general, is that it’s a very feel good term – it’s very ‘kumbaya’. Of course, the two fit together because you have to be kind to the Earth, but I think the challenge is defining what that really means.

Being kind to the Earth is a series of actions that need to come after that. One needs to prove that kindness is within their mindset, and sometimes it sounds so big to be kind to the Earth and adopt this mindset, that it seems almost unattainable. I think part of our challenge is how to take these big ideas and break them down into things that we can do on a daily basis. We talk about these issues a lot, like sustainability, what kindness is, what it means to be a good person…but how do you actually achieve this? For example, when you see a homeless person and you don’t look at them, or you don’t smile at them, is that you being kind? That’s not a question I can answer – that’s something you have to constantly strive for within yourself, like what decisions you make and how these impact the world around you.

P: I was also wondering since IC-Kindness is an interfaith organization, what role do interfaith organizations like IC-Kindness play towards sustainability, in that specific aspect of collaborating with other faiths and religions?

Z: Yeah! I also talked about this at the SLC workshop that I did – right now, diversity is very important in people’s lives, be it sexual diversity, race diversity, even ableism, so the ability of people, that kind of diversity as well, but we don’t often talk about faith-based diversity. It’s always a question to me of why that is, and I feel like the reason behind it is when you talk about faith and religion, it taps into ideology, and it’s difficult to discuss how to be kind and how to collaborate within that. Whenever you believe something, and you get together with someone who thinks something different, you’re always going to have that subliminal bias that what you think is slightly better. That’s really going to prevent you from having actual collaboration, because you’ll likely think ‘oh that’s really cool, but my thing is slightly better.’

So I think that the challenge and the beauty of interfaith, and how this comes back to the whole idea of sustainability, is that it’s about understanding each other’s identities and ideologies, in a way that’s beyond appearance, how people act, but what they really think and how their minds work. I think that once you can collaborate on an ideological basis, you can collaborate on any term. That’s a bit of a generalization, but I think it’s very possible, because once you break through the ideological barrier, you really open yourself up to a lot more of an acceptance based mindset than you would otherwise.

That’s what I think is important with sustainability as well, like if we want to have a greener planet, if we want to work towards food security, empowering communities, working with Aboriginal communities, then we need to understand how they think, and understand their ideology. We can’t go into scenarios thinking we’re better, and I think that’s what interfaith really teaches you, is how you can look at someone who believes different things, and understand that and learn to see the beauty in it. I feel like once we learn to do that, we’ll learn how to see the beauty in how everybody looks at the environment, and then learn about how we can change it.

Part of IC-Kindness’ projects are kindness notes, where people write notes with a kind message and give it to someone else. Image courtesy of IC-Kindness.

P: That’s beautiful. So in terms of IC-Kindness’ goals, in cultivating collaborations between different religions, making connections between different people, and looking at sustainability through a social, community-based lens- what has the organization done in achieving those goals?

Z: I think the prime example was our fundraiser that we did for Syrian refugee families, in that we really just wanted to humanize their struggles. One of our biggest values is tangible humanitarianism. I know that sounds vague, but basically what it means is like, good things that you can do, and know that you’re doing it. So instead of buying a donut for a dollar and not knowing where your money is going, it’s about actually giving the food to a Syrian refugee family, and having that human interaction with them, which I think is so valuable.

When we did this for these families, people on our team, who have never been to the Middle East, or Syria, didn’t really know anybody from there. They thought it was a super cool experience because they got a glimpse into another way of thinking, and into the real people behind such a horrible humanitarian crisis. I think that when we see something bad happen, like floods and political migration crises, you think of the people and you see them on Facebook, but we’re so passive in how we like posts, share posts, without really thinking or acting upon that after.

So I think that that’s really important, and for IC-Kindness, we’re still a young organization and still growing. We’re doing a lot of different things and still working towards that goal. But that’s my vision for it, to eventually create this beautiful culture of tangible humanitarianism, to humanize the people within the issues we see around us. This again goes back to social sustainability, because we are social beings, and we stop being social beings once we start dehumanizing each other, like believing stereotypes and dogmas about other religions. I think that the mentality we should have is a unified mentality – that we all are human, and that we all should try our best to be kind to each other.


Special thanks to Zamina Mithani! Find IC-Kindness at their website, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Tiny magnetic implant enables new drug delivery method

UBC researchers have developed a new method of drug delivery, the first of its kind in Canada. The new method makes use a magnetic drug implant, offering an alternative for patients struggling with various pills or intravenous injections.

Size of the magnetic implant compared to the Canadian one-dollar coin. (Photo courtesy of: UBC)

The device measures just six millimetres in diameter and is made of a silicone sponge with magnetic carbonyl iron particles encapsulated in a round polymer layer.

The drug is delivered into the device and then surgically implanted in the area being treated.

A magnet is passed over the patient’s skin activating the device by deforming the sponge and resulting in the release of the drug into the surrounding tissue through a tiny opening.

“Drug implants can be safe and effective for treating many conditions, and magnetically controlled implants are particularly interesting because you can adjust the dose after implantation by using different magnet strengths. Many other implants lack that feature,” said study author Ali Shademani, a PhD student in the biomedical engineering program at UBC.

Ali Shademani and co-author Hongbin Zhang. (Photo courtesy of: UBC)

Co-author John K. Jackson, a research scientist at UBC’s faculty of pharmaceutical sciences said actively controlling drug delivery plays a significant role for patients suffering from diabetes where the required timing and dosage of insulin varies from patient to patient.

“This device lets you release the actual dose that the patient needs when they need it, and it’s sufficiently easy to use that patients could administer their own medication one day without having to go to a hospital,” said Jackson.

Researchers used the prostate cancer drug docetaxel to test their device on animal tissue in the lab. They found the technique was effective in administering the drug on demand even after repeated use. The effect of the drug on cancer cells was comparable to that of freshly delivered docetaxel, proving that the drugs stored in the device stay effective.

Mu Chiao, Shademani’s supervisor and a professor of mechanical engineering at UBC, said the team is working on refining the device and narrowing down the conditions for its use.

“This could one day be used for administering painkillers, hormones, chemotherapy drugs and other treatments for a wide range of health conditions. In the next few years we hope to be able to test it for long-term use and for viability in living models,” said Chiao.

“Active regulation of on-demand drug delivery by magnetically triggerable microspouters” was recently published online in the journal Advanced Functional Materials. Click here to download a copy.

Older Canadians forgo meds due to costs, compromising their health

According to new UBC research one in 12 Canadians aged 55 and older skipped their prescriptions due to cost in 2014. This number was the second highest rate among comparable countries.

“When patients stop filling their prescriptions, their conditions get worse and they often end up in hospital requiring more care which in the long run costs us more money,” said Steve Morgan, senior author of the study and professor in UBC’s school of population and public health.

Steve Morgan

Steve Morgan (Photo courtesy of: UBC)

The research used the 2014 commonwealth fund International health Policy Survey of Older Adults (people aged 55 years or older) in 11 high income countries. The countries in the study included: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Canada is the only country without coverage for prescription medications among countries with publicly funded health-care systems.

In a separate analysis of the Canadian survey responses, researchers revealed Canadians aged 55 to 64 were the ones subject to the greatest barriers to filling their prescriptions. Among them one in eight reported not filling their prescriptions due to costs in 2014. However, this was in comparison to Canadians aged 65 and older out of which one in 20 filled their prescription. This gap was due to the eligibility of older Canadians for comprehensive public drug coverage in many provinces.

Morgan says this gap in drug coverage among Canadians imposes a problem. He said unlike the universal public health care in other countries, public drug plans in Canada cover only a select group. This group consists of social assistance recipients, and people over the age of 65. Other canadians may have drug coverage from private insurance through their workplaces or none at all.

The survey revealed Canadians  without insurance were twice as likely to not fill prescriptions due to the cost. It also showed low-income Canadians were three times more likely than high income respondents to not fill prescription medicine due to financial barriers.

Morgan said the 2014 findings were the same as were a decade ago. This consistency shows that affordability of prescription drugs is still a public health issue in Canada.

“Our problem hasn’t gone away. Financial barriers to prescription drugs are still high, both in absolute terms and relative to our peer countries.”

(Photo courtesy of: UBC)

One in five adults secretly snoop on their friends’ Facebook accounts

Concerned your social media accounts will be hacked.

New study finds, people we know are the ones frequently accessing our accounts without our permission.

In a survey of 1,308 US adult Facebook users , researchers at the University of British Columbia found 24 percent – or more than one in five – had snooped on the Facebook accounts of their family members, friends and romantic partner using the victims’ own cellphones or computers.


More than one in five – had snooped on the Facebook accounts of their family members, friends and romantic partner using the victims’ own cellphones or computers, according to a research at UBC. (Photo courtesy of :

“It’s clearly a widespread practice. Facebook private messages, pictures or videos are easy targets when the account owner is already logged on and has left their computer or mobile open for viewing,” said Wali Ahmed Usmani, study author and computer science master’s student.

People conceded to spying out of simple curiosity or fun, by changing a victim’s status or profile picture to something humorous. However, other motives were darker such as animosity or jealousy.

“Jealous snoops generally plan their action and focus on personal messages, accessing the account for 15 minutes or longer,” said computer science professor Ivan Beschastnikh, a senior author on the paper.

“And the consequences are significant: in many cases, snooping effectively ended the relationship.”

The paper’s other senior author, electrical and computer engineering professor Kosta Benznosov, said the finding highlights the ineffectiveness of device PINs and passwords in preventing unauthorized access by insiders.

Benznosov also said there is no single solution, but further added a combination of changing passwords, logging out of your account and other security practices can make a difference.

UBC discovery may lead to new treatment for problem gamblers

A new UBC study shows problem gamblers experience increased activity in their brain after looking at slot machines and roulette.

This area is the same part of the brain that lights up when drug addicts have cravings.

The findings published in Translational Psychiatry, suggest this part of the brain, known as the insula, is also involved in behavioural addictions. In addition, the study finds that treatments aimed at the insula could also treat people with gambling problems.

“This mysterious and poorly understood part of the brain has been identified as a key hub for craving in past research. For example, smokers who have sustained brain injuries affecting their insula have been found to be more likely to quit smoking,” said lead author Eve Limbrick-Oldfield, postdoctoral research fellow at the UBC department of psychology and Centre for Gambling Research. “Our study builds on those findings, showing that the insula is also involved in behavioural addictions like problem gambling.”

19 people with gambling disorder, a psychiatric term for serious gambling problems, were shown a series of gambling-related photos and neutral photos. The same photos were shown to a control group of 19 healthy volunteers. MRI brain scans were completed to assess their brain activities.

After the participants rated their craving level, the problem gamblers’ brain response to the gambling photos was compared with their brain response to the neutral photos. Researchers noted a higher level of craving after the gambling photos were shown.

Gambling cues also increased brain activity in parts of the frontal cortex and insula in problem gamblers. These areas are linked to craving and self-control in drug addiction.

Study co-author Luke Clark, psychology professor and director of the Centre for Gambling Research at UBC, said the findings show cues play a major role in triggering cravings for problem gamblers.

“Everything from the lights and the sounds of the slot machines to the smell of the casino are cues that, even after years of abstinence from gambling, can trigger a craving,” said Clark. “Being able to control one’s response to these cues is a crucial part of avoiding relapse.”

Clark said the findings shed light on the potential for treating gambling disorder by targeting the insula and testing new treatments which could tone down the brain’s responses.

The researchers are examining the effectiveness of naltrexone, a medication used to treat alcohol and heroin addiction. These medications are used to change the brain responses in problem gamblers.

Brain ‘organoids’, a futuristic innovation inspired by traditional Japanese art

Researchers have been inspired by the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging for a groundbreaking technique to develop tiny “artificial brains”. These brains could be used to create personalized cancer treatments.

The organoids, which are clusters of thousands of human brains, will not be able to perform basic brain functions, let alone generate thought. However, they impart a far more authentic model — the first of its kind — for studying how brain tumours grow and how they can be stopped.

“This puts the tumour within the context of a brain, instead of a flat plastic dish,” said Christian Naus, a professor in the department of cellular and physiological sciences, who developed the project while collaborating with a Japanese company that specializes in bioprinting. Naus shared details about the technique at November’s annual Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego. “When cells grow in three dimensions instead of two, adhering only to each other and not to plastic, an entirely different set of genes are activated.”


Christian Naus (Photo courtesy of UBC).

His area of study is glioblastoma, an especially aggressive brain cancer, originating deep inside the brain which easily spreads. The standard care is surgery followed by radiation and/or chemotherapy. However, gliomas, almost always return as a few malignant cells are able to leave the tumour and invade surrounding brain tissue. Average survival from the time of diagnosis is one year.

The idea for developing a more authentic model of glioblastoma came after Naus partnered with a Japanese biotechnology company, Cyfuse. This company has created a particular technique for printing human tissues based on the Japanese art of flower arranging known as ikebana. In ikebana, artists use a heavy plate with brass needles sticking up, upon which the stems of flowers are affixed. In Cyfuse’s bioprinting technique a much smaller plate covered with microneedles is used.


In ikebana, artists use a heavy plate with brass needles sticking up, upon which the stems of flowers are affixed. In Cyfuse’s bioprinting technique a much smaller plate covered with microneedles is used. (Photo courtesy of UBC).

“The cells make their own environment,” said Naus, Canada Research Chair in Gap Junctions and Neurological Disorders. “We’re not doing anything except printing them, and then they self-assemble.”

The team then placed cancerous cells inside the organoids. Naus noted the gliomas spread into the surrounding normal cells.

Having shown that the tumour attacks  the surrounding tissue, Naus anticipates that such a technique could be used with a patient’s own cells – including both their normal and cancerous cells – in order to grow a personalized organoid with a glioma at its core. This enables researchers to test a variety of possible drugs or combinations of treatment to find out if any of them stop the cancer growing and invading surrounding tissues.

“With this method, we can easily and authentically replicate a model of the patient’s brain, or at least some of the conditions under which a tumour grows in that brain,” said Naus. “Then we could feasibly test hundreds of different chemical combinations on that patient’s cells to identify a drug combination that shows the most promising result, offering a personalized therapy for brain cancer patients.”