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UBC Reports Jan 31, 2011

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a place of mind
ubc experts describe nine advances
that may transform your world,
from shapeshifting architecture to
the ability to predict the diseases you
may experience. Plus, two professors
revisit their forecasts from our first
annual poll in 2006. Year in headlines
Intelligent space
2010 highlights
volume fifty seven : number one
Executive Director
scott macrae  scott.macrae@ubc.ca
randy Schmidt randy.schmidt@ubc.ca
Design Manager
arlene cotter arlene.cotter@ubc.ca
Public Affairs Studio
PINO ki chan  ping.chan@ubc.ca
martin dee  martin.dee@ubc.ca
Web Designer
tony chu tony.chu@ubc.ca
Communications Coordinators
heather amos heather.amos@ubc.ca
Lorraine chan  lorraine.chan@ubc.ca
jody Jacob jody.jacob@ubc.ca
brian lin  brian.Iin@ubc.ca
bud mortenson  bud.mortenson@ubc.ca
basil waugh  basil.waugh@ubc.ca
pearlie davison  pearlie.davison@ubc.ca
emmy buccat emmy.buccat@ubc.ca
UBC Reports is published monthly by:
The University of British Columbia
Public Affairs Office
310-6251 Cecil Green Park Road
Vancouver BC Canada V6T1Z1
Next issue: 3 February 2011
UBC Reports welcomes submissions.
For upcoming UBC Reports submission guidelines:
Opinions and advertising published in UBC Reports
do not necessarily reflect official university policy.
Material may be reprinted in whole or in part with
appropriate credit to UBC Reports. Letters (300 words
or less) must be signed and include an address and
phone number for verification.
Submit letters to:
The Editor, UBC Reports
E-mail to publicaffairs@ubc.ca or
Mail to UBC Public Affairs Office (address above)
UBC News Room
Visit our online UBC News Room for the latest
updates on research and learning. On this site you'll
find our news releases, advisories, news extras, as
well as a daily media summary and a real-time
UBCNEWS twitter feed. You can also find resources
including access to more than 500 faculty experts
and information about UBC's radio and TV studios.
Website: www.ubc.ca/news
Tel: 604.822.NEWS (6397)
E-mail: public.affairs@ubc.ca
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Publication mail agreement no. 40775044.
Return adian addresses to circulation department
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Email: public.aftairs@ubc.ca
fa place of mind
Public Affairs Office
In 2010 UBC faculty researchers and students helped make
remarkable global advances in many fields of study. Their initiatives,
innovations and insights made international news headlines,
some of which are captured here and in our annual publication
A Year in Headlines. For more UBC stories, visit www.ubc.ca/yih
2010 GAMES
The legacy of the Games
UBC welcomed media as a host hockey
and sledge hockey venue ofthe 2010
Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic
Games. UBC's Robson Square campus
in downtown Vancouver was also home
to the unaccredited international media
The New York Times, USA Today, Le
Monde, NBC Today, the Sydney Morning
Herald and many others reported
on the UBC professors who studied
the impact ofthe Games, performed
scientific research for the Games and
provided analysis of everything from
security measures to weather and
national pride.
"It seems as if our identity has always
been that we're not American," UBC
researcher Rob VanWynsberghe,
who is leading a study ofthe Games'
impact for the International Olympic
Committee, told USA Today. "I think
we'll have a full-blown Canadian
identity and that will be one ofthe
legacies of these games."
A weird academic bias
The New York Times, Newsweek,
Scientific American, Science and
others described how UBC professors
were pointing out the flaws ofthe
scientific practices of many psychology
A group from UBC published a
meta-analysis indicating that between
2003 and 2007 undergrads made up
80 per cent of study subjects in six
top psychology journals. They call
this the WEIRD population—Western
Educated Industrialized Rich
"While students from Western
nations are a convenient, low cost data
pool, our findings suggest that they
are also among the least representative populations one could find for
generalizing about humans," said
Joseph Henrich, a UBC professor
of psychology and economics, who
worked on the study with colleagues
Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan.
War on drugs
Evan Wood, founder ofthe International
Centre for Science in Drug Policy,
director ofthe Urban Health Program
at the British Columbia Centre for
Excellence in HIV/AIDS and associate
professor in the Department of
Medicine at UBC, was published in a
CNN online opinion column and the Los
Angeles Times. He also provided expert
commentary for the New York Times,
Time and the Globe and Mail.
"From a scientific perspective, we
must accept that law enforcement will
never meaningfully reduce the flow of
drugs. Economists know that the drug
seizures we see over and over again
as part of police photo ops have the
perverse effect of making it that much
more profitable for someone else to
sell drugs," he wrote for CNN.
Museum riches
The Seattle Times, the Telegraph, the
Globe and Mail, and others reported on
UBC's Museum of Anthropology, which
underwent a renewal and launched its
new facilities at the beginning of 2010.
"Anyone interested in First Nations
art, both traditional and contemporary,
won't want to miss this impressive
museum overlooking the Strait
of Georgia, on the fringes ofthe
University of British Columbia campus.
Historic carvings, totem poles and
artifacts from Coast Salish, Haida,
Tlingit and other tribes can be found
here, along with Bill Reid's mighty 'The
Raven and the First Men' (1980) carved
from a block of yellow cedar," wrote
the Seattle Times.
Emmy win
Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground, which
aired on PBS's Frontline in June,
2009, won an Emmy for Outstanding
Investigative Journalism in a News
Magazine. The documentary was
created by UBC students and professor
Peter Klein from the UBC Graduate
School of Journalism.
The win marked the first time
Canadian students have won such an
award and the Globe and Mail, CBC,
The National, CTV and others reported
on the event.
Masters of Architecture student Jordan Beggs and Prof
yboom contemplate a model of a user responsive boundary. The model activates when motion is sensed. See page 5.
This edition of UBC Reports is about the excitement of discovery and the possibilities that
arise when we challenge the frontiers of knowledge. At UBC, we encourage our researchers to pursue
the ideas that captivate them. When groups of talented researchers collaborate, ideas ignite to help
foster naturally occurring areas of excellence in any discipline. The Next Big Thing edition isn't about
patentable devices or commercial products. It's about the delight our faculty members and students
find in pursuing new knowledge. In fact, much of our important research can't be patented or licensed.
Our challenge is to find ways to mobilize all streams of research beyond the campus. UBC's "next big
thing" could in fact be myriad small things, each making its own powerful contribution to our social,
economic and environmental well-being.
— John Hepburn, Vice President, Research and International
UBC Reports The University of British Columbia   January 2011 The next big thing
Municipal service robots
In the next 15 years, Canada will spend $12 billion to
upgrade water main systems. A UBC professor is building
a pipe inspection robot that will save money by entering
subterranean waterways to find the weak spots.
By Jody Jacob
UBC robotics professor Homayoun
Najjaran is working on a robot that
has the ability to travel through
water mains and sewer pipes, identify
defects and send back information
that can be used by municipal
engineers to determine how and where
money should be invested in repair
and renewal of piping infrastructure.
The project is a collaborative effort
with fellow UBC engineering professors
Solomon Tesfamariam and Rehan Sadiq,
as well as a company called Inuktun
in Nanaimo, B.C. The robot could
save municipalities millions of dollars
by helping them determine which
infrastructure systems are in the most
critical condition, and which are highest
priority for costly upgrades.
"It is estimated that Canada will need
to spend $12 billion in the next 15 years
to upgrade water main systems," says
Najjaran, who works at UBC's Okanagan
campus. "Only about 0.5 per cent of
those systems are replaced annually,
which means the life expectancy of a
piping system is 200 years. With limited
repair and renewal resources, you can
see why it is important for municipalities to know what pipes are priority
Najjaran adds that it's not just a
matter of replacing the older pipes first.
Environmental factors contribute to
deterioration, meaning some 100-year-
old pipes could be fine, while much
newer pipes could have serious defects.
The piping inspection robots are
one example of Najjaran's work, which
focuses on robotics and automation. He
works with industry and academia to
build robots with autonomous capabilities to address real-world problems.
This is the notion of "service robots."
"Ifyou have an operational system,
and you would then like it to operate
with less human intervention, you
probably have an automation problem,"
explains Najjaran. "What we do in
our lab is make machines and robots
smarter by adding sensors like cameras,
rangefinders, and haptic sensors, so
they can relate to and interact with the
environment they are working in.
"Imagine you would like to inspect
a pipe, a bridge, or even the surface of
the Mars—somewhere where you have
limited or no access," he says. "We will
build an autonomous robot to travel
through the environment by itself, do
inspection or repair, and communicate a
wealth of useful information back to you."
Collaboration is a key factor in
Najjaran's work. He continuously forms
new partnerships with colleagues,
industry, and businesses. His team
consists of eight graduate students and
four to six undergrads.
"The pipe inspection robot is one
example of a number of automation
projects and partnerships currently
underway," he says. "I'm also working
on a project in partnership with Accuas
Inc., a company based in Salmon
Arm, BC, to automate the take-off and
landing capabilities of Unmanned Aerial
Vehicles, which are used to provide
geographical information." •
Assistant Prof. Homayoun
Najjaran's service robots could save
municipalities millions of dollars.
"What we do in
our lab is make
machines and robots
smarter by adding
sensors like cameras,
rangefinders, and
haptic sensors,
so they can relate
to and interact with
the environment
they are working in.
The next big thing
Intelligent space
Shapeshifting spaces offer amazing new possibilities
for individuals in public and private environments.
By Professors AnnaLisa Meyboom and Jerzy Wojtowicz,
School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture
The School of Architecture, in collaboration with
departments in Applied Science and Engineering
Physics, is leading the way in investigating
changeable architecture and making possible
spaces which completely adapt and respond in
real time to occupants and the environment.
Using current technology in computing,
electrical and mechanical engineering, buildings
and streetscapes can change according to stimuli
such as movement, a change in external
environment, a change in light condition, more
people, time of day or a combination of all of these
factors. Digital video scanning, light sensors,
motion sensors, rain sensors, pressure sensors,
weight sensors, proximity sensors, clocks, and
even facial, retinal and fingerprint recognition
software allow spaces to be configured and
adjusted. The programming behind the intelligent
spaces can itself'learn' patterns or preferences of
occupants as they repeat the same patterns.
The question being asked is: how can our
environments benefit from using movable and
adjustable elements controlled by sensors? One
answer to this question is to help those who have
difficulty helping themselves: there are many
applications for responsive environments in
extended care facilities for clients who have
difficulty with mobility. Mechatronic applications
to these facilities can give these clients a degree of
autonomy that might not otherwise be possible,
and improve the quality of life of both the clients
and the caregivers.
Residents can have their surroundings
configured on a control system to their
preferences as the day changes so that care givers
are not required to make adjustments for them:
these systems could even be set up to recognize
hand or head movements for those occupants who
have limited ability to communicate with a
system. Systems can know who is allowed where
and control access automatically or track
locations of residents who have Alzheimer's
disease. As well, interactive communications and
digital technology can transform spaces providing
immersive stimulation, relaxation or a simulation
of nature or a childhood scene that they enjoy.
These systems have the potential to act on a facial
recognition system, allowing a customized
response for each resident.
Further investigation will apply this technology
to private homes where intelligent environments
may allow people to live in their own homes for
longer and facilitate daily tasks.
Other uses which have been investigated are
responsive building skins. Buildings which have
poor conditions for the occupants such as
inadequate solar control, uncomfortable interior
temperatures or problematic lighting conditions
can be retrofit with external facade systems which
respond both to internal and external conditions.
The robotic skin can adjust to people's desires
within the space or to the sun path or light
conditions outside. The adjustment takes place in
real time as conditions change. The skin can take
many forms: but it is basically providing shading,
insulation or sun blockage to the glass or external
wall. The skin elements change configuration
based on input from people in the building who
want to adjust the conditions or sun angle or light
sensors outside.
A robotic and intelligent environment is
completely possible with current technology and
the potential uses for us are only beginning to
be understood. •
UBC Reports The University of British Columbia   January 2011 a place of mind
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The next big thing
Low-cost personal genome analysis
There is an explosion in the use of
techniques to find the gene variations that
influence our lives. We are on the verge
of a genetic revolution that will be exciting,
and scary.
By Drs. Peter Pare, Denise Daley
and Andrew Sandford
Drs. Peter Pare, Denise Daley and Andrew
Sandford are professors in the Department
of Medicine and investigators in the James
Hogg iCAPTURE Centre.
The Human Genome Project (HGP) began in
1990 with the aim of determining the entire
genetic code of one individual. It took 10 years to
get the complete sequence at a cost of more than
$3 billion. Today the entire genetic code of an
individual can be determined in a matter of days
for less than $50,000 and the cost is rapidly
approaching the $1,000 goal. There is a $10
million prize called the X prize (http://genomics.
xprize.org/) for the first group to develop the
$1,000 genome.
One consequence ofthe completion ofthe HGP
has been an explosion in the use of techniques to
find the variation in genes that influence our
health, including alcohol and nicotine dependence,
as well as susceptibility to diseases including
heart attacks, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis
and asthma, to name a few. These techniques are
also being used to find the gene variations that
influence traits such as height, eye color, skin
pigmentation. The up-sides and potential down-sides
of this genetic revolution are exciting and scary.
Imagine a father brings his toddler to their
family physician because of recurrent croup and
asks, "Does my child have asthma and is there
anything I can do to prevent it?" The family
physician swabs the child's cheek and sends the
tiny sample to the lab to check the entire genome.
Within days the physician can give the parents a
probability that the child will develop persistent
severe asthma. The physician can also predict,
with modest certainty, which asthma drugs the
child is most likely to respond to.
Or, consider the scenario of a 54-year-old
business man who comes across the web site, 23
and Me (www.23andme.com) and finds that they
have a holiday special: $99 to have your entire
genome scanned for all known gene variants
proven to be associated with disease. He sends in
his mouthwash and within days his genetic risk
profile is delivered to him online. He discovers he
has a relatively rare mutation in the LRRK2 gene
that raises your lifetime Parkinson's risk to more
than 50 per cent. Later that week he is completing
an application for health insurance and reads, "do
you have any known risk for a chronic disease
such a kidney failure, emphysema, or Parkinson's
Drs. Peter Pare, Denise Daley and
Andrew Sandford foresee a new
ability to identify gene variations
that will influence our health
The possibilities of genetic advances include
designer babies, not only screened to exclude
mutations for devastating diseases such as cystic
fibrosis, but also selected for sex, hair and eye
color. DNA samples left at a crime scene may be
able to create a physical description providing
information about age, gender, ethnicity, hair, eye
and skin colour. Pharmacogenetics will aid in
determining the patients who will respond to
steroids and the best choices for chemotherapy.
The ethical, legal and social impacts are broad
and encompassing. One clear example is how U.S.
Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) are
now using left over blood from clinical tests to get
DNA. These DNA samples are being linked to the
patients' hospital and pharmacy records to create
immense bio-banks. The Bio-banks are selling
access to patient samples for medical research.
Ethics boards have approved this practice without
patient consent provided the data is not linked to
the patient name or other personal identifiers.
It is clear that genetic advances will soon give us
access to large amounts of data about the
possibilities in our lives. What is less clear is
whether we are prepared for it. •
The possibilities of genetic advances include designer babies,
not only screened to exclude mutations for devastating diseases such as cystic fibrosis,
but also selected for sex, hair and eye color.
UBC Reports The University of British Columbia   January 2011 Prof. John Robinson sees a future where
buildings have a "net-positive" impact
The next big thing
Restorative Buildings
The old paradigm aimed to reduce environmental
impact. The future is about buildings that actually
improve our environment.
By John Robinson
John Robinson is a professor with the
Centre for Interactive Research on
Sustainability and executive director of
the UBC Sustainability Initiative.
Can we build cities with buildings that reduce a
community's energy consumption and carbon
emissions, that improve the quality of water
flowing through their sites, that restore their
environments...and that make people happy?
Yes we can, and we are, right here at UBC.
The old environmental agenda focused on
reducing emissions and making things "less bad."
In this way of thinking, urban development was
about reducing impacts and mitigating damage. To
my mind, the new sustainability agenda is
to design and construct buildings that improve
things—that actually make both the physical and
human environment better because they exist.
At UBC we are researching how buildings can
live within a site's natural flows—using the rain as
a water source, wind for ventilation, and the sun
for light; gathering heat from the ground and from
neighbouring buildings; purifying wastewater;
generating heat and electricity; and using wood as
a building material. We're looking at how a
building can restore the environment by being
net-positive, meaning it reduces a community's
energy use and emissions, improves the quality of
water flowing through the site, and sequesters
more carbon than the carbon emitted in
constructing the building and decommissioning it
at the end of its life.
Adding a restorative building to a city should not
only improve environmental quality, but also
improve human quality of life. We want to
investigate how providing natural light, very high
air quality, individual control over ventilation at
the workstation level, real-time feedback on
building performance, and the ability to influence
the operating conditions within the building may
make people healthier, happier and more
The Centre for Interactive Research on
Sustainability (CIRS), a 60,000 square foot
regenerative building currently under
construction at the Vancouver campus, is serving
as our living lab. When it opens in the summer of
2011, we will test new technologies and explore the
building's impact on the environment and the
health, happiness and productivity of its inhabitants.
We are aiming to create a model that can be
replicated in cities around the world. UBC is a
micro-city of 45,000 students and 19,000 staff and
faculty, all learning, working and living on 402
hectares. Our goal is to apply across our campus
what we learn in CIRS and, with the help of our
partners, in the marketplace. We know there is a
misconception that green buildings are
prohibitively expensive; in fact, we expect CIRS,
with innovative, green features that will allow it to
perform well beyond LEED Gold standards, will
cost only eight per cent more than a similarly sized
building constructed to LEED Gold, the minimum
standard for all new public sector buildings in B.C.
It's going to take effort, vision, and ambition to
enhance the environmental and social conditions
in cities. The biggest challenges will be around
changing the way we think about buildings and
cities, and having the courage to aim at targets and
practices that are transformative, not just
incremental. I think universities have a critical
role to play in supporting such a transition. I
believe a sustainable world, and sustainable cities,
really are within our reach. •
next big thing
Imaging Genetics—
the ability to foresee
brain disease?
"It's not that you can't find your keys, it's that you
don't know what do to with them once you have them.'
. .. (Author's mother, age 89)
By Judy Illes
Judy Illes is a professor of Neurology,
Canada Research Chair in Neuroethics
and Director of the National Core for
As the old saying goes, there are
only two things in life that are truly
predictable: taxes and death. Also
predictable, albeit with less certainty,
is that as we age over time, we are
likely to experience memory loss. Some
of us will have no more than benign
age-related "senior moments" when we
simply forget things that we were once
able to keep in mind with no problem at
all. Others will suffer a more profound
loss of an entire system of cognitive
abilities: memories, decision-making,
and personality.
Advances in the brain sciences with
genetics and brain scanning today are
allowing us to identify associations for
the more serious form, which is often
related to Alzheimer's Disease, and
support a potentially evolving ability
to foresee it. With growing predictive
capabilities on the one hand but
cure still an elusive goal, the ethical
challenges for people and society are
Today, testing for susceptibility genes
such as the apolipoprotein E (APOE)
4 allele for Alzheimer's, and powerful
brain scanning techniques that can
show variations in how different regions
of the human brain are functioning in
rest and in response to signals from the
environment, have been joined to form
a new research approach called imaging
genetics. The power of this combined
neurotechnology lies in its potential to
reduce the statistical uncertainty about
future disease states, even before the
behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer's for
example, and the plaques and tangles
in the brain are evident. In parallel,
therefore, it also has the powerful
potential to reveal previously undifferentiated subtypes of disease, and guide
strategies for tracking and early, and
perhaps even tailored intervention.
Overall, the sum ofthe parts with
imaging genetics will likely be greater
than the whole.
While there still remains much to be
learned, one point seems certain: like
other successful innovations in genetics
and neuroscience, there will be an
increased use of imaging genetics in the
years to come. The anticipated surge in
scientific activity will be accompanied
by a similar surge in ethics-based
challenges related to personal privacy,
autonomy and life planning.
Our culture and values define the
nature ofthe benefits and risks that
science and medicine bring forward,
dictate methods that must be in place
to assure the maximum safety, comfort,
and protection of participants and
patients in research and clinical care,
and inform society's responses through
policies for the allocation of health care
resources, education, and outreach.
With advances in imaging genetics,
the big questions will only get bigger:
Do you want to know? How would you
use the information? Who else would
you want to know? Now is the time
to anticipate these questions and
address them. •
With advances in imaging genetics,
the big questions will only get bigger:
Do you want to know?
UBC Reports The University of British Columbia   January 2011 m
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The next big thing
The medical "tricorder"
With recent advances in DNA sequencing,
finding the DNA of a virus or bacteria is
literally a day's work. Doctors may soon have
a device that can quickly analyze and identify
the common bugs that ail us.
By David Broemeling
t^ ^^
■ *1
m _t
Prof. Andre Marziali thinks the genome
revolution will change the way doctors
can diagnose the bugs that ail us
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David Broemeling is director of operations
for UBC spinoff company Boreal Genomics.
In 2003, when the SARS virus was threatening
Canada, it took B.C. researchers only a few days
to fully map its DNA. Why is it then, that when
we visit our doctor with flu-like symptoms, the
diagnostic process is the same as it was twenty
years ago? Based on experience with our
medical system, one would wonder whether the
genome revolution has had any effect. After all,
in the lab we can easily determine the sequence
of any bug we happen to come down with. Why
can't our doctors just sequence its DNA to
figure out what it is?
The reality is that DNA sequencing is having
an immense impact in medical research, and in
treatment of severe diseases such as cancer, but
for now it is still too slow and expensive to be
used routinely to figure out whether we have
the flu, a common cold, or strep throat. While
we know the DNA sequence of organisms that
cause flu and colds, we don't have a simple
device that allows doctors to take a throat swab
and determine what bug's DNA is there. One
problem is that any throat swab contains only a
little bit of bug DNA, and lot of normal human
DNA. Finding the bug DNA is like looking for a
needle in a haystack.
This is where UBC and Boreal Genomics
are hoping to change things. A spinoff from
Prof. Andre Marziali's laboratory at UBC,
Boreal is developing tools to extract DNA from
complicated samples. Developed from an
invention by Marziali and UBC Physics
professor Lome Whitehead, Boreal's
technology can extract DNA from the dirtiest of
samples, including dirt and tar.
Marziali's team has developed the technology
in multiple directions. While Boreal is already
selling an instrument for researchers and
forensics scientists to help clean up dirty DNA,
his team of physicists and engineers are finding
a way to separate bug DNA from human DNA.
Coupled with a new DNA analysis technology
they are developing, the team is hoping to build
a device that could ultimately allow you to walk
into a doctor's office and get a quick diagnosis
on whether you should be on antibiotics, or
simply home in bed with a hot drink.
If these UBC scientists have their way, the day
of a handheld device that can scan and analyze
data—a Star Trek-like medical "Tricorder"—
is not far off. •
While we know the DNA sequence
of organisms that cause flu and colds,
we don't have a simple device
that allows doctors to take a throat
swab and determine what bug's
DNA is there.
UBC Reports The University of British Columbia   January 2011
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The next big thing
Powerful "rare-earth"
dental magnets
New magnets developed for the Japanese auto industry
hold promise for struggling denture wearers.
By Drs. Ross Bryant and Michael MacEntee
Dr. Ross Bryant is an assistant
professor in Oral Health Sciences
and the prinicipal investigator of this
research, and Dr. Michael MacEntee
is a professor in Oral Health Sciences
Both work in UBC's Faculty of Dentistry
in the Division of Prosthodontics and
Dental Geriatrics.
The scourge of tooth loss is
decreasing, but it's not gone yet. There
are still many people who have lost their
natural teeth and live to struggle with
dentures. Some manage well but others
suffer with little relief.
The first relief came from Sweden
about 25 years ago with the discovery
of titanium-metal implants embedded
with reasonable predictability into the
jaws. The future seemed much brighter
for denture-wearers, although the
mechanism of attaching the dentures
to the implants for maximum comfort
remained a challenge. Small metal
screws were the obvious solution to try,
but only if there were enough implants
to support the denture completely.
Besides, implants are expensive, which
limits the number to one or two for
many people.
The magnets connect
with a strong
magnetic force to a
small metal "keeper"
attached to each
And how could a denture be attached
to one or two implants? With difficulty.
Metal and plastic clips are available to
clip the denture onto a bar that runs
between two implants. However, the
bars and clips are expensive, bulky and
difficult to clean. The denture can be
made with a small rubber or plastic ring
that clips onto a metal or plastic stud
in the implant, although studs wear
out and the denture loosens, or they
protrude annoyingly into the mouth
when the denture is not worn.
So what about magnets? Indeed,
dental magnets have been tried with
dentures, but they corrode in the mouth
and gradually break apart. This was
until recently when, as an off-shoot
from the automobile industry in Japan,
tiny, powerful "rare-earth" magnets
protected within small metal containers
from corrosion were adapted to fit into
dentures. The magnets connect with a
strong magnetic force to a small metal
"keeper" attached to each implant.
The benefits for denture-wearers are
very encouraging to researchers in the
faculty of Dentistry at UBC who are
testing the magnets in a clinical trial
approved by Health Canada. The results
since December 2006 look very good.
None ofthe magnets have corroded.
Most ofthe denture-wearers in the trial
are satisfied with the results because the
magnets have not lost their magnetism,
while the "keepers" on the implants are
easy to clean, and comfortably smooth
against the tongue and cheeks when the
denture is out ofthe mouth.
It is still too soon to say how long
the magnets will function comfortably
and securely, or resist corrosion.
Nonetheless, the progress is promising,
and the struggle with dentures may be
on the wane. •
The next big thing
Magic Biomarkers
New ways of using biomarkers open new
horizons in defining risk, illness, and
therapies for vital organ failure.
By Dr. Bruce McManus
Dr. Bruce McManus is a professor in the
Department of Pathology and Laboratory
Medicine and director of the James Hogg
iCAPTURE Centre and PROOF Centre of
Organ failure is now epidemic across the
world—heart, lung and kidney failure together
take the greatest toll in terms of human
suffering and healthcare spending.
But one ofthe biggest challenges in predicting
and diagnosing organ failure is also one that
shows great promise, and it acknowledges that
we're each uniquely different—right down to the
molecular level.
Early warning signs of heart, lung and kidney
disease can be detected in minute changes in
genes, proteins and metabolites. These changes
"mark" the presence and severity of risks or
diseases that could ultimately lead to organ
failure. By clinical laboratory tradition, such
measures as elevated blood sugar and blood
cholesterol could indicate risks for hardening of
the arteries and eventual heart attack. More
recently called biomarkers, these tell-tale signs
are potentially powerful tools that could
revolutionize population surveillance, patient
care and the development of new therapeutics
and technologies.
Researchers at the Centre of Excellence for
Prevention Of Organ Failure (PROOF) at UBC
and St. Paul's Hospital, and the Institute for
Heart + Lung Health, are taking this new
horizon of medicine one step further by
assembling "sets" or "panels" of novel individual
Dr. Bruce McManus says "panels" of
novel biomarkers may soon help predict
heart, lung and kidney diseases
biomarkers that can then be used to create
blood or urine tests to help diagnose, predict or
guide the treatment of heart, lung and kidney
disease in a cost-effective manner.
While individual biomarkers tell us part ofthe
story about diseases and risks, panels or sets of
biomarkers paint a clearer picture of biological
processes like immune rejection, organ damage,
altered repair, and organ failure. But they are
challenging to discover and even more difficult
While individual biomarkers tell us
part of the story about diseases and risks,
panels or sets of biomarkers paint
a clearer picture of biological processes.
to translate into practical clinical tools.
As a Network Centre of Excellence (NCE) for
Commercialization and Research, the PROOF
Centre has brought together a broad spectrum
of experts and partners to meet this challenge.
This collision of high performance technologies
with sophisticated statistical and
bioinformatical analysis and well-defined
clinical needs is informing our ever-deepening
knowledge of biological processes that can lead
to personal devastation and suffering.
Biomarkers remind us how truly unique we
each are as individuals, as "systems" operating
in health or illness, and as such— and beyond
their promise in helping people at risk of or
suffering from organ failure in our community,
biomarkers hold truly magical value for people
in all societies of our global village. •
UBC Reports The University of British Columbia   January 2011
Writing Centre
Academic Development
• grammar and writing with style
• preparation for university writing and the LPI
• writing for graduate students
Professional and Creative Writing
• report and business writing
• freelance article writing
• short fiction, novel and screenwriting
• journal writing and autobiography
Courses start in January and February.
13 and 14
Annex C,
2021 West Mall
Register now!
writingcentre.ubc.ca/ur or 604-822-9564
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Visit www.catering.ubc.ca for the new Festive Holiday menu packages.
The next big thing
Telling stories together,
one tweet at a time
We can expect a raft of new tools
to make sense of social media for a new age
of collective journalism.
By Alfred Hermida
Alfred Hermida is an assistant professor
who leads the Integrated Journalism
program in the UBC Graduate School of
Sci-fi films often show a future where streams of
information flow across screens, with intelligent
agents sorting and filtering the digital deluge. The
truth may not be that far removed from the fiction.
Social media services such as Twitter provide a
platform for these streams of information, from
the mundane to the vital. Missing, though, are
media systems to help us manage and navigate the
data flow.
We have rushed to embrace social media. By the
end of 2010, Facebook alone had more than 575
million members, 17 million of them in Canada.
Every minute, 24 hours of video is uploaded to
YouTube. On Twitter, 55 million messages are sent
a day—more than 38,000 tweets every minute.
Through all of these interactions and
contributions, we are, collectively, creating a vast
digital archive of human history and experience.
The former Washington Post publisher, Philip
Graham, once described journalism as the first
draft of history. Now journalists share this role
with people formerly known as the audience.
Journalism surrounds us. Much of it is, literally,
ambient, and being produced by professionals and
citizens alike. Citizens—the former audience - are
committing acts of journalism as they share
experiences, photos, videos and links on social
media services like Facebook and Twitter.
The challenge with ambient journalism is
that so much of it is coming at us in real-time,
from multiple directions. Fears about
information overload are nothing new. The
same concerns were raised after Gutenberg's
printing press, when thousands of books
became widely available. In response, printers
and scholars came up with novel ways to sort,
filter and summarize the wealth of text.
We are at a similar stage with social media.
Traditionally the journalist has been the
mechanism to filter, organize and interpret
information and deliver the news in ready-
made packages. But the thousands of acts of
journalism on social media make it impossible
for an individual to identify the collective sum
of knowledge contained in the micro-
fragments. Instead, researchers are working
to develop media systems that can process,
analyze and contextualize the data.
Assistant Prof. Alfred Hermida
says journalism is now being produced
by professionals and citizens
alike through social media.
For example, while messages on Twitter are
atomic in nature, they are part of a distributed
conversation. In aggregate, these streams of
connected data contain the potential for realtime, collaborative and distributed storytelling.
Inherent in social media are structures for
people to act together as if in an organized way.
One current way to do this is through the use of
hashtags —the # symbol—on tweets to signpost
topics and issues.
The digital tools available to aggregate and
analyze tweets and updates are in their infancy.
It is similar to the early days ofthe web in the
late 1990s, when it was hard to find relevant
information online until Google launched its
search engine in 1998. Looking forward, we can
expect a raft of new tools and services vying to
be the best in negotiating and deriving meaning
from social media streams. •
Citizens—the former audience-
are committing acts of journalism
as they share experiences, photos, vi
and links on social media services
like Facebook and Twitter.
UBC Reports The University of British Columbia   January 2011
15 2010 Update Discovering Terra Nova
Discovering Terra Nova in 10 Years
By Prof. Jaymie Matthews, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy
Five years ago, I predicted in UBC
Reports that, within 10 years,
astronomers would find a habitable
Earth-sized planet around another star
(if they are out there to find). Halfway
into my claimed Decade of Discovery,
are exoplanet hunters on—or even
ahead of—schedule?
To answer that question, we need-
to answer this one: Will Gliese 581g
become a milestone in the story of
the search for life beyond Earth, or an
embarrassing footnote?
The recent announcement of a sixth
planet orbiting the dim red dwarf
star Gliese 581a made astronomers
and astrobiologists almost as excited
as if someone had found Pandora or
Tatooine. Why? Because it would be the
first planet known, other than Earth,
to orbit in the Habitable Zone, at a
distance from its star that permits liquid
water oceans on its surface. Gliese 581g
would be the first Goldilocks World,
where the temperature is "just right"
for life.
Within a week of that announcement
by U.S .astronomers was a rebuttal by
the Swiss exoplanet hunters who had
found the first four planets known in
that star system. They suggest that
Gliese 581gis a figment, not ofthe
imagination, but ofthe noise in the
measurements. Nowyouseeit;now
you don't. Did Goldilocks turn into the
Cheshire Cat? And did astronomers fall
down the rabbit hole?
The Gliese 581g result is based on
data using Doppler wobble technique,
and in my 2006 article I stated that
this wasn't sensitive enough to find an
Earth-mass planet around a star. That's
still true. To settle the issue, we must
await new data to be collected next year.
In the meantime, everything is on
track for the discovery of an exoEarth
within the next five years. The NASA
Kepler mission was launched in March
2009. That space telescope is staring at
about 100,000 stars to look for transits-
dips in brightness when a planet
passes in front of its parent star. So far,
Kepler has already identified about 700
exoplanet candidates. After three and
a half years, if there are Earth-sized
planets in Earth-sized orbits around
Sun-like stars, Kepler should reveal
some of them.
Today, we know of just over 500
alien worlds, and we are on the verge
of finding alien Earths. If we are still
waiting five years from now for that
first discovery, it will be only because
(a) astronomers exercise more extreme
caution with their data, after the Gliese
581g experience, or (b) exoEarths are
not as common as we expect. Only time
will tell, and I still say that five more
years will be enough time. •
Looking back
Were we right? The inaugural 2006 UBC Reports Next Big Thing edition
included nine predictions such as new gene therapies, conscious cars
and artificial blood platelets. We asked two of our original contributors
for an update.
2010 Update Prescription Pets
Dogs as Prozac
By Prof. Stanley Coren, Dept. of Psychology
Back in 2006, I looked at the nature of the bond that people
have with dogs and some of the research that seemed to
show that dog ownership has advantages that affect the
physical and psychological well-being of people.
It was already well established that petting a familiar and
friendly dog lowered blood pressure, slowed breathing, and
reduced muscle tension. These are all signs of reduced stress.
I cited reports that showed that men who had their first
heart attacks were more likely to be alive four years later if
they owned a dog, and others that demonstrated that elderly
people, who are otherwise alone seem to require less medical
attention and are less likely to become clinically depressed
if they live with a dog. It was my belief that we would soon
see a major breakthrough where physicians might end up
"prescribing" pet dogs to improve the physical and psychological health of people.
It seems that my predictions are beginning to come true in
part due to the effects of war. The veterans of recent conflicts
in the Middle East have been showing symptoms of post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) in the form of depression and other
stress related problems, including increased rates of suicide. In
many interviews, veterans and their therapists reported drastic
reductions in PTSD symptoms and in reliance on medication
after receiving a specially trained psychological service dog.
Because of such data, the U.S. federal government, not usually
at the forefront of alternative medical treatments, has passed
a bill which gives veterans with PTSD a service dog. This is
part of a study to determine if scientific research supports the
anecdotal reports that the dogs might speed recovery from the
psychological wounds of wars. Preliminary data already shows
that dogs may work better and more quickly than antidepressants, such as Prozac. •
The U.S. federal government, not usually at the
forefront of alternative medical treatments, has passed
a bill which gives veterans with post-traumatic stress
disorder a service dog.


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