Registered nurses (RNs) account for 75 percent of health care professionals. Statistics Canada predicts that demand for nursing services is expected to rise as much as 46 percent by 2011. But new nurses are leaving at an alarming rate: 15 to 21 percent of newly qualified RNs are lost to other careers or immigration. Action is needed to meet projected needs for nursing services, but little is known about the factors that affect nurses’ career decisions. Angela Wolff is surveying student nurses about the individual, educational and organizational factors that influence job satisfaction, social adjustment to the workplace, and career choices. Angela is evaluating whether professional autonomy, nursing control over the practice environment, and open, effective channels of communication are directly related to job satisfaction and commitment. This research will identify barriers to integrating new RNs into the workforce, and ways to develop a supportive work environment for beginning practitioners. Ultimately, these strategies could enhance recruitment and retention of new nurses to help address an impending shortage of nursing staff in Canada.
Although aging is a normal biological process, it is also associated with a host of mental and physical illnesses. Many of these illnesses have their basis in genetic function. A key area of focus for researchers examining age-related health issues is the insulin-like growth factor pathway, which plays an important role in cell growth, uptake of nutrients and aging. Genetic researchers often use a microscopic worm named C. elegans for their studies, because this organism shares many of the essential biological characteristics of human biology. Genes controlled by the insulin pathway in C. elegans, flies and mice have been shown to affect longevity, including a gene discovered by PhD trainee Victor Jensen in his honours thesis. Victor is conducting research to study how this gene activity affects longevity. He is also studying a potential connection between this gene and genes involved in stress response to environmental challenges. By learning more about this gene’s role in longevity and stress response, he hopes to contribute to therapeutic and nutritional strategies to counter the negative effects of aging.
In addition to other serious health risks experienced by Canada’s estimated 125,000 injection drug users, individuals who inject drugs commonly develop infections at the site of injection, such as abscesses and cellulitis (infection of the skin’s deeper layers). Previous studies have shown these injection site infections account for the majority of admissions to emergency departments and hospital beds in Vancouver. Treatment is inefficient and costly, and these infections can lead to more severe complications, including bone infection, amputation and death. Surprisingly, there has been little research on preventive measures. Now, Elisa Lloyd-Smith is studying which individuals are at increased risk for injection site infections, and what preventive measures and treatments are most effective. She is also assessing whether the supervised injection facility in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community, the first in North America, reduces hospitalizations due to injection site infections. This is the first study anywhere in the world to evaluate the impact of a safe injection site on infection rates. Elisa’s research will identify preventive measures to reduce the incidence of injection site infections, improve health outcomes among injection drug users, and reduce health care costs.
The recent success of a pancreatic islet cell transplantation procedure known as the ‘Edmonton Protocol’ gave new hope for a better treatment of type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent diabetes), compared to the current treatment via insulin therapy. However, a shortage of donor pancreatic tissue means an alternate source of transplantable cells is needed. Insulin-producing islet cells are created from pancreatic precursor cells through a process called differentiation. However, not all pancreatic precursor cells give rise to insulin-producing islet cells. Further, the optimal conditions for differentiating these cells have not been determined. This poses a challenge for researchers attempting to identify and isolate the specific precursor cells needed for producing transplantable islet cells on a large scale in the laboratory. Marta Szabat is working to develop a functional assay for tracking the differentiation fate of islets from pancreatic precursor cells using fluorescent reporter genes. This cell marking technique would flag only those cells with specific genetic characteristics, allowing for purification and further characterization of labeled cells. Using this functional assay, her long term objective is to determine the optimal conditions to support (culture) the differentiation of pancreatic progenitors into insulin-producing cells.
Seizures are more common during an infant’s first month than at any other time during their development. They are caused by temporary abnormal electrical activity in the brain and can have long-lasting consequences such as memory impairments and an increased risk for epilepsy. Unfortunately, anticonvulsant treatments are ineffective for at least 35% of babies who have seizures as newborns. Currently, the mechanisms underlying the onset of these seizures are unclear. While research indicates that increased transmission of glutamate (a neurotransmitter) may result in seizures in the adult brain, there have been indications that seizures in newborns may be triggered by a reduction in glutamate transmission. These and other findings suggest that certain glutamate receptors may have different roles in causing seizures over the course of neurological development. Dr. John Howland is investigating the role of glutamatergic transmission levels and seizures during the neonatal period. He is analyzing two highly specific glutamate receptor antagonists (blockers) to determine the specific receptor subtypes involved in triggering seizures. Results from his research may have significant implications for the understanding of neonatal seizures and the development of novel drug targets for their prevention and treatment.
Chlamydia trachomatis is the most commonly reported sexually transmitted infection (STI) in Canada. In BC alone, there were 7000 cases reported in 2003. Although antibiotic treatment is effective, more than half of all infections escape detection and timely treatment because they are asymptomatic in the early stages. Left untreated, the infection can lead to chronic pain and infertility. The development of an effective vaccine to prevent C. trachomatis infection is an urgent public health priority. No vaccine has been developed for C. trachomatis since an inactivated whole cell vaccine failed in trials in the 1960s. In order to better understand how the immune system responds to the bacteria and to develop candidate vaccine preparations, Dr. Michelle Zaharik is using cutting edge immunological and gene array technologies to probe how the immune system responds to C. trachomatis. She is looking particularly at dendritic cells (DCs) which play a role in activating the immune system to mount a defence against invading pathogens and are the subject of intense interest for vaccine development. Michelle’s study will identify the specific DC responses necessary to develop protective immunity against C. trachomatis. Ultimately, this may contribute to the development of vaccines specifically targeted to preventing chlamydial infections.
The complex arrangement of carbohydrates that cover the surfaces of cells is known to play a key role in biological processes ranging from cellular recognition to gene regulation. Changes in the composition of these carbohydrate structures are linked to the onset of many diseases, including the proliferation of cancer cells and compromised immune function. Research suggests that these changes are often associated with elevated activities of the enzymes responsible for sugar placement. As such, these enzymes (glycosyltransferases) represent an attractive drug target for the treatment of many human diseases. Unfortunately, multiple enzyme forms for a given sugar transfer are encoded by the human genome and the role that individual genes play in both normal and pathological cell surface modification remains largely unknown. Luke Lairson’s goal is to identify the small molecules that inhibit the activity of a class of glycosyltransferases known as sialyltransferases. These enzymes are responsible for adding a particular type of sugar known as sialic acid (known to play a key role in many types of cancer) to cell surfaces. Luke hopes that identifying these small molecules will serve as a potential starting point for the development of a new class of anti-cancer drug. His results may also be used to develop a technology for the identification of individual gene products responsible for the placement of particular sugars in both normal and diseased cells at a given point during development.
Each year millions of people worldwide are diagnosed with diseases related to disordered protein folding. Normally, protein chains fold into a defined shape in order to function properly and when this process is disrupted, diseases such as Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s, cystic fibrosis and some forms of diabetes occur. The regulators of protein folding are called molecular chaperones, and as the name implies they have an important, but not well understood, assistive role in the process. Many molecular chaperones are essential for a cell’s survival. Some chaperones have been directly linked to the causes of genetic disorders involving misfolded proteins but others have been shown to be involved in slowing and preventing neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s. Peter Stirling’s research focuses on a protein called phosducin-like protein 3 (PhLP3), shown to be involved in facilitating protein folding as it interacts with an essential chaperone called CCT. Peter aims to understand how PhLP3 affects protein folding and what functional consequences the PhLP3-CCT interaction has. Peter’s research will help answer fundamental questions about how cells efficiently generate and maintain properly folded proteins, which will ultimately help to better understand what is happening in a cell when protein folding is disordered. His results may eventually lead to better treatment for diseases associated with protein misfolding.
Salmonella bacteria reside in the intestines of animals and can be transmitted to humans via contaminated food or water. These bacteria cause diseases such as typhoid fever and acute gastroenteritis, posing major health problems throughout the world. The body normally produces an immune response to these invading microorganisms. In a process known as phagocytosis, the blood’s immune cells engulf the bacteria, enclose them in specialized internal compartments, and then release destructive enzymes that kill them. However, Salmonella and several other intracellular parasites have evolved methods to subvert this process. By blocking the delivery of the destructive enzymes, these parasites avoid extermination and are able to survive and multiply inside the immune cells. Ultimately, bacteria escape from the cell and spread throughout the body to cause disease. Dr. Leonard Foster is employing advanced proteomic methods and instrumentation to explore and describe what occurs at the molecular level during phagocytosis. This research will lead to a better understanding of the basic operation of this important aspect of immune function. It will also advance knowledge of the molecular mechanisms employed by Salmonella bacteria to prevent the immune cells from delivering the destructive enzymes, potentially leading to better methods of protecting against Salmonella infection.
To implement and assess the effectiveness of cancer specialists using telehealth technology to provide consultation services for patients living in rural and remote communities in BC.