Jan. 4, 2019
Top research stories of 2018: New therapies for IBD, the mechanics of stress contagion, and rethinking what triggers multiple sclerosis
- Pictured above, clockwise from top: Principal investigator Jaideep Bains, second from right, with some of the authors of a study on how stress can be transmitted to others; Joshua Bourdage investigates truthfulness in job interviews; Stefania Bertazzon and Rizwan Shahid analyze Calgary's air quality; Abdel Aziz Shaheen and Mark Swain pursue a promising treatment for people with primary biliary cholangitis; Bas Surewaard works to unlock the mysteries of why staph infection is so deadly during sepsis; Charlene Elliot examines the health value of gluten-free food products aimed at kids; Andrew Caprariello and Peter Stys challenge conventional thinking about the root cause of multiple sclerosis; Jan Storek collaborates on a breakthrough treatment for severe scleroderma; Andre Buret is on the path toward a new drug that will help treat inflammatory bowel disease.
A breakthrough discovery could lead to revolutionary treatment of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis — chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) that can be agonizing to live with, expensive to treat, and require drastic lifestyle changes.
The IBD research breakthrough story and nine others make up the UToday readers’ top 10 research stories of 2018, showcasing the important advances made at the University of Calgary across a range of disciplines.
There is no cure for Crohn’s and only surgery can eliminate ulcerative colitis. New research led by the Faculty of Science’s Dr. Andre Buret, PhD, and Dr. John Wallace, PhD, revealed why and how certain intestinal bacteria contribute to these diseases. The discovery could lead to new inexpensive and non-invasive therapies for IBD and a wide range of conditions connected to disruptions in the gut microbiome.
The researchers observed that in IBD patients, healthy bacteria escape the microbiome film that lines the intestines and turns virulent by accessing excess iron in the gut. They discovered that using a hydrogen sulfide-releasing drug to “mop up” the excess iron reverses those effects, leading to resolution of the inflammation and healing of intestinal ulcers. The next step will be for human trials to test how effective the treatment will be on IBD patients.
Read on for more details about the discoveries and who was involved on topics from treating serious liver disease with an antidepressant, the genesis of multiple sclerosis, and mapping Calgary’s air quality.
- Stress transmitted from others can change the brain: Research by Dr. Jaideep Bains, PhD, and his team at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute in the Cumming School of Medicine may help explain why family members of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder can also sometimes display symptoms of PTSD. In their study of mice pairs, they discovered that neurons controlling the brain’s response to stress showed changes in unstressed partners that were identical to those measured in the stressed mouse.
- Flipping the script on what triggers multiple sclerosis: Dr. Andrew Caprariello, PhD, Dr. Peter Stys, MD, and their colleagues in the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine are challenging conventional thinking about the root cause of MS. The disease is currently understood to be the result of an immune system attack on myelin, the protective material around nerve fibres in the brain. The research team’s findings show there may instead be something happening deeper and earlier that damages the myelin, with immune attacks being a consequence of that brain damage.
- Drug usually prescribed for depression could treat serious liver disease: In researching the effect of depression on people with the hard-to-treat liver disease primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), Dr. Abdel Aziz Shaheen, MD, came across an unexpected finding: he discovered that the antidepressant mirtazapine seemed to have a positive impact on the disease. In multidisciplinary followup research conducted in collaboration with liver specialist Dr. Mark Swain, MD, and a team of scientists at the Cumming School of Medicine, they found the antidepressant has significant effects on the immune system that appear to be protective of the liver.
- Researchers discover why sepsis from a staph infection causes organ failure: The heightened immune response from a Staphylococcus aureus infection (staph or MRSA), can lead to sepsis, Canada’s 12th leading cause of death. Dr. Paul Kubes, PhD, postdoc Dr. Bas Surewaard, PhD, and their research team at the Cumming School of Medicine’s Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases have discovered that the toxin sent out by a staph infection causes platelets to respond abnormally. They aggregate to form clumps in the liver and kidneys that can eventually lead to organ failure. The new understanding of where and how the clots are forming could lead to targeted life-saving therapies.
- 'Health halo' reputation of gluten-free foods for kids unwarranted: Eighty per cent of child-targeted gluten-free products have higher sugar levels than equivalent products with gluten, and most can be classified as having poor nutritional quality. Those are the findings in a study published by the Faculty of Arts’ Dr. Charlene Elliot, PhD, Canada Research Chair in Food Marketing, Policy and Children’s Health.
- Interactive visualization sheds light on Calgary air quality: Drs Stefania Bertazzon, PhD, and Rizwan Shahid, PhD, at the O’Brien Institute for Public Health in the Cumming School of Medicine conducted an analysis of air pollution in Calgary and found some surprising seasonal variations. Due to wind patterns, topography and other factors, in summer the highest concentration of poor air is in northeast Calgary, whereas in winter it’s south Calgary.
- Role of nervous system in asthma attacks opens door to potential new treatments: Scientists with the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine are targeting the nervous system, not lung airways, in researching new asthma therapies. Drs Richard Wilson, PhD, and Nick Jendzjowsky, PHD, and their research team discovered that carotid bodies — tiny collections of neurons on each side of the neck — counterintuitively act to narrow airways during an allergen-induced asthma attack. Their research in animal models demonstrated that blocking certain chemical receptors in those carotid bodies eliminated the asthma attack.
- International study results in breakthrough treatment for severe scleroderma: Drs. Jan Storek, MD, PhD, and Sharon LeClercq, MD, with the Cumming School of Medicine were part of a successful international clinical trial of a novel treatment for scleroderma, a rare disease that affects the body by hardening connective tissue. The breakthrough therapy uses high-dose chemotherapy and radiation followed by the infusion of the patient’s own stem cells.
- Fake it till you make it not a good plan for job interviews: Not everyone is comfortable being truthful about their skills during a job interview, according to psychology researchers Dr. Joshua Bourdage, PhD, from UCalgary, and Dr. Nicolas Roulin, PhD, from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. They suggest job applicants do their homework before an interview so they can speak truthfully about themselves and the organization.