Research roundup, Spring 2021


Science Disappearing sharks

An ambitious project that allowed researchers to peer into the world’s oceans over several years provided a grim assessment of global reef shark populations: sharks were absent on many reefs, indicating they are too rare to fulfil their normal role in the ecosystem and have become “functionally extinct.” Dr. Aaron MacNeil, an associate professor at Dalhousie and lead author of the Nature paper, says this first-ever benchmark study shows an alarming loss of an apex species that is a vital food resource, tourism attraction and top predator on coral reefs. Their decline is due in large part to overfishing and the use of destructive fishing practices.
Researchers: Dr. Aaron MacNeil, Faculty of Science; researchers from 80+ institutes and universities

Medicine Learning from COVID-19

COVID-19 has killed more than a million people around the world, infected millions more and destabilized life as we know it. But scientists are exploring whether there could be a potential benefit to the deadly virus. Dr. Shashi Gujar, with Dal’s Department of Pathology, is examining whether the body’s immune response to SARS-CoV-2 could be repurposed to kill cancer cells. When infected with a pathogen, the body’s immune system activates T cells, which act in a highly precise manner and kill only virus-harbouring cells. The T cells generated in response to the viral infection remain in the body for a long time and Dr. Gujar and his scientific partners believe these virus-specific T cells could be redirected to go after cancer cells.
Researchers: Dr. Shashi Gujar, Medicine

Social Work Supporting the homeless

During the COVID-19 global pandemic, those who find themselves homeless are potentially among the most vulnerable to the spread of the virus. Citizens have been asked by federal and provincial governments under states of emergencies to “stay home” to stop the spread of COVID-19, but what happens when there is no home to go to? Dr. Jeff Karabanow is exploring the impacts of COVID-19 on individuals experiencing homelessness and the responses by both informal and formal systems to support the needs of these individuals, and how these systems will move forward in disaster recovery. This study will significantly contribute to the examination of how the pandemic has impacted homeless populations.
Researchers: Dr. Jeff Karabanow, School of Social Work
Researchers: Dr. Sanja Stanojevic, Faculty of Medicine; Dr. Anne Stephenson, St. Michael’s Hospital

Leaky blood vessels in the brain could be related to impaired cognitive function in people with lupus.

Medicine Lupus ‘brain fog’

Scientists at Dal have gained new insight into why roughly 40 per cent of people with lupus lose certain cognitive functions, such as memory and the ability to concentrate. Using a brain imaging technique, they found that lupus patients with leaky blood vessels in the brain were twice as likely to have impaired cognitive function, compared to those with non-leaky blood vessels. The discovery involves the blood-brain barrier—the lining of the brain’s blood vessels that blocks harmful substances from entering the brain. When that barrier leaks, foreign molecules can seep from the blood vessels into the brain and trigger inflammation that can undermine brain function. The authors of the report say the research could lead to a new generation of treatments.
Researchers: L. Kamintsky, S.D. Beyea, J.D. Fisk, J.A. Hashmi, A. Omisade, C. Calkin, C. Bowen, A. Friedman, & J.G. Hanly

Medicine New CF drug

New research out of Dalhousie University, St. Michael’s Hospital, and the Hospital for Sick Children forecasts that delaying access in Canada to a new cystic fibrosis (CF) therapy known as Trikafta could result in avoidable death. Trikafta is a combination of three medications that could potentially help 90 per cent of the CF population in Canada because it is designed to target and modify the most common CF mutation. The study showed that making Trikafta available in 2021 would result in 60 per cent fewer people with severe lung disease, an 18 per cent increase in people with mild lung disease, and 19 per cent fewer chest infections by 2030, compared to if the drug was not made available.
Researchers: Dr. Sanja Stanojevic, Faculty of Medicine; Dr. Anne Stephenson, St. Michael’s Hospital

The Faculty of Agriculture collaborated with AffinityImmuno Inc. to harvest corona-virus antibodies developed in eggs.

Agriculture Chickens help against COVID-19

Researchers at Dal’s Atlantic Poultry Research Centre helped in the production of antibodies against COVID-19 that could be used in a device used to test for the virus. The Faculty of Agricultural in Truro, N.S., collaborated with AffinityImmuno Inc., in Prince Edward Island—one of the first laboratories to manufacture antibodies against the novel coronavirus. Dozens of birds were injected with the virus protein carried by an adjuvant designed to stimulate a strong immune response in the birds. The eggs from the injected chickens were sent to AffinityImmuno Inc., where the antibodies were successfully harvested from the yolks.
Researchers: Dr. Bruce Rathgeber, Faculty of Agriculture