Robot therapy

There was a flurry of media attention when the College of Rehabilitation Sciences hosted a presentation in March about PARO, an interactive therapeutic robot in the form of a cuddly baby seal.

Japanese research scientist Takanori Shibata, PARO’s inventor, demonstrated the furry creature and spoke about robot therapy.

PARO is used in much the same way that real animals are used in pet therapy. It responds to human touch by blinking, moving and making cooing sounds. It reacts to sound, light and temperature. Petting the lifelike PARO can relieve dementia patients’ loneliness, reduce aggression and improve sociability.

Clinical trials found that interaction with PARO reduced depression, anxiety and stress. The seal pup can also be used in other kinds of therapy, such as palliative care. PARO was first commercialized in 2005.

The U of M was involved in a research project with the companion robot at Deer Lodge Centre about nine years ago. It is now used in more than 30 countries. Shibata’s presentation was part of lluminate, a new speaker series hosted by the College of Rehabilitation Sciences. The free lectures highlight research and scholarly activity in rehabilitation sciences around the world.

Medical cannabis: ask questions now

As Canada prepares to legalize marijuana, a U of M researcher is being consulted for her expertise on its medical applications.

Dr. Lynda Balneaves [BN/94, MN/96], associate professor in the College of Nursing, is one of a handful of researchers who have worked on federally funded studies of the medical use of cannabis.

Balneaves urges health professionals to inform themselves about the much-stigmatized drug. As Canadian Nurse reported, she is “concerned that the research on cannabis will continue to focus on the social harms associated with recreational use and that the potential therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis will get short shrift.”

The professor says some physicians are so nervous about marijuana, they want to shut down the conversation. “They tell me, ‘It’s just too dangerous. We don’t know enough about it,’” she says. “Yet those same physicians will go ahead and write a prescription for opioids.…

“I don’t see why we’re not keeping an open mind about therapeutic benefits while being realistic about potential side effects, as we would with any pharmaceutical.”

Balneaves describes cannabis research as “an area that is really rich with questions that need to be asked – especially now.”

Kid-friendly Fridays a tradition at dental clinic

Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of a College of Dentistry outreach program that provides free dental care to economically disadvantaged children.

Almost every Friday during the school year, dentistry students at the college’s main clinic treat children from 16 inner-city schools. For the past 12 years, the program has been supported by Variety, the Children’s Charity of Manitoba.

“We’re serving a community where there’s a high need,” said Brad Klus [DMD/09, M.Dent./14] assistant professor of preventive dental science and acting division head of pediatric dentistry.

Each fall, dentistry students visit participating elementary schools to assess children’s teeth. Children who are most in need of treatment are referred to the university clinic.

With parental permission, kids are bussed to the Bannatyne campus for Friday appointments. This year, 2,200 children were screened and more than 300 received treatment.

“The Variety Children’s Dental Outreach Program has immediate and lasting benefits for participating students and their communities,” said Shanlee Johnson, program coordinator at Variety. “It supports the parents in accessing services [while] the children learn to be proactive about proper dental care.”

OT mentor aligns aspirations

Isabella Wiebe [BMROT/86] was honoured in May with the 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award for Service to the University of Manitoba.

Wiebe, an occupational therapist, has dedicated her career to helping young people on the cusp of self-discovery. Working mainly with young women who have eating disorders, she provides a map from self-harm to self-worth.

Wiebe is originally from Brooklyn, N.Y. and came to Winnipeg as a teenager. Her time at the U of M as a student, she said, was the catalyst for the life of service she lives today.

For more than 20 years, as a mentor with the U of M’s Career Mentor Program, she has worked with more students than any of the program’s 700 other volunteers. She mentors students who are unsure of their educational path and helps them align their values with a fulfilling career.

“People do the most amazing things when they have someone who believes in them,” Wiebe said in accepting her award.

Heart to heart

Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death among Canadians. But it doesn’t have to be.

That was the theme of the Helen Glass Lecture delivered by Dr. Alex Clark, professor and associate dean (research) of the University of Alberta Faculty of Nursing, on March 13 at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. 

The free public lecture was the centrepiece of the first annual Helen Glass Research Symposium, a three-day event hosted by the College of Nursing.

Previously called the Dr. Helen Glass Researcher in Residence Program, the symposium is the vision of the late Glass, former director of the U of M School of Nursing.

Clark’s presentation, “What’s Your Heart Telling You? It’s Time to Talk about Cardiovascular Health,” addressed many misconceptions about heart disease. “The heart is changed more by behaviour than by genes,” he said, encouraging exercise, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and moderate alcohol intake.

The inaugural symposium also featured a presentation by Clark to graduate students and faculty, a research workshop and a research networking event.

Allergy expert inducted into Medical Hall of Fame

Estelle Simons [MD/69], already rich in honours for her scientific accomplishments in understanding allergies, was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame (CMHF) in May.

Six Canadian medical heroes are chosen annually for the Hall of Fame, located in London, Ont. Simons is a clinician scientist, internationally renowned for research on the pharmacologic management of allergic diseases, including anaphylaxis and asthma.

The professor emerita of pediatrics/child health and immunology founded the Section of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the U of M in 1975. Her team conducted landmark investigations to establish the scientific basis for new allergy medications.

She is the editor or co-editor of eighttextbooks and has 570 peer-reviewed publications to her credit. She and her colleagues were the first to publish on anaphylaxis to mosquito bites.

She is currently developing a noninvasive way to deliver epinephrine during an anaphylactic episode: a rapidly dissolving tablet placed under the tongue.

Simons joins seven other U of M alumni in the CMHF: Bruce Chown [MD/22], John Dirks [MD/57], Henry Friesen [MD/58], James Hogg [MD/62], Charles H. Hollenberg [MD/55], Arnold Naimark [MD/57] and Allan Ronald [MD/61].

Partnership with Habitat builds hope

Shelley, a Winnipeg mom, and her two sons are the proud owners of a custom-built, wheelchair-accessible home, thanks to a partnership between the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences and Habitat for Humanity Manitoba.

The Rady Faculty sponsored a nine-day home build near the Bannatyne campus in June 2016. More than 100 staff, students and faculty members pitched in with volunteer labour to construct the bungalow for purchase by the family.

The Rady Faculty also raised $100,000 in support of the build. A “key ceremony” was held in February 2017, when the family took possession of the home.

This was the third Habitat project for the campus community. “In 2013 and 2014, we made history by being the first faculty of medicine, then the first faculty of health sciences, in Canada to sponsor a Habitat for Humanity build,” said Brian Postl [MD/76], dean of the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences.

“As a health sciences faculty, we are committed to social accountability and responsibility,” he said. “What better way to demonstrate giving back than by supporting adequate housing for a family in need?”

New dean takes Pharmacy helm

A new dean will lead the College of Pharmacy as it moves toward replacing the current baccalaureate degree program with a PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy) undergraduate professional program.

Lalitha Raman-Wilms, B.Sc. (Pharm.), ACPR, Pharm.D, FCSHP, has been appointed dean effective Aug. 1, 2017. Her previous role was as associate dean of education and associate professor in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto. She has also served as associate dean of professional programs, director of the PharmD program and director of the division of pharmacy practice at U of T.

A former president of the Association of Faculties of Pharmacy of Canada (AFPC), Raman-Wilms has produced more than 120 publications. She has edited four editions of the book Guide to Drugs in Canada, a reference source for consumers. Her research interests include de-prescribing guidelines, the pharmacist’s role in flu prevention and chronic pain management.

Raman-Wilms has received many honours, including the AFPC National Award for Excellence in Education (2012) and U of T’s Teacher of the Year Award, Undergraduate Pharmacy Program, which she received on six occasions.

Students erase barriers by sharing smiles

Dentistry and dental hygiene student volunteers enjoyed fun and games with guests who have special needs at the fourth annual Sharing Smiles Day in April.

The festive Saturday get-together in the Brodie Centre Atrium on the Bannatyne campus featured activities such as crafts, karaoke, temporary tattoos and ball hockey, as well as a shared pizza lunch. Guests received oral-care gift bags.

The event aims to help dental students increase their comfort and confidence to work effectively with people with disabilities, who often face barriers to accessing care. It also raises awareness of oral health in the special-needs community and demonstrates to people with disabilities that oral-health professionals are friendly and welcoming.

“We’re helping to break barriers between us, as future dental professionals, and this group of people who are underserved when it comes to dental care,” said Israa Elgazzar, a second-year dentistry student and one of the event’s organizers.

Sharing Smiles Day is put on by the Winnipeg chapter of Oral Health, Total Health, a national non-profit organization. The chapter is led by students from the College of Dentistry.

Medical educators focus on social accountability, Indigenous health

The Max Rady College of Medicine hosted the 2017 Canadian Conference on Medical Education (CCME) “Rethinking Teaching and Learning” from April 29 to May 2 at the RBC Convention Centre, attracting 1,400 registrants.

The Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC) and the Max Rady College of Medicine issued a joint statement committing to social accountability and Indigenous health during the national event. Dean Brian Postl [MD/76] is now chair-elect of the AFMC board. The board heard during its CCME meetings from Indigenous learners and leaders – including conference keynote speaker Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the U of M ‒ on Indigenous health issues and the health related Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) calls to action.

As a result, the board established a new AFMC Network on Indigenous Health and, in June, named Marcia Anderson [MD/02] as the inaugural chair. The network will support Canadian faculties of medicine in addressing Indigenous health curricula, training Indigenous physicians, clinical care in Indigenous health, responding to the TRC calls to action, and social accountability.

The conference, held in Winnipeg for the first time in 18 years, included an outstanding evening social event at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and a reception at Government House for guests such as deans of medicine from across Canada.

HIV/AIDS research pioneer wins Gairdner Award

Frank Plummer [MD/76], distinguished professor of medicine and medical microbiology, was honoured with the 2016 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award for his outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science.

In the 1980s, Plummer overturned the prevailing view of AIDS as a male homosexual disease when he discovered an epidemic of malefemale transmission in Africa.

He co-founded the University of Manitoba-University of Nairobi Collaborative Research Program and brought other institutions, including Oxford University, into the consortium. It is now the leading infectious diseases research initiative in sub-Saharan Africa.

Plummer did groundbreaking research in Kenya for 17 years, studying questions such as the role of breastfeeding in HIV transmission from mothers to children; the part played by hormonal contraceptive methods in HIV transmission; and the protective factor of male circumcision for HIV acquisition in men.

His discovery that some highly HIV-exposed sex workers were resistant to HIV infection led to the understanding of acquired immunity to the virus.

Plummer served as scientific director general of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory from 2000 to 2014. He led the Canadian laboratory response to the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009.

Plummer is the third Canada Gairdner Wightman Award recipient from the U of M, following Henry Friesen [MD/58] and Allan Ronald [MD/61].

Fentanyl fear

A U of M study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that half of patients being prescribed the fentanyl patch have not had previous exposure to opioids and may be at risk for adverse effects.

“Our study was the first to examine this medication safety problem systematically, at a population level,” said Shawn Bugden [B.Sc. (Pharm.)/91, M.Sc./96], associate professor in the College of Pharmacy and a co-author of the study.

Previous opioid use is required to ensure adequate tolerance before using the fentanyl patch. Inadequate tolerance may result in overdose, respiratory depression and death. Between 1996 and 2015, there were 284 reported deaths linked to fentanyl patches in Canada.

The study examined patch prescriptions to more than 11,000 people during a 12-year period in Manitoba. Researchers found that 74 per cent of fentanyl prescriptions were not safe because users had not had previous exposure to opioids.

An improvement was seen over the study period, but even in the final year, 50 per cent of prescriptions were classed as unsafe and over 15 per cent of users received no opioids at all in the previous 60 days.

Farewell, Old Basic

After 96 years of university life, the Old Basic Science building – or T-Building – has been demolished.

It was the smallest and second-oldest of the nine buildings on Bannatyne campus. Its final occupants included the J.A. Hildes Northern Medical Unit. The antiquated three-storey structure was deemed structurally unsound and too costly to renovate.

It was built in 1921 for Medical College departments including physiology, biochemistry and bacteriology. Theatre F, the steeply raked lecture hall on the second floor, appeared to have gotten an update in the 1970s and stayed that way, with moulded plastic chairs and patterned curtains.

Alvin Zipursky [MD/53], now professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and Hospital for Sick Children, remembers T-Building as the site of his medical breakthrough, published in 1959, in understanding and preventing Rh disease.

“The studies in the biochemistry lab contributed to the eventual eradication of Rh disease in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere in the world,” Zipursky says. “Another contribution was Dr. Lyonel Israels’ discovery of the unique alternative pathway of bilirubin metabolism – a major discovery in human physiology.”

The long-term Bannatyne Campus Master Plan calls for some green space and a plaza on the former site of Old Basic Science.