Patty Wellborn



Earlier this summer a giant panda named Ai Bao delivered twin cubs in a South Korean zoo. Although pandas often give birth to twins, typically only one cub survives, especially in the wild.

And to survive, this tiny helpless cub needs to communicate with its mother—better and more urgently than the twin.

Dr. Christina Buesching, an Adjunct Professor with UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, is a researcher who studies how animals communicate with each other. In collaboration with a group of Chinese co-authors, she recently published a study examining the way newborn panda cubs acoustically connect with their mother.

Blind at birth and just one-900th of the size of their mother, the two babies compete for nourishment and care by making sounds. Those squawks, squalls and croaks likely determine whether they’ll survive or not.

What is the survival rate for pandas born in the wild? And in captivity?

Approximately 56 per cent of giant panda births are twins. However, even though the new mother will spend two weeks fasting and doing nothing but caring for the babies, if raised in the wild, typically one of those cubs will die shortly after birth.

And in captivity, the mortality of pandas younger than one month—especially during their first 15 days—is 22 per cent higher than in any other age class.

To avoid this high neonatal mortality and ensure the continued survival of this charismatic species, twins born in captivity are switched regularly every 24 hours, so the mother only ever has to care for one baby while its twin is being nurtured by the zoo keepers.

Interestingly, we currently don’t really understand how the mother decides which cub she will favour. Because the cubs are so tiny and helpless, the only way they can elicit maternal attention is by making sounds—and it’s those sounds that likely determine which twin survives.

In essence, they need to communicate to their mother “Feed me, not the other one.” Therefore, we propose in a recent publication in Integrative Zoology, that poor understanding of early-age vocal mother–infant communication may be a reason for the high mortality rate of newborn pandas.

So what kind of vocalizations do newborn panda cubs make?

Panda cubs use three distinct calls: harsh-sounding squawks, high-pitched squalls and throaty croaks. These are so-called broadband calls and comprise a very wide frequency range, as well as contain both audible and ultrasound components higher than 20 kilohertz.

Of course, these sounds should have evolved to elicit maximum maternal care and attention, but in the wild the cubs are potential prey to other animals including golden cats, yellow-throated martens and even the Asian black bear. Ideally, their calls should therefore be something just the mother can hear.

Can you explain why baby pandas use both ultrasound and lower frequencies?

Our analyses show that the calls get deeper the older and bigger the cubs get.

This is quite interesting in the context of “survival of the fittest” because the lower call frequencies require longer vocal cords. Therefore, deeper calls could be an unmistakable way for a baby panda to signal to its mother that it is big and strong and growing rapidly—in fact much bigger and growing faster than its twin—and therefore worthier of the mother’s attention and care.

Ultrasound, however, is much harder to pinpoint and therefore cubs vocalizing in higher frequencies may be harder to detect by predators. So, cubs may be safer when calling in ultrasound, but they may get more attention from their mother than their sibling when calling with a deeper voice.

This truly is a biological example of being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Broadband calls have been reported in several other species, which would typically use ultrasound calls when babies are distressed or desperate to get their mother’s attention. But before our study, they had not been reported in mother–infant communication of any large solitary terrestrial carnivore.

How did you conduct this research?

We analyzed 5,300 calls including 3,475 squawks, 1,300 squalls and 490 croaks of 11 panda cubs under 15 days old—seven males and four females.

When a cub was removed from its mother for scheduled health checks, we played back a recording to gauge her interest in the sounds. But to investigate the biological significance of the different frequency ranges, we modified these recordings using computer software so we could delete either all ultrasound components and playback only the deeper frequencies, or do the opposite and remove all deeper frequencies playing back only the ultrasound components. We also played the natural broadband calls, which included the complete frequency range.

Our observations showed clearly that females could hear frequencies of up to 65kHz, and eight of the nine mothers reacted strongly to ultrasound playback by searching for the source of the calls—in this case the speakers. But all nine females responded much stronger to broadband calls and calls comprising only the deeper frequencies by being alert and investigating the speakers.

This leads us to conclude that cubs uttering deeper calls do have an advantage in competing for maternal care and attention.

Why is it important that we know how pandas communicate?

The giant panda is a true flagship species for conservation and often serves as China’s national symbol. It was endangered for many years, but due to considerable and far-reaching conservation measures in the wild, and a stringently regulated captive breeding program coordinated between zoos worldwide, panda numbers are recovering.

In 2016, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List downgraded their conservation from endangered to vulnerable and in July 2021, China followed suit. However, the mortality rate of panda cubs is still high.

This research suggests that better understanding of early-age vocal mother–infant communication may help increase cub survival.

Understanding the detailed ins-and-outs of a species’ behavioural and physiological needs, however, is crucial in designing effective habitat conservation and management strategies. In a paper, published in The Innovation, we examined the pros and cons of creating single large protected areas as national parks or conservation areas to investigate the benefits of protecting several smaller areas to encompass a higher number of panda subpopulations.

A mother panda holds on to her newborn cub. Photo courtesy of Guiquan Zhang.

The post UBCO researcher investigates how panda cubs communicate with their mother appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

Wildfire suppression planes work on a fire in the Okanagan earlier this spring.

This week, the Central Okanagan Emergency Operations downgraded many evacuation orders to alerts—but every resident in the region knows the wildfire situation continues to evolve and will leave a lasting impression both on the landscape and in the Okanagan’s collective psyche.

While fire crews continue to work the frontlines, a team of UBC Okanagan experts can provide information on fire growth, habitat loss, post-fire spreading and even the emotional turmoil of being evacuated due to wildfire.

Mathieu Bourbonnais, Assistant Professor, Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Wildfire risk
  • Wildfire suppression and mitigation
  • Firefighting and use of satellites for wildfire detection and monitoring

Tel: 778 583 0272

Greg Garrard, Professor of Environmental Humanities, Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies

Areas of expertise:

  • Environmental literature
  • Culture and climate change (including skepticism)
  • The cultural ecology of wildfire
  • Political polarization 

Tel: 250 863 2822

Karen Hodges, Professor of Conservation Biology, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Conservation biology
  • Habitat loss
  • Extinction risks
  • Wildfires and wildlife
  • Climate change and wildfire
  • Endangered species
  • Boreal forests
  • Mammals
  • Birds

Tel: 250 807 8763

Alessandro Ielpi, Assistant Professor, Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Watershed processes
  • Rivers and floodplains
  • Post-fire flooding
  • Stream widening and bank erosion

Tel: 250 807 8364

Mary-Ann Murphy, Associate Professor, School of Social Work and Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Areas of expertise:

  • Dealing with the emotional trauma of wildfires
  • Lessons from evacuees
  • What to pack when evacuating
  • Caring for seniors in extreme heat
  • Aging and demographics

Tel: 250 807 8705

David Scott, Associate Professor, Earth, Environmental and Geographic Sciences, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Effects of wildfire on hydrology and erosion
  • Evaluation of fire site rehabilitation methods in terms of controlling erosion and sedimentation


John R.J. Thompson, Assistant Professor, Data Science, Mathematics, Statistics, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science

Areas of expertise:

  • Statistical fire growth modelling and simulation
  • Fire image analysis

Tel: 289 776 9678

Babak Tosarkani, Assistant Professor, School of Engineering

Areas of expertise:

  • Supply Chain Management
  • Operations Management
  • Sustainability and Circular Economy
  • Risk Management
  • Strategic Sustainable Development

Tel: 647 551 7732

The post UBC experts on wildfires and associated issues appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

A UBCO researcher is investigating clean and efficient energy technologies as part of the movement to reduce the use of carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

As many nations work to go green, a significant question remains unanswered: how can the world decarbonize energy supplies in a sustainable, efficient and economically viable manner?

Dr. Robert Godin, an Assistant Professor of Green Chemistry in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, is working to find the answer.

In a recent study co-authored by Dr. Godin and published in the Royal Society of Chemistry, he explains the urgent need to decarbonize energy supplies, and how precise processing of a material called carbon nitride may be the key.

Fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas have energized economies for more than 150 years—can you explain the urgency in moving away from these types of energy? Why the rush?

There are a number of reasons why we need to shift to sustainable sources of power—one being to slow down the progression of climate change. It’s abundantly clear that we need to decarbonize our energy supplies to reach our net zero emission targets. One powerful analysis is the Net Zero by 2050 report from the International Energy Agency. It states that massive deployment of all available clean and efficient energy technologies is required to meet these goals.

What other types of fuel can supply this energy?

The generation of synthetic fuels is gaining traction as an alternative to carbon-intensive fossil fuels. When synthetic fuels are generated by sunlight, we refer to them as solar fuels, which have the potential to be sustainable.

What are some challenges associated with these other types of fuel?

One of the biggest issues in trying to identify alternatives is their cost. If we can’t find a way to bring the cost down to the same as fossil fuels or lower, there will unfortunately be barriers for many to adopt them. 

Can you explain the research presented in this paper?

We were looking at a new way to control the shape of inexpensive photocatalysts that can generate solar fuels, with the aim of improving their efficiency and cost-competitiveness when compared to fossil fuels.

To do this, we worked with a material called carbon nitride—it is an organic semiconductor made from inexpensive and abundant commodity materials that shows promising photocatalytic activity. However, there are open questions as to what is the best way to prepare carbon nitride when considering complexity, cost and efficiency. To tackle this, we need better information on how modifications made to carbon nitride can impact efficiency.

Ultimately, we were able to devise a new way to control the shape of carbon nitride particles. While we didn’t yet obtain better performance with our method, we did see a completely new shape, like fibrous webs, that wasn’t obtainable with the traditional method.

We’re confident that by refining our method, we can produce more solar fuels than with typical carbon nitride.

Could the results of this research have other applications? And where do you go from here?

Beyond decarbonizing energy, our results are significant to the overall field of photocatalysis, which is becoming increasingly popular as a synthetic method in industrial processes that make drugs, cosmetics, polymers and more.

For next steps, now that we have a general method established we can look at refinements to ensure our starting material gets converted to a type of carbon nitride that is a good photocatalyst.

If we can solve that problem, then we can expand the types of shapes we make to be able to find which ones perform best, and why.

The post UBCO researcher studies alternatives to fossil fuel derived energy appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

Should people with inflammatory bowel disease re-introduce fibre into their diets? A UBCO researcher suggests maybe it’s time they do.

A UBC Okanagan researcher wants to turn the tables on the long-held practice of restricting fibre completely for people living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Dr. Natasha Haskey, a registered dietitian who works with UBC Okanagan’s Centre for Microbiome and Inflammation Research, focuses her research on nutrition for people with digestive diseases. Her most recent paper examines whether it’s time to re-think what people living with certain conditions—including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis—should eat

Both Crohn’s and colitis cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Still, Dr. Haskey says, while millions of North Americans live with the symptoms of the disease and daily discomfort, scientists don’t know the exact cause of IBD.

“I wanted to work with the Centre for Microbiome and Inflammation Research to look a bit deeper into how we can help people manage their disease using diet therapy because we don’t have all the answers,” she says. “We believe it’s due to a combination of factors which could be genetic, changes in the function of the immune system or changes in a person’s microbiome, along with their diet.”

Adopting westernized eating habits—consuming more highly processed, high sodium and sugary foods—has led to a significant reduction in fibre consumption and is linked to an increased prevalence of digestive diseases such as IBD, partially through alterations in microbial composition, she explains.

In the past, when a patient was diagnosed with IBD, doctors would recommend a low-fibre diet to help with their symptoms and manage their condition. But as more research has emerged around the importance of fibre to a healthy microbiome, Dr. Haskey says the issue of whether to consume fibre or not has swung the other way.

“We know that in healthy individuals, when we increase fibre it benefits the digestive tract,” she says. “Here we’ve been telling these patients for the longest time to avoid fibre. Maybe that’s not the right answer.”

There is limited knowledge about what fibre is optimal and in what form and quantity it should be consumed to benefit patients with IBD. Part of the answer, she suggests, is learning about the various fibre sources, and also slowly introducing fibre into the diet.

“It’s a real shift in the mindset,” she adds. “If you lived with a disease for a long time, you’ve figured out what works. And in all likelihood, you’re scared to introduce these foods because you don’t want to end up back where you used to be.”

For example, if a person has been told to avoid leafy greens, she suggests some could be blended into a smoothie or another example might be to remove the peel from an apple. These foods can then be added to the diet if there is no increase in symptoms.

As more research about the gut microbiome takes place, more detail about how the gut bacteria digests and breaks down foods is coming to light.

And it’s as individual as a fingerprint, Dr. Haskey adds.

Individual microbiomes, she says in her paper published recently in Nutrients, play a strong role in determining how we respond to diet treatments and require a more personalized nutritional approach to implementing dietary changes.

“The pendulum has swung because of our increased understanding of the importance of fibres in maintaining a health-associated microbiome. Preliminary evidence suggests that dietary fibre can alter the gut microbiome, improve IBD symptoms, balance inflammation and enhance health-related quality of life,” she adds. “Therefore, it is now more vital than ever to examine how fibre could be used as a therapeutic strategy to manage and prevent disease relapse.”

The post UBCO researcher swings the pendulum on fibre intake appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

Dr. Kristine Spekkens will discuss how galaxies evolve and form and the connection between galaxies, dark matter and cosmology.

What: Helen Sawyer Hogg Prize Lecture: Galaxies, Cosmology and the Radio Telescope Revolution
Who: Astrophysicist Dr. Kristine Spekkens
When: Tuesday, June 13 at 7 pm, doors open at 6 pm
Venue: Ballroom at Penticton Lakeside Resort and Conference Centre, 21 Lakeshore Dr.

It’s a thought that crosses many of our minds as we look up to the sky on a starry night: where do we fit in the universe?

The community is invited to Galaxies, Cosmology, and the Radio Telescope Revolution, a public talk from Dr. Kristine Spekkens, a Professor in the Department of Physics and Space Science at Royal Military College and Queen’s University, and Canadian Science Director for the Square Kilometre Array.

In her talk, Dr. Spekkens will discuss how galaxies form and evolve within a standard cosmological framework that describes the universe and why gas-rich, star-forming nearby galaxies are key to this picture—both because they resemble the Milky Way and because they make up the bulk of galaxy population in most cosmic environments.

Dr. Spekkens will also explain the connection between galaxies, dark matter and cosmology by discussing in what ways atomic gases in galaxies are powerful cosmological probes.

Finally, she’ll discuss how a revolution in our view of these objects and others in the night sky is underway with a new generation of telescopes, and how these facilities are paving the way for groundbreaking discoveries with the Square Kilometre Array telescope—an international mega-science project in which Canada will soon be a full member.

This is a free event, open to all community members. No registration is required to attend in person. However, pre-registration is required for people interested in attending via Zoom. To find out more, visit:

This talk is presented by the Canadian Astronomical Society with partial funding from the University of British Columbia and other sponsors.

The post UBCO co-hosts esteemed astrophysicist Dr. Kristine Spekkens appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

UBCO celebrated the class of 2023 this week including the top academic students and medal winners.


This week UBC Okanagan celebrated the graduating students of 2023. As part of graduation, the top academic students are recognized for their accomplishments which often include high academic grades and community service.

Governor General’s Gold Medal

A passion for research, a personal connection and the desire to help a population often overlooked by researchers took Sarah Lawrason down a path that eventually led to one of UBC Okanagan’s top accomplishments.

Dr. Lawrason has been named UBCO’s 2023 winner of the Governor General’s Gold Medal. She completed her PhD in Kinesiology, spending several years researching people who live with incomplete spinal cord injuries (SCI). Her research led to the design, implementation and evaluation of a mobile-based physical activity program for people with an SCI who walk. The goal was to support this particular population to become more physically active.

“Physical activity is so beneficial for health and wellbeing, but there is little research and resources to support people with SCI and even less for those with an SCI who can walk,” she says.

Dr. Lawrason admits there is a personal side to her drive. Her brother sustained an SCI in 2016—helping him live the best life he can became part of her mandate.

The Governor General’s Gold Medal is awarded to the student who has achieved the most outstanding academic record as a doctoral or master’s student completing a dissertation or thesis.

While working on her PhD, Dr. Lawrason conducted five studies with the ambulatory SCI population—a growing segment often referred to as the “forgotten ones” because they have been completely overlooked in health research and promotion, she says. Her research engaged with the SCI community and tech-industry partners to achieve significant breakthroughs and help pave the way for further scientific and clinical applications.

She conducted her research under the supervision of Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis, who describes Dr. Lawrason as someone with an exemplary record of high-impact, novel, interdisciplinary, community-engaged research who has made diverse and considerable contributions to society.

“Sarah has established an outstanding reputation for research leadership and conducted her PhD research with unwavering commitment to using community-engaged methods and improving the health of people with disabilities,” says Dr. Martin Ginis. “Of the 13 PhD students I’ve supervised, she ranks among the top in terms of breadth and depth of skill and is more than deserving of this recognition.”

Governor General’s Silver Medal winner

Solomon Thiessen, described as an “exceptionally gifted” School of Engineering student, has been named the winner of UBC’s Governor General’s Silver Medal. It is awarded annually to the student who has achieved the highest academic standing of all students in their graduating year. UBC awards three silver medals each year: one in arts, one in science and one for all other faculties including those at UBC Okanagan.

Thiessen recently completed his Bachelor of Applied Science with UBCO’s School of Engineering, impressing his professors by earning a final mark of 100 per cent on 12 of his engineering courses.

He has a keen interest in computer engineering and he minored in computer science. During his studies, he worked on a variety of projects including a portable MRI device with Drs. Rebecca Feldman and Sabine Weyand as well as a wireless sensor node network with Dr. Dean Richert. Despite his heavy course load, he also volunteered as a tutor in math, physics, applied science and computer science through the student learning hub and worked as a teaching assistant in the automation lab.

Within the School of Engineering, he was held in high esteem among the teaching staff, says Dr. Dean Richert, an Assistant Professor of Teaching in Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering

“It has been an absolute pleasure to witness Sol’s progression throughout his degree and I am delighted to see him being acknowledged as a recipient of this award,” says Dr. Richert. “Sol not only possesses exceptional academic prowess but also demonstrates an outstanding work ethic and professionalism, distinguishing himself as one of the most exceptional students I have had the privilege of working with.”

Thiessen has been accepted to the computer science master’s program at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. Following his studies at ETH Zurich, he plans to pursue a PhD in artificial intelligence. In the meantime, he is “tinkering” on a few software projects while working as a contractor for the Western Canadian Learning Network.

Lieutenant Governor Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation

A well-travelled and active member of the UBCO campus community, Haja Mabinty (Binta) Sesay has been named the winner of the Lieutenant Governor Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation.

Sesay has just completed her degree in International Relations and has been recognized for her leadership and dedication to helping make UBCO a more inclusive campus community. During her four years of study, she volunteered with the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office during back-to-school celebrations and spent two years volunteering with African Caribbean Student Club. She also held an executive role with the UBC Black caucus team and UBC’s Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force.

Sesay started her schooling in The Gambia and moved to the United Kingdom for part of her high school education, completing her last year in Jerusalem. She came to UBCO in 2018, having been attracted to the close-knit campus and knowing the programs were academically strong.

Although she applied for the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal, she had no expectations of winning the recognition and was surprised when notified she was the winner.

“Just getting the email to apply for the award made me feel accomplished,” she says. “I was super shocked when I got the email saying I was selected. I am so passionate about all the work I have done and never expect anything back, but it also feels nice to be recognized. I feel very honoured.”

The Lieutenant Governor Medal Program for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation recognizes students who have distinguished themselves through their post-secondary education with outstanding contributions to the promotion of inclusion, democracy or reconciliation.

Madison Tardif, who worked with Sesay at the UBC Equity and Inclusion Office, says she has played a key role in leading and working within various groups and committees to advocate for a more anti-racist and inclusive institution, with a particular focus on supporting the Black community.

“Binta has dedicated herself to the promotion of anti-racism across the university and in the broader community, advocating for changes that will continue to shape and improve the experiences of Black students, faculty and staff at UBC,” says Tardif. “Binta’s commitment to addressing structural inequities and advocating for a more inclusive campus shines in her leadership roles and her consistent desire to show up for and in solidarity with diverse communities.”

Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize

Madyson Campbell, who received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree Thursday, is the winner of the Pushor Mitchell Gold Medal Leadership Prize. Knowing she eventually planned to go to medical school, Campbell came to UBCO from Thunder Bay wanting to experience a few years living in a different province and knew the Okanagan would suit her lifestyle.

While working on her degree she participated in several multidisciplinary undergraduate research projects in health and worked on a student-led project to develop a pilot curriculum on a restorative approach to improve the experiences of patients who have been harmed within the health care system.

Campbell is a proud citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario and works to advocate for and ensure the voices of Métis youth are heard at the provincial and national levels.

“The support provided by this award is immeasurable, as it allows students like myself to continue our academic and leadership goals after graduating from UBC. This award has allowed me to pursue a research opportunity this summer at the University of Toronto. I cannot understate how deeply honoured I am to have been chosen by this committee. I will carry this recognition with me as I move forward in my academic and career pursuits.”

As a winner of the Pushor Mitchell award, she receives a $10,000 scholarship which she says will support her journey as she enters the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Thunder Bay this fall.

The Pushor Mitchell LLP Gold Medal Leadership Prize recognizes a top graduating student who has excelled academically and has shown leadership while earning their degree.

“Pushor Mitchell LLP is thrilled to support another exceptional graduate at UBC Okanagan with our Gold Medal Leadership Award, as they make their way to become the next generation of great leaders in our community, both in the Okanagan and beyond”, says Joni Metherell, Managing Partner for Pushor Mitchell. “We congratulate Madyson and all of UBCO’s 2023 graduates on their success.”

Heads of Graduating Class

University of BC Medal in Arts
Samantha Barg

University of BC Medal in Education
Isabela Richard

University of BC Medal in Engineering
Solomon Thiessen

University of BC Medal in Fine Arts
Josie Hillman

University of BC Medal in Human Kinetics
Melina Marini

University of BC Medal in Management
Aurora Gardiner

University of BC Medal in Media Studies
Amanda McIvor

University of BC Medal in Nsyilxcn Language Fluency
Sheri Stelkia

University of BC Medal in Nursing
Kayla Petersen

University of BC Medal in Science
Harman Sohal

The post UBCO recognizes top students at 2023 graduation ceremonies appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

Students in the class of 2023 will graduate in six different ceremonies at UBCO on Thursday and Friday.

This week, UBC Okanagan will celebrate the graduating class of 2023. And while hundreds of students will cross the stage to accept their degrees, there will still be a series of unique firsts.

On June 8 and 9, UBCO will confer more than 2,300 degrees during six graduation ceremonies. On Thursday, the first-ever Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency degree graduates will receive their degrees.

“Graduation provides us the opportunity to recognize and congratulate our students and their successes,” says Dr. Lesley Cormack, UBCO’s Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. “I am incredibly proud of all of our students, with particular note for those receiving our first degrees in Nsyilxcn Language Fluency.”

The Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency degrees will be conferred by UBC’s Chancellor, the Honourable xwĕ lī qwĕl tĕl Steven Point. Chancellor Point will also confer honorary degrees on suiki?st Pauline Terbasket, Executive Director of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, and Lindsay Gordon, Point’s predecessor as UBC Chancellor. Interim UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Deborah Buszard, who is the former UBCO Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, will share the stage throughout the six graduation ceremonies with Dr. Cormack, the current campus Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

There are three ceremonies on Thursday, the first beginning at 8:30 am, and three on Friday morning with the first also starting at 8:30 am.

Of the more than 2,320 degrees being presented this week, more than 450 students will earn their master’s degree, and 60 are being conferred as PhDs. These students have reached the highest level of achievement in their disciplines, says Dr. Cormack.

She also notes the students graduating this year continued their studies during the COVID-19 pandemic, and pivoted to online courses as the university quickly adapted to online and remote delivery of classes in 2020.

“I offer the UBC Okanagan class of 2023 my warmest congratulations for their remarkable achievements,” says Dr. Cormack. “These students persevered through an unusual time none of us could have predicted. They stayed dedicated to their studies as they not only transitioned to online learning, but back onto campus last year to complete their studies in-person. I am so grateful for this group of students as they showed grit and passion and worked through an extraordinary time to complete their studies. With these experiences, we know they have the ability to realize their highest ambitions, both personally and by shaping the world they’re entering as UBC alumni.”

The 18th annual graduation celebration happens Thursday and Friday inside the UBC Okanagan gymnasium.

Quick facts:

  • 2,320 students will cross the stage during six graduation ceremonies
  • Two honorary degrees will be conferred, one each day
  • Thursday, 8:30 am, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science
  • Thursday, 11 am, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Science
  • Thursday, 1:30 am, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies**
    ** Including the Bachelor of Nsyilxcn Language Fluency
  • Friday, 8:30 am, Faculty of Health and Social Development*
    * Including nursing and social work
  • Friday, 11 am, Faculty of Education: Okanagan School of Education and the Faculty of Management
  • Friday, 1:30 pm, Faculty of Applied Science: School of Engineering
  • Parking is free both days

The post UBCO celebrates the graduates of 2023 appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

A UBCO researcher is looking into whether intermittent fasting can help people living with Crohn’s or colitis.

Intermittent fasting, where a person restricts the intake of any calories for a select time period, has become a trendy and popular method of controlling weight and improving overall health.

And while it may not be for everyone, a UBC Okanagan researcher wants to know if intermittent fasting could help people who live with Crohn’s disease.

Dr. Natasha Haskey is a registered dietitian and a researcher with UBC Okanagan’s Centre for Microbiome and Inflammation Research. She wants to recruit study participants who live with Crohn’s and would be willing to try intermittent fasting for a select time period.

Can you explain the benefits of intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting has become a very popular weight loss method; however, its benefits have been shown to extend beyond weight loss. For example, recent research has found that intermittent fasting can improve metabolism, lower blood sugar levels and lessen inflammation.

Although there are many different types of fasting, we plan to study a 16:8 plan, which means you consume your food in an eight-hour window and avoid eating for the remaining 16 hours of the day. Much of the 16-hour fast is when we are sleeping so it is a feasible plan for everyone.

What do you hope to accomplish with your study?
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. While symptoms can vary among patients, common symptoms—which are very debilitating—include persistent diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal cramps and pain. In addition to medication, diet is recognized as a way to help manage symptoms.

There is no research that exists at this time on how intermittent fasting will impact Crohn’s disease making this study novel and exciting. If we can demonstrate the ability to help people with Crohn’s, it could provide another option for Crohn’s patients who are overweight to help manage their disease, reduce the likelihood of a disease flareup, and prevent other complications.

And you’re specifically looking for study participants with Crohn’s?

  • We are looking for participants in the Okanagan and Calgary area
  • Between the ages of 18 to 75 years
  • With a body mass index of above 25, so someone who is overweight

What can participants expect from the study?

  • This is a 12-week study
  • We require two in-person study visits, and the remainder of the study requirements can be completed from home. Participants will have personalized access to a registered dietitian for 12 weeks
  • The opportunity for a dual x-ray absorptiometry test, known as a DEXA scan which examines body composition including overall body fat, visceral fat, lean tissue, bone weight

To find out more:

Okanagan area:
Natasha Haskey

Munazza YousefCalgary area:
Calgary: 403-592-5231

The post Can intermittent fasting help those who live with Crohn’s disease? appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

A photo of Heather Gainforth, Greg Gerard and Isaac Li

Drs. Heather Gainforth, Greg Gerard and Isaac Li are UBCO’s 2023 researchers of the year.

UBC Okanagan is celebrating six outstanding researchers with one of its most prestigious research awards—Researcher of the Year.

The award recognizes the ways in which UBCO researchers—three faculty and three graduate student or postdoctoral fellows—are making the world a better place through excellence in research and scholarly activity.

The 2023 Researcher of the Year awards ceremony honoured faculty winners Dr. Heather Gainforth for health research, Dr. Greg Garrard for social sciences and humanities and Dr. Isaac Li for the natural sciences and engineering category.

Alongside her teaching in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, Dr. Gainforth’s research in the area of spinal cord injury (SCI) is focused on helping people with SCI live better lives. She engages directly with people living with SCI and invites the SCI community to help direct her work, in order to focus on the community’s high-priority needs that have historically received little research attention. Dr. Gainforth is dedicated to getting her results to those who need it most.

Dr. Garrard researches how humans’ activities and their perceptions of their environments shape the physical landscapes they inhabit. As a Professor of Environmental Humanities in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, he’s a globally respected voice in sustainability who is focusing on the Okanagan region. His work asks people to interrogate their own perspectives on issues such as climate change or wildfires and helps individuals understand other perspectives to combat cultural polarization.

Immersed in the study of the physical interactions between cells, Dr. Li, Assistant Professor in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science, is an emerging leader in his field. His interdisciplinary lab builds specialized, DNA-based molecular tools to visualize these interactions at the scale of single molecules and opens opportunities for controlling these interactions, which can lead to a variety of future impacts, including disease treatments.

“UBC Okanagan’s vibrant research community continues to foster top-notch talent, which is clearly evident from this year’s Researcher of the Year recipients,” says Dr. Phil Barker, Vice-Principal and Associate Vice-President, Research and Innovation. “I’m so pleased to share and recognize the success of our incredible researchers and their important work.”

Three graduate or postdoctoral researchers were also recognized for their excellence in scholarly activity and highlighted as researchers to watch in the coming years:

  • Postdoctoral Fellow Researcher of the Year
    Dr. Femke Hoekstra, Faculty of Health and Social Development
  • Doctoral Student Researcher of the Year
    Melanie Dickie, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science
  • Master’s Student Researcher of the Year
    Hanna Paul, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

“It’s inspiring to see the breadth of subject matter and the quality of research conducted by our students and postdocs,” says Dr. Peter Simpson, Dean of the College of Graduate Studies. “These researchers are changemakers—conducting research to investigate some of the world’s most challenging problems and producing creative work that addresses the human condition.”

The distinguished award honours leaders at UBCO who have reached across disciplines to have major impacts in their fields, says Dr. Barker.

“Here at UBC Okanagan, we know that working together across traditional boundaries is key to helping advance discovery,” he adds. “These researchers epitomize that call to action and I look forward to seeing where it will lead their fields in the years to come.”

The post UBCO honours this year’s most outstanding researchers appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

Star-shaped astrocytes, shown red in this image, extend cellular projections like tentacles to communicate with neighbouring brain cells. Once astrocytes become cancerous, the projections become longer, and their networks become more complex, invading different areas of the brain.

Brain cancer. It’s the diagnosis no one wants to hear.

Patients with high-grade gliomas, or tumours in the brain and spinal cord, have an average life expectancy of a mere 12 to 16 months. Not only do tumours in the brain spread more aggressively than in other tissues, but these tumours are also resistant to chemotherapy and have a high probability to recur after surgical removal.

Now UBC Okanagan researchers are working to better understand the development and rapid growth of cancerous cells in the brain.

Sessional Lecturer Dr. Mitra Tabatabaee and Dr. Fred Menard, Associate Professor in Chemistry, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UBCO, examined astrocytoma, a cancer that begins in astrocytes—cells that support nerve cells.

Currently, astrocytoma is highly fatal with no effective treatment.

Their research, recently published in Cells, reviews the potential role of an imbalance of glutamate—a neurotransmitter that stimulates nerve cells—in astrocytoma progression. It suggests that several receptors not previously considered in brain cancer research might be crucial to the cancerous growth of astrocytoma.

“Astrocytoma spreads throughout the brain quickly, and there is no treatment,” says Dr. Tabatabaee. “There’s not enough information about the development of astrocytoma, which is one of the main reasons for the lack of effective treatment. We need to know first the molecular mechanism of what’s happening.”

Star-shaped astrocytes extend cellular projections like tentacles that stretch to communicate with their neighbouring cells. Once these astrocytes become cancerous, the projections become longer, and their networks become more complex, invading different areas of the brain. How far they extend in the brain is strongly correlated with the cancer’s aggressivity and its resistance to treatment.

“If some extra-long cell projections are left behind during surgery, the tumour can grow back,” says Dr. Tabatabaee.

A suspected cause of this uncontrolled growth of cellular processes is elevated levels of glutamate. When astrocytes sense glutamate, the concentration of calcium rises inside the cell. Since calcium is also necessary for growing cellular projections, the glutamate receptors that affect the calcium inside astrocytes are prime suspects for the abnormal growth of astrocytoma cells.

By studying astrocytoma cells, Dr. Tabatabaee and Dr. Menard identified a glutamate receptor and two other molecular contributors crucial in extending the projections of these cancerous cells.

With further study, researchers believe that these overlooked receptors can serve as targets for designing more effective chemotherapies and open up new avenues to halt the progression of this aggressive and often fatal cancer.

“Studying and targeting these specific receptors, may pave the way to understand how we can stop infiltration of the disease throughout the brain and prevent the tumour growth,” says Dr. Tabatabaee.

The post Tiny receptors might be key to preventing progression of brain cancer appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.