Dr. Mousumi Majumder of Brandon University recently received a $75,000 grant from the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, which will further her team’s research into developing a method of detecting the disease in its early stages.
Talking to the Sun on Tuesday, Majumder said the new research grant was handed out through the society’s first-ever national grant competition, with the BU professor and her team being the only recipients from Manitoba.
“I did not expect that we would get it. It was very competitive from the beginning,” Majumder said, explaining that the winners of the new contest were announced in late May.
“More than the money, I’d say that the recognition and the way the competition happened, that really gave us the boost we needed.”
In terms of where the $75,000 is going, Majumder said the grant will be used to secure more student scholarships and tissue samples from cancer patients, which are both vital to ensure that the project continues.
As it stands, Majumder and her team are using the tissue samples to identify blood biomarkers that could lead to an expeditious diagnosis of breast cancer in patients.
This method could be especially useful for younger Canadian women, since they typically do not qualify for a breast cancer screening until the age of 50.
“Are we at the point where you can forget about a biopsy? No,” Majumder said. “But … we are very hopeful that within a couple years … that these markers will be sensitive enough so that a blood test can give you an early sign of breast cancer.”
Majumder has been exploring this field of study for well over a decade.
After receiving her PhD in oral cancer genetics and epidemiology from the Indian Statistical Institute and Jadavpur University in 2009, Majumder became seriously involved in cell biology work during her post-doctoral training at Western University.
Since joining BU in 2016, Majumder’s focus has narrowed to finding a simple method of detecting breast cancer and has received multiple rounds of funding to make this happen.
In late 2020, the BU professor was named a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Genotoxicology, a position that entitled her to a $600,000 grant that can be used over the course of five years.
But at that point, Majumder admitted that her research was still in its preliminary stages, with any progress being hampered by all the recent restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now that these restrictions have been rolled back nationwide, Majumder is happy to report that it is now much easier to acquire tissue samples, especially since her team is working alongside health-care professionals from the London Health Sciences Centre in Ontario.
“Initially we were struggling to get even a hundred samples,” she said. “But right now, things are loosening up and more participants are coming into the hospital.”
Moving forward, Majumder said her team’s research will also be bolstered by an over 1,200-square-foot lab that is being set up in BU’s John R. Brodie Science Centre.
This new space will give them more direct access to imaging systems, biomarker detection technology and other equipment that isn’t available anywhere else in Westman.
“We are doing really great considering that Brandon University is a small institution,” Majumder said.
“We don’t have as much as the University of Manitoba or CancerCare Manitoba, but it seems like we are doing fine with our limited structure.”
But more than anything, Majumder believes that this new $75,000 grant is a testament to the hard work being put in by her team, which includes BU students, staff and even outside groups like CancerCare Manitoba, whose members regularly provide their medical expertise.
“It’s a team effort. It’s me who is talking right now, but trust me, it’s the team doing the work in the background,” she said. “That keeps me motivated.”
One in eight Canadian women are expected to develop breast cancer during their lifetime, according to the federal government. The disease also accounts for 13 per cent of all cancer-related deaths in Canadian women.
» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson
People with COVID-19 can infect and sicken cats and dogs by cuddling them, says study – CHEK News
Cat and dog owners who cuddle their pets when infected with COVID-19 could end up making the animals sick with the virus, according to a Canadian study.
The study said that while it was already known that animals including cats, dogs, ferrets and hamsters seem to be susceptible to COVID-19, transmission may be happening more often than previously thought.
The research, published this month in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, involved 69 cats and 49 dogs, including pets and animals from shelters and neuter clinics.
Pet owners were also asked to fill out an online survey about the nature of their interaction with their animals.
“These data indicate relatively common transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from humans to animals and that certain human-animal contacts — example, kissing the pet, pet sleeping on the bed — appear to increase the risk,” said the study.
“We inferred that infections in dogs and cats reflect direct transmission from humans to animals, given the pandemic nature of this virus in humans and limited contact of most household pets with other animals.”
Dogs and cats that lived in shelters showed lower rates of COVID-19 infection compared with those that lived with humans, said study co-author Prof. Scott Weese of the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College.
“It was a fairly substantial difference as we would have expected,” said Weese.
Lead author Prof. Dorothee Bienzle from the University of Guelph’s pathobiology department said results suggest that cats have a higher rate of COVID-19 infection than dogs.
“It has to do with how well the virus latches on to the receptor in the cat or dog’s respiratory system,” said Bienzle.
The high prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies in cats surprised researchers, she said.
“We did not expect quite that many,” she said. “Over half of the cats that live in a household of a person who had COVID had antibodies. That’s very high.”
Animals infected with COVID-19 show symptoms similar to humans who fall sick with the virus, she said.
“They don’t have any appetite, they feel crummy, they sleep more, they might sneeze and cough,” she said.
Weese said cats are able to pass on the infection to each other, and also to humans.
A veterinarian in Thailand was diagnosed with COVID-19 in August 2021, after being sneezed on by an infected cat owned by a patient who had tested positive for the virus, he said. Genetic analysis showed that the virus was transmitted from the cat owner to the pet and onto the veterinarian, Weese said.
There is also evidence that minks infected by humans can pass the virus on to other people, he said.
Transmission from humans to animals can be minimized by owners keeping their distance, wearing a mask and taking other precautions, just as they would to prevent infecting a person, he said.
“Ideally, what we want to do is keep it from spreading as much as possible so people can limit the contact they have with animals when they’re infected,” he said. “That’s ideal.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2022.
Saskatchewan HIV, HCV education program continuing at USask College of Medicine – USask News
The education program helps address the complexities driving sexually transmitted and blood borne infection (STBBI) rates in Saskatchewan and their impact on patient care. Content will include the clinical treatment and management of infections and will feature the involvement of HIV/HCV experienced care providers, organizations, and community members to create made-in-Saskatchewan solutions to the province’s unique environment and challenges.
Critical to the past and continuing success of this program are faculty and staff in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases at the USask College of Medicine. Infectious disease specialists Dr. Alex Wong (MD) and Dr. Beverly Wudel (MD) will oversee the creation and delivery of the medical education, with additional guidance provided by an advisory group of family physicians experienced in providing HIV and HCV care in clinics across the province.
“We’re very pleased to have worked with our partners and colleagues already involved in delivering this important program to now be able to continue this critical work,” said Dr. Jim Barton (MD), CME associate dean. “This would not have been possible without the support of our provincial government. And we are happy to make this announcement today, on National HIV Testing Day in Saskatchewan.”
For the past 10 years, Saskatchewan has had the highest rate of new HIV and Hepatitis C diagnoses in Canada and the fastest growing rate of syphilis infections in the country, resulting in an urgent need to educate primary care providers to recognize, test, treat, and manage these infections in their clinical practices.
“The government is pleased to fund initiatives and programs that improve the capacity and confidence of health-care providers to diagnose and treat sexually transmitted and blood borne infections (STBBIs),” said Minister of Health Paul Merriman. “Programs like the STBBI Treatment Education Program for Saskatchewan (STEPS) will help improve access to health-care professionals in more communities across the province, and reduce the stigma many feel around testing and treatment.”
Up to March 2022, the STBBI primary care provider education program was delivered by the Saskatchewan Infectious Disease Care Network (SIDCN) as the Primary Care Capacity Improvement: Treatment as Prevention Project, with four years of funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Harm Reduction Grant. This new STBBI program, renamed STEPS, will feature the continuation and growth of education originally offered by the SIDCN.
“I am so grateful that the amazing work that was being done will continue—now with the educational leadership of CME, the involvement of experienced medical experts and staff, the important guidance of existing project stakeholders, and the support of the Ministry of Health,” said Dr. Satchan Takaya (MD), infectious diseases specialist.
STEPS will build from and utilize resources used by SIDCN’s past project. This will include the continuation of the popular HIV and HCV Virtual Classrooms that discuss testing, treating, and managing these infections in Saskatchewan. Based on feedback, a new Syphilis Virtual Classroom will be launched along with several other new presentations all related to addressing and managing STBBIs in the province.
The program will be targeted to primary care providers, family medicine residents, nurse practitioners and registered nurses, as well as other allied health-care professions. A limited number of clinical mentorship opportunities will be available for physicians and nurse practitioners who can benefit from applying virtual classroom content in a clinical setting under the guidance of experienced HIV and HCV specialists and physicians.
By housing a new STBBI program within CME, there is an opportunity to reach more learners and showcase the expertise and support of faculty from the Infectious Disease Department and Family Medicine. The program will also provide opportunities for collaborating with other STBBI stakeholders and strengthen the efforts needed to support front-line providers and improve access to clinically informed and stigma-free STBBI health care.
Health Minister Adrian Dix must come clean on why B.C. is restricting fourth COVID-19 vaccinations – The Georgia Straight
Former senior civil servant and diplomat Norman Spector shared a fascinating article with me this weekend from the Ottawa Citizen.
A family physician in the national capital, Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, hoped to conduct mass vaccinations for people who want a fourth dose of COVID-19 but don’t qualify under Ontario’s rules.
She reportedly wanted to create a large outdoor “jabalooza” clinic but health officials refused to provide her with vaccines.
Ontario restricts access to fourth shots of COVID-19 vaccines to those who are 60 years of age or older.
Next door in Quebec, people can get fourth shots if they are 18 and older.
“I am receiving lots of individual requests for help,” Kaplan-Myrth tweeted on Sunday (June 26). “I can’t give you the vaccine at this time, but hands up (and DM) if you as plaintiffs want to bring this to court as a group. Would require a litigation team.”
There’s a tremendous amount of scientific data showing that COVID-19 vaccines lessen the severity of COVID-19. They reduce the likelihood of dying or being hospitalized from the disease.
However, COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness wanes over time. This is why Kaplan-Myrth is such a strong advocate for booster shots. She believes that these boosters are particularly important when so many people are not wearing masks indoors.
Keep in mind that COVID-19 initially presents as a respiratory infection.
In some cases, however, it causes serious brain injuries and cardiovascular problems. It’s especially dangerous for the immunocompromised, who are at higher risk of suffering severe COVID-19.
That’s because the virus that causes COVID-19 not only damages blood vessels and triggers blood clots, but also disrupts the immune system. Researchers have even linked immune dysfunction to serious brain injuries, which is explained in the video below.
B.C. doesn’t want most under-70s to get fourth shots
In the face of all of this, B.C. continues adopting a hard line on the distribution of fourth vaccine doses.
This is the case even after Global News B.C. reporter Richard Zussman revealed that 226,000 doses intended for the vaccine-hesitant will expire at the end of July.
In B.C., you have to be 70 years of age or older and have gone six months since a previous COVID-19 vaccination to qualify for a fourth dose.
There are exceptions: Indigenous people, for example, can get a fourth dose if they’re 55 or older.
Below, you can read other exceptions listed by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control for those between the ages of 60 and 69.
However, when the Georgia Straight asked the Ministry of Health about who qualified for a fourth COVID-19 vaccination, it did not include what’s written after the letter “d”: “Caregiver of a frail elderly or moderately to severely immunosuppressed person”.
So it remains unclear in B.C. if a person between 60 and 69 who is a caregiver for either a frail elderly person or a moderately to severely immunosuppressed person is able to receive a fourth COVID-19 vaccination.
Yet it seems pretty clear from the exemptions above that if you are a cancer survivor or have kidney disease or have heart disease or have multiple sclerosis or have had a transplant and you’re under 70 in B.C., you will not qualify for a fourth COVID-19 vaccination under existing rules.
Why is B.C. being more restrictive with COVID-19 booster shots than Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan (where you only need to be 50-plus), as well as the entire United States?
Health Minister Adrian Dix needs to come clean on that.
What possible justification is there for withholding a fourth COVID-19 shot for British Columbians under 70, especially the immune-compromised, when 226,000 vaccine doses are set to expire next month?
Why is Dix so convinced that he knows better than the governments of Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan?
We don’t know the answer.
That’s in part because our pusillanimous B.C. Liberal MLAs refuse to hold the provincial NDP government accountable for its COVID-19 policies.
Some on social media are speculating that the booster shots are being withheld as part of a population-level experiment—conducted without the people’s consent—on the efficacy of delaying second booster shots.
Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, through their actions, are giving oxygen to this hypothesis.
Who knows? There might even be a scientific justification for withholding booster shots.
But in the absence of evidence provided by the B.C. government, the health minister must get in front of a microphone on Monday (June 27) and provide a coherent explanation.
Failure to do so will only fuel more suspicion about the motives behind the government’s policy.
Perhaps it’s worth noting that in January 2021, Science published a study involving 188 people, which offered a glimmer of hope.
It showed that more than 95 percent of those who had recovered from COVID-19 had immune systems demonstrating “durable” memories of the virus, lasting up to eight months.
This prompted speculation on the National Institutes of Health website that the immune systems of those who are vaccinated would have lasting memories of the virus.
But a study of 188 people is insufficient as the basis for an entire provincewide policy.
Some might wonder if the government isn’t making fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccines available to those under 70 because of the cost of distribution or due to the labour shortage in the health-care sector.
Others might suspect it’s because the B.C. government thinks everyone is going to get COVID-19 anyway, so why bother?
If that’s the real reason, it’s a monumental disservice to those with compromised immunity. This should demand a response from Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender that goes well beyond writing a letter to Henry. Like by holding a public inquiry under section 47.15 of the B.C. Human Rights Code.
In the meantime, show us the evidence, Minister Dix, for why so many British Columbians are being denied a fourth COVID-19 vaccination.
And if you’re unwilling to do that, then please step aside so another health minister can do this in your place.
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