Developing microbeam radiation therapy for inoperable cancer

An innovative radiation treatment that could one day be a valuable addition to conventional radiation therapy for inoperable brain and spinal tumors is a step closer, thanks to new research led by University of Saskatchewan (USask) researchers at the Canadian Light Source (CLS).

Microbeam radiation therapy (MRT) uses very high dose, synchrotron-generated X-ray beams—narrower than a human hair—to blast tumours with radiation while sparing healthy tissue. The idea is that MRT would deliver an additional dose of radiation to a tumor after maximum conventional radiation therapy has been tried, thereby providing patients with another treatment that could extend their lives. 

But the longstanding questions have been: What is the optimal X-ray energy range of the MRT radiation dose that will both penetrate the thickness of the human body and still spare the healthy cells? How can the extremely high radiation doses be delivered and measured with the accuracy necessary for human treatment?

Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image : Farley Chicilo at the Canadian Light Source.

Preventing hospital-acquired pneumonia

Researchers used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to identify a previously unrecognized family of enzymes that put us at risk for deadly diseases.

Klebsiella pneumoniae is responsible for a variety of hospital-acquired infections such as pneumonia and sepsis. The bacterium has become increasingly resistant to antibiotics, making it a focus of interest for health care professionals and researchers.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Chris Whitfield has been working on polysaccharides like LPS throughout his career.

Visualising the bionanomachines that create potent antibiotics

… and other modern drugs.

Researchers from McGill University and Yale University used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to make a discovery that could help design future therapeutic drugs. The research team studied how mega-enzymes, known as nonribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPSs), create potent antibiotics, immunosuppressants and other modern drugs.

In a paper featured on the cover of the May 2020 issue of Nature Chemical Biology, the team reports how they were able to visualize an NRPSs’ mechanical system using the CMCF beamline at the CLS.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Associate Professor Schmeing in the lab

Mapping metals in feathers

Synchrotron technique promising for tracing metals in nature

University of Saskatchewan (USask) and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)  researchers have mapped metals in bird feathers, a technique that could help make environmental monitoring less destructive.

In a recent paper published in X-ray Spectrometry, researchers used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron at USask to examine the level and distribution of zinc in feathers from birds that were fed high-zinc diets.

“The same technique could be applied to toxic metals like mercury, even at low concentrations,” says Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientist Fardausi Akhter. “You could just take a feather from the bird and be able to show if it was exposed to toxic metals present in the environment.”

Akhter, a toxicologist interested in applying synchrotron techniques to environmental questions, first started working on this project with Graham Fairhurst, a USask avian ecophysiologist, when they were both working as postdocs supervised by Catherine Soos. Soos is a wildlife health specialist and research scientist at ECCC, and adjunct professor at USask (Department of Veterinary Pathology, Western College of Veterinary Medicine), whose research focuses on investigating impacts of large-scale environmental changes on wildlife health. Her team often uses feathers as tools to evaluate exposure to toxic metals, and impacts of exposure on health of wild birds.  

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Part of the research team at CLS (left to right): Fardausi (Shathi) Akhter, Jamille McLeod (ECCC), Bruce Pauli (ECCC), Peter Blanchard (CLS), Landon McPhee (ECCC), and Catherine Soos (ECCC)

Helping to protect California farms from drought

Researchers used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to look at where carbon ends up in soil and are contributing to an effort to mitigate the effects of drought for California farmers.

Samantha Ying and Michael Schaefer, both from the Department of Environmental Sciences at University of California (UC) Riverside, are part of a team set on untangling the mystery of a practice upon which farmers have relied for centuries to reduce water use—cover crops. Cover crops are an ancient practice whereby a crop is planted for the sole purpose of fertilizing the soil, not for consumption. It is known that increased organic carbon in soil resulting from the use of cover crops “turns the soil into a sponge that holds water,” explained Ying. “But how does this work? We really don’t know what’s happening to the carbon and soil.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Researcher Samantha Ying loading samples at our SGM beamline.

Helping to grow more food in Africa

University of Saskatchewan scientists help farmers in West Africa improve crops.

Derek Peak and Abimfoluwa Olaleye are using Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan (Usask) to help farmers in Nigeria and the Republic of Benin to grow vegetables less expensively and more sustainably. The USask researchers and their team recently published a paper in Soil Systems that explores the effects of an innovative farming practice, fertilizer microdosing, on two vegetable systems in both countries.

“The overall idea was to scale up good, innovative ideas to solve food security problems in the regions,” says Peak. “We combine agricultural studies out in the field with socio-economic studies and development work.” Olaleye’s interest in the project is both scientific and personal. “Anything agriculture always gets my interest, it’s something I’m passionate about. And helping people is a big bonus. My dad was a farmer back in Nigeria, so I picked up on that,” he says.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Abimfoluwa Olaleye (right) and Taylor Procyshen, a graduate student who helped with the project, working in the laboratory together.

Discovery shows men and women develop heart disease differently

Scientists from McGill University used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to uncover that different minerals block heart valves in men versus women. This discovery could impact how heart disease is diagnosed and treated for the different sexes. Heart disease is the leading cause of death throughout the world. Marta Cerruti, an Associate Professor with McGill University, and her team used the CMCF beamline at the CLS to analyze damaged heart valves from patients who needed transplants.

“What we showed, which was a surprise to us, is that the type of minerals in the heart valves is different between the sexes,” said Cerruti. The beamline allowed them to see that the buildup of minerals in the heart, and its progression to a more bone-like state, is slower in women than in men. There was also a type of mineral found almost exclusively in the female samples. “That finding was completely new, we did not expect it at all. There is no other technique that could have showed us this difference in mineral phase.”

The team hopes this finding could help to develop better diagnostics and therapies.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Ophélie Gourgas, lead author of this research paper, holds a sample that was analyzed at the CLS in the study of vascular calcification that leads to what’s commonly called “the hardening of the arteries.”

Enhanced tandem solar cells set new standard in converting light into electricity

A collaboration between U of T Engineering and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology has created two-layered solar cells that successfully combine traditional silicon with new perovskite technology .

Researchers from University of Toronto Engineering and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have overcome a key obstacle in combining the emerging solar-harvesting technology of perovskites with the commercial gold standard — silicon solar cells. The result is a highly efficient and stable tandem solar cell, one of the best-performing reported to date.
“Today, silicon solar cells are more efficient and less costly than ever before,” says Professor Ted Sargent (ECE), senior author on a new paper published today in Science. “But there are limits to how efficient silicon can be on its own. We’re focused on overcoming these limits using a tandem (two-layer) approach.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Picture: Left to right: Postdoctoral fellows Erkan Aydin (KAUST), Yi Hou (University of Toronto) and Michele De Bastiani (KAUST) are part of an international team that has designed a new type of tandem solar cell. The device combines industry standard silicon manufacturing with new perovskite technology.
Credit: Andrea Bachofen-Echt / KAUST

Diabetes discovery challenges known research

Yale University scientists and colleagues who used the CLS share findings that could lead to a new therapeutic approach to treating diabetes.

A discovery by an international group of scientists challenges known research on diabetes and may open the door to new therapeutic approaches for the disease that affects nearly 500 million people globally.
Their research focused on pyruvate kinase, an enzyme that is involved in communication at the cell level through a process known as protein phosphorylation, which changes the shape of a protein and alters how that protein behaves.
The study is a piece of a larger project that has researchers looking at how different signals, like insulin levels, are interpreted in the liver.
“We set out to understand and characterize insulin signalling in a laboratory model, and we found some activities in that model that were contrary to the textbooks,” said Jesse Rinehart, associate professor in the Department of Cellular & Molecular Physiology at the Yale University School of Medicine.
The team’s findings were published in Cell Reports and have opened up a new area of insight and exploration in an already highly active field of research.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Gassaway et al. identified a phosphorylation site on pyruvate kinase linking it to cyclin dependent kinase (CDK) function in the liver. This new site is part of a CDK pathway stimulated by insulin resistance in vivo. Structural and biochemical characterization reveled that pyruvate kinase phosphorylation does not alter enzymatic activity. Instead phosphorylation dictates cellular compartmentalization. This image depicts the “hand” of CDK reaching out to sequester PKL in the hepatocyte nucleus.
Credit: J. Rinehart and B. Gassaway.

Growing an international community for agricultural synchrotron research

Dr. Chithra Karunakaran’s passion for agriculture has taken her around the world and helped her to grow an international agricultural imaging research community from Saskatoon. 

Given that the Canadian Light Source (CLS) is situated on the University of Saskatchewan (USask) campus, renowned for agriculture, and surrounded by some of the finest farm land in the country, it’s little wonder it has developed a reputation for outstanding agriculture-related research. Location is only part of the story though; some credit has to go to an engineer determined to apply advanced synchrotron techniques to the study of what we grow and what we eat.

The view from Agriculture Science Manager Dr. Chithra Karunakaran’s office window is dominated by the USask College of Agriculture and Bioresources, which also owns the research greenhouse located across the street from the CLS. Both are part of what she termed “the right ecosystem” needed to expand ag research at the facility, a project she has devoted herself to since she arrived in Saskatoon. The key has been adapting beamline techniques to serve the needs of plant, soil and food scientists.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Karunakaran working with synchrotron science equipment. 

Educational science project: what trees tell about your community

Grade 6 to 12 classrooms from across Canada can participate for free.

The Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan has launched a unique initiative that creates opportunities for school students across the country to be directly involved in a national research project: children across Canada can participate in a free, nation-wide science project to learn the secrets trees can tell about their communities.

The Trans-Canadian Research and Environmental Education (TREE) program involves the Canadian Light Source (CLS) and the Mistik Askiwin Dendrochronology Laboratory (MAD Lab), both located at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), in a study of how the environment affects trembling aspen trees. By combining CLS techniques for chemical analysis and MAD Lab expertise in the science of tree rings, TREE aims to paint a detailed picture of how trembling aspen are doing in communities throughout Canada.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Tracy Walker (right) helps students to use the IDEAS beamline at the CLS.

Rare dinosaur skin offers insights into evolution

International team of scientists finds rare piece of preserved dinosaur skin and, in a world first, compares it directly to modern animals to gain insight into evolution.

Mauricio Barbi has loved dinosaurs for as long as he can remember and dreamed of one day being a paleontologist. “When I was a kid, I loved space, stars, and dinosaurs,” he said.
Fast-forward a few years, and Barbi is trekking through the Alberta Badlands alongside famous paleontologist Philip Currie, whose professional life became the inspiration for characters in the Jurassic Park movies. During this fieldwork, he also met paleontologist and rising star, Phil Bell, who had recently found a well-preserved hadrosaur. When he joined Bell in the excavations, Barbi was shocked and thrilled by what they discovered.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Picture of the dig site.

Canadian researchers extend the life of rechargeable batteries

Carbon coating that extends lithium ion battery capacity by 50% could pave the way for next-generation batteries in electric vehicles.

Researchers from Western University, using the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan, found that adding a carbon-based layer to lithium-ion rechargeable batteries extends their life up to 50%.
The finding, recently published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, tackles a problem many Canadians will be familiar with: rechargeable batteries gradually hold less charge over time.
“We added a thin layer of carbon coating to the aluminum foil that conducts electric current in rechargeable batteries,” said lead researcher Dr. Xia Li of Western University. “It was a small change, but we found the carbon coating protected the aluminum foil from corrosion of electrolyte in both high voltage and high energy environments – boosting the battery capacities up to 50% more than batteries without the carbon coating.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Dr. Li in the lab. 

Developing more nutritious crops to feed a growing world

Using synchrotron light to analyze new varieties of peas could be faster, more environmentally friendly, and help to nourish underfed populations around the world.

With thousands of seed samples produced every growing season, Dr. Tom Warkentin needs fast, accurate and cost-effective techniques to assess the nutritional value of the pea varieties he has developed. Now, thanks to two recent studies, techniques available at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron at the University of Saskatchewan show promise for Warkentin and many other plant breeders.

“These studies arose from the question, ‘Can we use the synchrotron to measure the nutrient traits in pea seeds?,’” explained Warkentin, professor of plant science and pulse breeder in the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources. “Improving the nutritional value of peas is a higher and higher priority for us in plant breeding so we wanted to look at the standard approaches we’ve been using to measure nutritional traits versus the techniques available at the CLS.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Scientists Tom Warkentin, Chithra Karunakaran, Jarvis Stobbs, and David Muir with pea samples at our IDEAS beamline.

CLS celebrates 20th anniversary of its launch

From the discovery of an enzyme able to turn any blood into a universal donor type, to a process that creates plastic from sunshine and pollution, to identifying heat-tolerance traits in pea varieties, scientific advances achieved at the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) are being celebrated asv the institution marks the 20th anniversary of its launch. “This unique-in-Canada research centre arose from an unprecedented level of collaboration among governments, universities, and industry in Canada, and represents the single largest investment in Canadian science,” said USask President Peter Stoicheff.  “Strongly endorsed two decades ago by many other universities across Canada and by an international scientific panel, the CLS has made possible cutting-edge research that benefits human and animal health, agriculture, advanced materials, and the environment. For USask’s research community, it has helped us be the university the world needs.”

Construction of the synchrotron facility on the USask campus began in 1999 and its official opening was held Oct. 22, 2004. Since then, thousands of scientists from across Canada and around the world have come to the CLS to run experiments that could not be done elsewhere in Canada.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Using soil to combat climate change

Researchers are using synchrotron light to better understand the impact of climate change on more than three trillion metric tonnes of soil carbon around the world.

Using the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan, scientists from across the United States investigated the plant root mechanisms that control long-term storage of carbon in deep soil. Their findings will have ramifications for global industries such as agriculture, which have touted the benefits of carbon sequestration as their contribution to fighting climate change.

“The significance of our work is we not only show that plants are conduits of carbon into the soil, but the roots also regulate how much carbon the deep soil can store or lose,” said Dr. Marco Keiluweit, a biogeochemist at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture in the University of Massachusetts.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Rhizogenic weathering extract; (full image here)