Rob Norris joins Canadian Light Source

Former provincial cabinet minister Rob Norris is joining the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan, as Senior Government Relations Officer.

“Rob brings a unique depth of experience in our parliamentary system, as well as key policy areas, including innovation, post-secondary education, and industry-related research. I have no doubt he will be of enormous help in strengthening our relationships with government stakeholders at every level, and increasing awareness about the valuable contributions our scientists are making,” said Rob Lamb, CLS Chief Executive Officer.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: CLS CEO Rob Lamb, Environmental & Earth Science Manager Chithra Karunakaran and Senior Government Relations Officer Rob Norris talk on the CLS mezzanine.

Discovery may improve cystic fibrosis treatment

A University of Saskatchewan medical research team has made a groundbreaking finding with potential to lead to more effective, longer-lasting and better-tolerated treatments for cystic fibrosis (CF).

“Though we’re still at an early stage for developing new treatments, this is a major discovery of considerable potential relevance to CF patients,” said Dr. Juan Ianowski (PhD), a physiologist at the USask College of Medicine and senior author of a paper on the finding published today in the online Nature Research journal Scientific Reports.
For over 20 years, doctors have treated CF patients with an inhaled concentrated salt solution called hypertonic saline to increase the volume of airway surface liquid (ASL)—a microscopically thin liquid lining that helps remove infected secretions from the clogged chest of a CF patient. The scientific consensus has been that an osmotic reaction drawing water from the blood was responsible for the beneficial increase in ASL from this saline treatment.
But by using synchrotron imaging at the Canadian Light Source (CLS), the national research facility at USask, the nine-member team has concluded that scientists have not completely understood the body’s reaction to the saline treatment.
>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Dr. Julian Tam (MD) and Dr. Juan Ianowski (PhD) are researchers with the university’s Respiratory Research Centre.

Understanding the protein responsible for regulating heartbeats

A new research project uses the Canadian Light Source to help researchers understand the protein responsible for regulating heartbeats. Errors in this crucial protein’s structure can lead to potentially deadly arrhythmias, and understanding its structure should help researchers develop treatments. This protein, calmodulin (CaM), regulates the signals that cause the heart to contract and relax in almost all animals with a heartbeat.

“Usually you find some differences between versions of proteins from one species to another,” explains Filip Van Petegem, a professor in the University of British Columbia’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “For calmodulin that’s not the case—it’s so incredibly conserved.”

It also oversees hundreds of different proteins within the body, adjusting a broad array of cellular functions that are as crucial to our survival and health as a steady heartbeat.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: A surface representation of the disease mutant CaM (D95V, red) in complex with the piece of the voltage-gated calcium channel (blue).

Know your ennemy

Light source identifies a key protein interaction during E. coli infection

Escherichia coli is a common source for contaminated water and food products, causing the condition known as gastroenteritis with symptoms that include diarrhea, vomiting, fever, loss of energy, and dehydration. In fact, for children or individuals with weakened immune systems, this bacterial infection in the gut can be life-threatening.

One of the microbes responsible for gastroenteritis, known formally as enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC), causes infections by directing a pointed, needle-like projection into the human intestinal tract, releasing toxins that make people sick.

“Enteropathogenic E. coli can fire toxic proteins from inside the bacterium right into the cells of your gut lining,” says Dustin Little, a post-doctoral researcher in the Brian Coombes lab at McMaster University’s Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Dustin Little and Brian Coombes in the lab.
Credit: Dustin Little. 

Improving lithium-ion battery capacity

Toward cost-effective solutions for next-generation consumer electronics, electric vehicles and power grids.

The search for a better lithium-ion battery—one that could keep a cell phone working for days, increase the range of electric cars and maximize energy storage on a grid—is an ongoing quest, but a recent study done by Canadian Light Source (CLS) scientists with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) showed that the answer can be found in chemistry.
“People have tried everything at an engineering level to improve batteries,” said Dr. Yaser Abu-Lebdeh, a senior research officer at the NRC, “but to improve their capacity, you have to play with the chemistry of the materials.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: The decomposition of a polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) binder in a high energy battery.
Credit: Jigang Zhou

New research helps pursuit for malaria vaccine

Scientists from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) identify structure of key malaria protein

Using technology available at the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, SickKids scientists have taken an important step forward on the path to finding effective biomedical interventions to halt the spread of malaria, a disease that affected an estimated 216 million people worldwide in 2016 alone.

Jean-Philippe Julien, a scientist in the Molecular Medicine program at SickKids, and his colleagues focused on a molecule known to be essential for the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum to go through the sexual stages of its lifecycle. Disrupting that stage of the lifecycle has the potential to reduce infections and deaths from malaria because parasite transmission between humans would be blocked by inhibiting parasite development in the Anopheles mosquito.

“The protein we looked at was identified several years ago as an important target for malaria parasite biology,” says Julien, who is also a Canada Research Chair in Structural Immunology and an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Biochemistry and Immunology at the University of Toronto. “The field has tried for over a decade to clarify its structure in order to guide the development of biomedical interventions that can curb the spread of malaria.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: One of the structures of the malaria protein (orange) being recognized by the humanized blocking antibody (green and blue).

First in situ X-ray Absorption study of liquid battery cells

A greener future depends on better batteries: to move away from fossil fuels, we need rechargeable batteries with higher power and energy density to store intermittent energy from solar and wind. Moreover, these batteries could completely replace fossil fuels in vehicles.

Metal-air batteries seem like the answer, with the highest theoretical ability to pack energy into a small space (a property called energy density) of all current battery types.
“If we can achieve the theoretical energy density of metal air batteries and use them in vehicles, we can have much more driving range and make them more competitive with internal combustion engines that are currently used in cars,” says Mohammad Banis, a Western University researcher whose recent work looked at the charge and discharge cycles of a sodium-air battery in action.

Banis, who works in Andy Xueliang Sun’s clean energy research group at Western, spent a full year stationed at the Canadian Light Source to develop new tools for battery research. Observing the real time behaviour of material during charge cycles of a metal air battery presents a puzzle: the soft X-ray technique used typically requires a vacuum chamber, which makes it particularly difficult to study a liquid system.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website.

Image: Mohammad Banis at a Canadian Light Source beamline where he studies batteries.

Highly efficient single-atom catalyst could help auto industry

A longer-lasting, higher-efficiency platinum catalyst has been developed by a Dalhousie University-led team, a result with major implications for the automobile industry.

Platinum catalysts help deactivate toxic exhaust gases from traditional car engines. Platinum is also used to help drive the chemical reactions that make zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cells possible – a technology that could transform automobiles as we know them.

The new catalyst combines gold and platinum to form what’s known as a single-atom catalyst, resulting in nearly 100-fold increases in efficiency over market platinum catalysts, says Peng Zhang, the Dalhousie professor who led this research.
Not only is efficiency improved at the outset, but it is maintained through the catalyst’s lifetime: normally, a platinum catalyst works less well over time as carbon monoxide molecules tightly bond to and block platinum from helping reactions along.
Improvements come from two properties: the single atom structure, which maximizes platinum’s active surface area, and the unique electronic properties that adding gold to create an alloy helps to achieve.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: The blue balls represent platinum atoms, surrounded by gold atoms (yellow). This structure maximizes the platinum catalyst’s efficiency.

Innovative educational programs at Canadian Light Source

NSERC PromoScience awards $125K to innovative educational programs at Canadian Light Source.

The Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan has been awarded $125,000 by NSERC’s PromoScience program, to deliver innovative educational programs expected to reach students in over 100 schools across Canada.
PromoScience funding will enable teachers and students to perform hands-on research addressing real-world issues, through existing and new programs.

A new initiative, the Trans-Canadian Research & Environmental Education (TREE) project, will allow students from even the most remote communities across Canada to participate in a national research program in partnership with the Mistik Askiwin Dendrochronology (MAD) Lab at the University of Saskatchewan, using tree cores to study the environmental history of their community.

In an unprecedented collaboration between research and education, students will gather tree core samples and mail them to the CLS, where scientists will examine their chemical signatures while live streaming with the students who collected each sample. Teaching resources will help students to make sense of the data and to compare with other student samples from across the country, in order to understand how chemical changes in different tree cores correlate to their community’s environmental history.

“Students will learn about the life and nutrient cycles of trees, the trees’ ability to capture information in rings, and the nutrients in soil by working through modules and activities designed to engage students in the areas of STEM and traditional knowledge,” said Tracy Walker, Education Programs Lead at the CLS.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

A new approach for finding Alzheimer’s treatments

Considering what little progress has been made finding drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease, Maikel Rheinstädter decided to come at the problem from a totally different angle—perhaps the solution lay not with the peptide clusters known as senile plaques typically found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, but with the surrounding brain tissue that allowed those plaques to form in the first place.
It was a novel approach that paid off for Rheinstädter and his team of researchers from McMaster University who used the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon as part of a study of the effect various compounds have on membranes in brain tissue and the possible impact on plaque formation.

“Alzheimer’s disease has interested me for a long time,” said Rheinstädter, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Origins Institute at McMaster. “It is something almost every Canadian will be affected by in their lives.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Adam Hitchcock, Adree Khondker and Maikel Rheinstädter.

Researchers provide new insights into fate of Franklin Expedition

Synchrotron studies of bone and teeth have led a multi-institution team of scientists to conclude that lead poisoning did not play a pivotal role in the deaths of crew members of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845, says a paper published today in the journal PLOS ONE.
“Our findings don’t mean the crew members weren’t exposed to high levels of lead, and they don’t mean the sailors weren’t impacted. But our findings don’t lend support to massive and sustained lead poisoning that would have compromised them any more than any sailor of that era would have been compromised,” said David Cooper of the University of Saskatchewan, an author of the paper.

Data collected by the team don’t support the theory that compromised physical and/or neurological health resulting from lead poisoning prompted the stranded sailors’ fatal march southward in April 1848 to try to reach a Hudson Bay Company post, said Cooper, Canada Research Chair in Synchrotron Bone Imaging in the Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology at the U of S College of Medicine.
That theory arose from previous analyses of bone, hair and soft tissue samples from the frozen bodies of the sailors, which had found they had high levels of lead in their tissue.
The 11-member team includes Treena Swanston, who was a post-doctoral fellow on Cooper’s team at the U of S when the research began and is currently an assistant professor at MacEwan University. She is lead author of the paper.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Sanjukta Choudhury (U of S), David Cooper (U of S), and Brian Bewer (CLS) at a CLS beamline.

Imaging the inner ear promises to be new gold standard for hearing researchers

Her interest in providing people who suffer from sensorineural hearing loss with a richer music-listening experience has led a young Harvard researcher to the Canadian Light Source (CLS) and to a discovery that opens the door to exciting new avenues for the study and diagnosis of human inner ear diseases.
“Hearing loss is such a widespread problem and my hope is that our work will eventually help us better diagnose and treat it. People are just not aware of how sensitive the auditory system is to trauma, and how isolating and depressing it can be to lose one’s ability to communicate fluidly with others,” says Janani Iyer, a PhD candidate in the Harvard-MIT Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology program.

A musician herself, Iyer came to Saskatoon to tackle the problem of how to create detailed images of the delicate structures that allow humans to hear.
“Part of what drew me to this is that, despite its prevalence, hearing loss is incredibly understudied and incredibly underfunded,” she said.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Specialized scientists from all over the world attending XRM2018

More than 300 experts from all over the world are coming to Saskatoon to explore one of the hottest fields in synchrotron science, putting the city on the global scientific map.

“X-ray microscopy is absolutely cutting-edge because both the technology and the applications are developing very rapidly,” says Stephen Urquhart, chair of the XRM2018 conference and a chemistry professor at the University of Saskatchewan. “These microscope techniques are quite powerful for a wide range of areas from scientists studying medicine to scientists studying materials. On the technology side, the developments in light sources also help with the development of more powerful and advanced microscopes.”

Synchrotrons, including the U of S Canadian Light Source, produce light that’s millions of times brighter than the sun. Using the X-ray portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, scientists shine that light on what they are studying and then use specially designed microscopes to study matter at the molecular level. The CLS has five beamlines dedicated to X-ray microscopy.

The X-ray microscopy experts attending XRM2018 will be coming from 24 countries. During the week-long conference, 76 leaders in this field of science will present their research findings. In addition, 200 scientific posters will be on display. “We are doing good things at the Canadian Light Source and by hosting the meeting here we get a chance to highlight the work that we do to people around the globe,” says Urquhart, who adds that the recent shut-down at the CLS due an equipment failure won’t interfere with the conference.

Printing nerve scaffolds

Engineering 3D bio-printed scaffolds to help regenerate damaged peripheral nervous systems

In the last decade or so, 3D printing has experienced a surge in popularity as the technology has become more precise and accessible. Now, researchers from the University of Saskatchewan are looking at how we can use 3D printing to help damaged nervous systems to regrow.

The peripheral nervous system, which controls the body beyond the brain and the spinal cord, can be damaged by poor diet, toxins, and trauma. It can also be damaged by diseases such as diabetes, which affects about 422 million people worldwide, and 3.4 million people in Canada.

Damage to the peripheral nervous system can affect our sense of touch and our motor control. The current standard for treating large gaps in the nervous system due to damage is nerve autografts, where donor nerves from another part of the body are used to repair the damaged parts.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: The tiny, bio-printed scaffolds are less than a centimeter long on each side.

Fuel cells from plants

Using elements in plants to increase fuel cell efficiency while reducing costs

Researchers from the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, Québec are looking into reeds, tall wetlands plants, in order to make cheaper catalysts for high-performance fuel cells.

Due to rising global energy demands and the threat caused by environmental pollution, the search for new, clean sources of energy is on.

Unlike a battery, which stores electricity for later use, a fuel cell generates electricity from stored materials, or fuels.

Hydrogen-based fuel is a very clean fuel source that only produces water as a by-product, and could effectively replace fossil fuels. In order to make hydrogen fuel viable for everyday use, high-performance fuel cells are needed to convert the energy from the hydrogen into electricity.

Hydrogen fuel cells use platinum catalysts to drive energy conversion, but the platinum is expensive, accounting for almost half of a fuel cell’s total cost according to Qiliang Wei, a PhD student in Shuhui Sun’s group from the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique – Énergie, Matériaux et Télécommunications who studies lower-cost alternatives to platinum catalysts.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Research shows how to improve the bond between implants and bone

Research carried out recently at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) in Saskatoon has revealed promising information about how to build a better dental implant, one that integrates more readily with bone to reduce the risk of failure.

“There are millions of dental and orthopedic implants placed every year in North America and a certain number of them always fail, even in healthy people with healthy bone,” said Kathryn Grandfield, assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton.

A dental implant restores function after a tooth is lost or removed. It is usually a screw shaped implant that is placed in the jaw bone and acts as the tooth roots, while an artificial tooth is placed on top. The implant portion is the artificial root that holds an artificial tooth in place.

Grandfield led a study that showed altering the surface of a titanium implant improved its connection to the surrounding bone. It is a finding that may well be applicable to other kinds of metal implants, including engineered knees and hips, and even plates used to secure bone fractures.

About three million people in North America receive dental implants annually. While the failure rate is only one to two percent, “one or two percent of three million is a lot,” she said. Orthopedic implants fail up to five per cent of the time within the first 10 years; the expected life of these devices is about 20 to 25 years, she added.

“What we’re trying to discover is why they fail, and why the implants that are successful work. Our goal is to understand the bone-implant interface in order to improve the design of implants.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website