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Research and Innovation

INNOVATION NEWSLETTER

INNOVATION - Ryerson University Research & Innovation Newsletter

Issue 27: May/June 2017

Making Impact

Welcome to a special edition of Innovation.

As the first edition we have published since my arrival as Vice-President, Research and Innovation (VPRI), I am delighted to share with you some of the latest developments and game-changing research undertaken by our researchers. This Innovation edition holds the promise of tomorrow and reflects on the foundation of excellence in a variety of fields and disciplines that distinguish Ryerson.

The stories reflect some of the many reasons I was drawn to join Ryerson this spring as VPRI. As Ryerson finds its place on the innovation stage, our faculty, students and post-doctoral trainees are having an impact on our communities and beyond in ways that only evidence-based knowledge can.

In this issue, we highlight the following:

The work of professor Rupa Banerjee (Business Management) is effecting change even as this edition is published. Already, the government of Canada has implemented new hiring practices that incorporate some of the recommendations she has made, including name-blind recruiting.

Professor Mark Campbell (Media) is highlighting the need for a more inclusive Canada, especially from the perspective of our cultural mosaic, and to honour those who contribute to our rich history.

Professor Candice Monson (Psychology) has created protocols for addressing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that are known around the globe and have become the new standard for not only treating PTSD but also making life without further symptoms possible.

The work of professor Victor Yang (Electrical and Computer Engineering), whose 7D Surgical imaging suite recently received Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada approval, is set to be rolled out in hospitals all over North America. This technology has the potential to reduce operating times and complications associated with complex spine and brain surgery.

The international work of professor Tara Collins (Child and Youth Care) and professor Henry Parada (Social Work) is changing lives in countries around the globe as they both engage in projects that are making the world a safer place for children to grow and thrive.

Professor Sarah Sabatinos’ (Biology) work with yeast cells is showing promise in helping to solve the question of why some cells escape cancer treatment and go on to form secondary cancers.

Ryerson researchers are set to be thought leaders and change-makers as we forge ahead in writing Canada’s history, creating impact both at home and across borders.

Steven N. Liss
Vice-President, Research and Innovation 

 

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Image: Rupa Banerjee works at the Ted Roger's School of Management where her research is changing the way large organizations look at hiring new employees. Photo credit: Carrie Duncan

Documenting the struggles of skilled and under-skilled migrant workers, Ryerson professor of business management Rupa Banerjee’s research is changing policy.

Leading a study titled Do Large Employers Treat Racial Minorities More Fairly?, Rupa and her team applied for real jobs using simulated resumes. They found that those applicants with Asian-sounding last names were far less likely to get calls back from employers than those with English-sounding names. Moreover, small companies were more likely to show bias. And while companies and large organizations may have general hiring practices that aim to eliminate racial discrimination, implicit bias based on names makes it difficult for applicants to even get through the front door.

As a result of this study, policy changes are being implemented by the government of Canada that will impact hiring practices.

“Last month there was a policy change, where they announced that within several of their largest departments, they are testing name-blind hiring practices,” said Rupa.

While removing names doesn’t eliminate all ethnic markers, it’s a start toward less discrimination in hiring practices, she noted. This work builds on Rupa’s previous work, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, which found that individuals who come to Canada as live-in caregivers face considerable discrimination in the workforce despite many of them being highly qualified.

In her previous project, the team analyzed the results of 640 surveys and 40 focus groups nationwide. They developed fact sheets for not-for-profit groups to use in assisting women who arrive in Canada as live-in caregivers and are looking to transition to more skilled work.

“The findings were, not surprisingly, that many of the women remain in low-skilled work in these categories: nanny, cleaner, service sector or manufacturing jobs,” said Rupa. “The fact remains that many of these women are skilled, and come to Canada under the live-in caregiver program in order to gain entry to the country with the hopes of moving up to more skilled work after they have completed their commitment to their sponsors.” Instead, factors such as financial constraints kept them in their employers’ homes and kept them from adding to their Canadian skillset. “They are stuck in this rut,” said Rupa. “The women feel stigmatized and pigeon-holed.”

This study led to advocacy work for women in the live-in caregiver program, noted Rupa, as it was conducted with a number of agencies that assisted women in that field.

Most recently, Rupa has undertaken the development of an app to help connect precariously employed workers with social supports and job connections. Through a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Catalyst grant, as well as the help of industry and community partners, she hopes to roll out the app to enable those in precarious work situations to find resources around them.

 

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Image: Professor Mark Campbell sits in the Allan Slaight Radio Institute Studios, where he teaches Radio and Television arts. Photo credit Carrie Duncan

When Radio and Television Arts School of Media professor Mark V. Campbell started digging through the basements of local hip-hop DJs, he found an entire generation of hip-hop history captured and boxed up as vinyl recordings, original event flyers, and hand drawn vision boards of music videos.

Mark first grew interested in creating this archive when he tried researching Canadian hip-hop history online for a chapter he was commissioned to write in a high school text book entitled Black History: Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas. What he found was a complete void of information. “This is a full decade after Napster, the internet is everywhere, and I can’t find anything online,” he said. “All of the things the hip-hop community had done in the 1980s and 1990s, all of the zines that were published… they were nowhere to be found.”

The unspoken, unshared history of hip hop in Toronto was at risk of disappearing — put aside as insignificant memorabilia of a bygone era. Mark made it his mission to document and archive it online. From that passion grew an online archive of Canadian hip-hop history, known as Northside Hip Hop, that documents the roots of the musical genre in Toronto and across the country and reflects the importance of this culture for a generation of marginalized youth.

To get more contributions for the archive project, Mark started tapping into networks of Toronto hip-hop community members whom he had met as a radio DJ in the late 1990s.

“When I started talking to people and asking questions about it, they realized this is important,” said Mark. “I want to reposition these folks as knowledge makers, and I want them to tell their stories.”

A lot of the Toronto hip-hop scene is rooted here at Ryerson, Mark said. Ron Nelson, a DJ and concert promoter of the era, put Toronto on the map with his The Fantastic Voyage show on CKLN 88.1fm — the former Ryerson college radio station. The culture of hip hop grew around parties hosted by people like Ron who brought American acts to Canada to perform. But those late-night parties and concerts, attended by an entire generation of Caribbean youth in Toronto, are not the kind of stories that make it into dinnertime conversation today.

Northside Hip Hop Archive started off in Toronto as a curated exhibit of hip-hop culture from the 1980s, titled t-dot pioneers. After receiving funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage in 2015, Northside Hip Hop Archive created “I Was There!” project, which included other cities such as Montréal, Hamilton, and Saskatoon.

“As a part of the ‘I Was There!’ project, we have archive fellows in different cities and we did several public events with them,” Mark said. His aim is to spark pride in Canadian culture and to encourage members of Canadian hip-hop communities to see themselves as agents of knowledge production whose creativity has enhanced the fabric of this country. Historically, marginalized groups in Canada have not had their cultural contributions validated through documentation or accurate media portrayals.

Hip hop speaks to disenfranchised groups, said Mark, as it “speaks truth to power,” creating a sense of value for marginalized and racialized youth living on society’s margins. This is why hip hop’s appeal is sustained globally, including in places like Mongolia and Peru. In cities like Saskatoon, the Indigenous community has its own hip-hop scene, with many youths embracing the style that gave them the confidence to challenge their circumstances and question authority through creative expression.

Capturing all aspects of hip hop as part of Canada’s cultural mosaic is Mark’s end goal for the Northside Hip Hop Archive. “Before Drake, people didn’t think Canadians contributed to the cultural landscape of hip-hop culture,” Mark said. “Part of this project is to change that narrative.”

 

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Image: Candice Monson is researching ways to further improve therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder patients, including involving families in the therapy process.

Providing access to the most cutting-edge therapy is psychology professor Candice Monson’s mission for helping individuals, including war veterans, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Through support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and other international grants, she is currently working on translating the results of years of research into programs to train clinicians and provide support for PTSD patients around the world.

She and her colleagues’ methods are now the frontline of recommended treatments internationally, including in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. “There are a lot of reasons why people don’t want to, or can’t come in for, face-to-face therapy: stigma, financial resources, family demands, psycho-social demands, geography, and more,” said Candice. “But it doesn’t matter if I build something that works if no one does it. So I’m keen to capitalize on technology to bridge that gap and get these treatments to people who are suffering.”

When she started researching these kinds of treatments, PTSD was “managed” rather than treated. “It was a chronic, pernicious life sentence. The best we could do was relieve suffering and offer palliative care,” said Candice. “These days, I am really passionate about getting these treatments to the individuals that need them.”

Candice’s treatment takes the individuals back to the memories of their traumatic events to consider how they make sense of them. In doing so, they can examine the event and correct any issues that are stopping them from healing. The therapies can be uncomfortable and involve “opening the wound and cleaning it out so it will heal,” but it’s a short-term discomfort for those who can go on to live without the disorder once their treatment is complete. Her research is showing that individuals who partake in her protocol of trauma-based cognitive behaviour therapy can expect a recovery rate of 75 per cent.

Yet there is still the pressing issue of getting these treatments to PTSD patients who are unable to attend face-to-face sessions. As such, Candice’s work also includes the creation of internet-delivered therapy where individuals will have access to a coach who will help them work through the modules from the comfort of their own home. “Our goal is the make the treatments as quick and effective as possible,” she said. “The truth is that we will never have enough clinicians to deliver the treatment to those who are suffering.”

Additionally, Candice has included several partners in her research. “Due to the interpersonal nature of trauma and the symptoms that result from it, PTSD is very interpersonal,” she said. “And having a supportive network is a top indicator for successful recovery.”

Currently, she is working on a project funded by CIHR to test different ways to deliver the treatments and determine which ways are most effective, including intensive couples' therapies and the inclusion of methylenedioxy-methamphetamine to increase the empathy of participants.

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Image: Victor Yang, a neurosurgeon and Ryerson professor of engineering stands in a 7D Surgical medical suite.

From idea to adoption, there are many steps in between when inventing new technologies, as Dr. Victor Yang has recently found out. Both a biomedical engineering professor and a neurosurgeon, he has created an innovation that will help improve the speed and success rates of complex surgeries that involve the brain and spine.

In 2009, Victor sought to answer a difficult question: how can surgeons gain the ability to see below the surface of a patient’s skin without making a single cut?

He assembled a Ryerson-based team that consisted of Beau Standish and Adrian Mariampillai, who were his post-doctoral fellows at the time, as well as engineer Michael Leung and scientist Peter Siegel. With support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering and Council of Canada and Mitacs Canada, the cross-disciplinary team was able to tackle the problem collaboratively, with each member bringing their unique skills to the table.

Victor and his team created 7D Surgical, a medical imaging device company that uses light emitting diode (LED) lighting in the operating room to shine a unique sequence of light onto the patient. The light reflecting off the surface of the surgical site is captured and used to create a three-dimensional topographical image. Paired with the patient’s CT or MRI scans, this image allows surgeons to better visualize what is below the skin’s surface.

Since the creation of the technology, the prototype has been used in clinical trials for more than 170 procedures. “Our research is showing that the imaging device is creating these images much faster, allowing surgeons to complete the procedures in less time,” said Victor. “This in turn will reduce complications and improve surgical results of these complex procedures.”

Through continued support from grants like a $1 million loan from FedDev, Victor has been able to refine the product enough to bring it to market. Mass adoption is possible in the near future, as both Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved 7D Surgical for use in hospitals.

The entrepreneurial environment at Ryerson allowed Victor and his team to grow and eventually bring this technology to market. “We were fortunate to have the backing of the university and the encouragement to pursue grants and funding through angel investors,” Victor said.

7D Surgical is introducing a disruptive technology that Victor has had the opportunity to use during his clinical trials. He is excited at the prospect of offering other surgeons the same capabilities, having seen the results first hand.

Marina de Souza is one of the clinical trial patients. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor last year, self-described as “the size of a baseball,” causing numbness on part of her head and arm. As part of the clinical trial she had her tumor removed at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre after a nine-hour surgery. Now almost a year later, Marina is living her life, working and travelling. “I know that I’ve been fortunate in my quality of care,” said Marina. “I’m truly grateful for the work of Dr. Yang and his team.”

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Researchers at Ryerson are engaged in the worldwide protection of youth, recognizing not only their individual rights but also seeking their input in developing the policies and protocols that will enhance their safety and security.

Professors Tara Collins and Henry Parada have established networks that span borders and created partnerships that bring together academics, policy makers, and even the youth themselves. While their projects are distinct, their goals are similar: increasing the protection of children and bolstering the policies and protocols in place for those protections.

Tara’s work spans Canada, Brazil, South Africa, Scotland, and China. As a professor at Ryerson's School of Child and Youth Care, her aim is to get children and young people involved in the dialogue of creating protection policies in order to ensure that their rights are accurately reflected and respected.

“While experts talk about the importance of participation, they find it difficult in practice,” said Tara. “Often when youth are consulted, they don’t have any actual input in the final results.”

Through a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Partnership Development Grant, the “International and Canadian Child Rights Partnership” was formed with members from academia and non-governmental organizations. The team is highlighting a gap in the system: due to a number of underlying factors such as the lack of recognition of children’s capacities, institutional barriers, competing agendas, and the complexities of child rights, agencies around the world struggle with how to acquire information from youth and how to translate that information into protection policies.

“We are currently in the process of doing a literature review and key informant interviews,” said Tara. “What we have realized is that there is very little monitoring going on.”

A Child and Youth Advisory Committee has been established as well, and they will be part of the ongoing research throughout the project. The Committee’s participation is the first step in bridging the gap between institutional knowledge of children’s needs and the knowledge created through the experiences of children and young people.

A professor at Ryerson’s school of social work, Henry and his team work mainly in the Americas, including the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Trinidad and Tobago, and their diasporas here in Canada.

Through a Global Affairs grant to work in the Dominican Republic, Henry’s team worked to mobilize youth to get them engaged in the political process. The team helped build 20 municipal youth councils and got them involved in political campaigns, elections, and citizenship engagement. Every year, the groups hold meetings, which will culminate this year in a national youth congress.

The Global Affairs grant also encompassed additional outreach efforts. Since he began collaborating with local agencies in the Caribbean, Henry’s team has supported the development of Local Communities of Child Protection (LCOCPs) in 15 geographic locations. An additional 87 LCOCPs have been created in the Dominican Republic by the government as a result of the team’s success and support for sustainability. “This is one area where we have had tremendous impact,” said Henry, whose team has also worked to ensure that the local agencies have a standard set of policies and protocols for practices to ensure child protection.

The creation of the first ever Masters of Social Work graduate program in the Dominican Republic at the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM) was a key component in the project to encourage ongoing research and the creation of knowledge in areas where the need for social workers is great.

Through his most recent SSHRC Partnership Grant, Henry’s research focuses on the immigration of unaccompanied children, violence against children, the institutional practices designed to help children, and the use of social media to disseminate the knowledge produced.

“Due to its collaborative nature, the project has required extra time,” Henry said. “There is tremendous good will between the partners. We want to closely explore the experiences of youth within difficult social conditions.”

 

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Image: Sarah Sabatinos shows the Petri dishes she uses to study yeast cells in the Ryerson MaRS Discovery District labs. Photo credit: Carrie Duncan

From the laboratories on the 11th floor of the south tower in the MaRS Discovery District, Ryerson biology professor Sarah Sabatinos is examining yeast cells in pink Petri dishes to find out how some cancer cells escape treatment.

As a “yeast geneticist,” Sarah said that on the cellular level at least, humans and yeast have a lot in common.

“They have the genes and pathways of humans, trapped inside a plant-like wall,” said Sarah. Yeast cells are excellent for lab use because they are quick-growing, making it easier to see results. As her research progresses, Sarah will test results from her work with yeast in human cells to see if she can replicate the results.

Through work supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada (NSERC), Sarah uses the yeast cells to see which ones escape cancer drug treatments and go on to produce later disease. Despite drug treatment, some cells may still manage to survive and divide. Usually, cells stop dividing if they are damaged.

“They have checkpoints,” said Sarah. “It’s like crossing a border, but in cancer they lose the border guard and don’t stop. Cells keep dividing when they shouldn’t.”

Sarah added fluorescent proteins to normal cellular yeast proteins in order to study how cells are dividing and if they are doing so in abnormal ways. By adding the fluorescence, the team can capture vivid imagery of the cells and see not only the cells that continue to divide after treatment but also those that are disrupted in their division.

“We want to understand how that happens,” said Sarah. “What mutations cause that and then how do we treat those cells to stop the cancer from growing.”

DNA duplication, which happens as cells split, is really what Sarah is focusing on. “When the DNA doesn’t duplicate properly, that causes problems,” she said, explaining that this disruption is documented in cancer growth.

In addition to her work trying to figure out why some cells escape drug treatment and what makes them insensitive, her current NSERC grant focuses on how environmental factors like starving the cells or applying heat will change their responses. In her research thus far, she has found that applying certain environmental factors does have an impact. She is hoping to refine those findings to pinpoint exactly what combinations of factors are most effective at eradicating the “escapees.”

 

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2017 SMSociety Conference

July 28-30, 2017
8:30 a.m. -9 p.m.
Ted Rogers School of Business Management, 55 Dundas St. W., Toronto.

The 2017 International Conference on Social Media & Society (#SMSociety) invites scholarly and original submissions that relate to the broad theme of Social Media & Society. We welcome both quantitative and qualitative work that crosses interdisciplinary boundaries and expands our understanding of the current and future trends in social media research.

 

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