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July 17, 2017

Volume 31 Issue 2


Welcome to GenOmics!

We cover the latest Genomics news that matters most to Alberta, Canada and the World. The Genome Alberta newsletter for the Omics Generation

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In This Issue
Genomics Enterprise News Up arrow

Stories that we think will be relevant to Canadian genomics community. If you have anything you’d like to see highlighted here, drop a note to info@genomealberta.ca

Canada has a new public health chief

Infectious disease specialist, Dr. Theresa Tam has been appointed the country’s chief public health officer by Health Minister Jane Philpott. Dr. Tam was picked after a “comprehensive nation-wide competitive process” that began last December and was completed earlier this month, according to Health Canada.

In the position, Dr. Tam will have the job of advising the health minister on public health issues, and working in partnership with provincial and territorial chief medical officers of health, international colleagues, and non-governmental organizations. As Canada’s lead public health professional, she will also be responsible for communicating public health risks to Canadians.

Dr. Tam is an accomplished paediatric infectious disease specialist and a field epidemiologist, who has authored numerous published studies and held senior leadership roles on several World Health Organization committees and international missions, including the first WHO Influenza Pandemic Task Force. She has held several high-ranking positions in the Public Health Agency of Canada, namely deputy chief public health officer and the assistant deputy minister of infectious disease prevention and control, and has co-chaired a number of federal, provincial, and territorial committees, including the public health network council and the antimicrobial resistance steering committee.

Julie Payette as GG sends a powerful message

There was a lot of speculation about who would succeed David Johnston in his role of Governor General of Canada but it is now official. Julie Payette will be Canada’s 29th Governor General and an editorial in the Toronto Star says it is good news for technology. As an engineer, pilot, and astronaut, she should be a role model on the importance of science, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and that women can (and should) have an equal opportunity to rise to the top.

Science Minister Duncan to meet with climate change researchers in the High Arctic

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, will be the first Minister of Science to meet with scientists who are actively monitoring the impacts of climate change in Canada’s most northern regions. During her trip, which takes place from July 17 to 21, the Minister will also tour projects supported by Natural Resources Canada’s Polar Continental Shelf Program. This program supports Arctic science through advice and coordination that facilitate scientific research across the Canadian Arctic. The Minister of Science will also be encouraging the use of Indigenous knowledge in research programs.

Minister Duncan provides encouragement for CWSF grand award winners

Colette Benko, Crystal Radinski, and Danish Mahmood, have a busy summer ahead. They are the Platinum Award Winners from the Canada Wide Science Fair who will be travelling to Estonia in September to represent Canada at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists. Collette and Crystal are from Calgary, and Danish is from London, Ontario. In late June they each received a phone call from the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Canada’s Minister of Science who congratulated them on their success.

Genome Alberta has been supporting Alberta’s science fair activities for the past 10 years and we wish this year’s team the best of luck in their next challenge.

Without funding, Canadian climate science is in peril

The 2017 federal budget did not include renewing the funding for the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research (CCAR) program that has been investigating questions that impact the daily lives of Canadians. Paul J. Kushner, is a professor in the Department of Physics, University of Toronto, principal investigator of the Canadian Sea Ice and Snow Evolution Network and vice-president of CMOS. Wayne Richardson is president of CMOS. Martin Taillefer is president of Maritime Way Scientific and past president of CMOS. They have written an editorial that says it is a small investment that has gone a long way in understanding the effects of a changing climate.

Trending Stories Up arrow

Here is what trended online and in print with our science community over the last 2 weeks. These are not ‘official’ trends but are based on the stories we see most often in our media monitoring reports and our social media reports.

Enjoy the material, and feel free to offer some feedback on the story selection.

White House’s dwindling science office leaves major research programmes in limbo

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has lots of empty desks, though how many are waiting to be filled or ever will be filled depends on which report you believe. One glaring vacancy however is the role of science advisor who, with the help of upwards of 130 staff, provides advice on issues ranging from the environment, to cybersecurity, to science education. The OSTP is also home to the National Science and Technology Council which is chaired by the President and coordinates science and technology policy.

According to Nature: News, there are only 35 staff members left, Huffington Post puts the number at 12, and CBS says the science division has no one left. Staff are reported to have simply left because of the new administration and some because of expired contracts. The White House has confirmed that 35 number but says all the work is still getting done.

Or perhaps not all the work. Planning for the annual White House Science Fair should be well underway and according to CBS there is no sign that anything is planned beyond the administration saying it will happen. Without a head science advisor there are bound to be gaps in the work and it is hard to get a read on when the job will be filled. There seems to be more rumours than there are solid indications of who will assume the role. There is one appointments however that gas made scientists happy. Chris Oliver, a real biologist with a strong track record has been appointed to lead NOAA Fisheries. His role is one of the more important science, environment and natural resource management positions in the federal government and he is respected by both industry and conservationists.

But just to bring you back to the reality of the current U.S. Administration we have this just in as they say in the news business. As we were finishing off our Trending section, President Trump nominated a finance executive for DOE science undersecretary. He is Paul Dabbar, an investment banker. As one Twitter wag put it, “he wouldn’t be my first choice”.

Alberta Epigenetics Network News Up arrow

Study of epigenetic switches in placenta guide cancer treatment

The placenta uses certain phenotypic characteristics to help successfully implant the embryo in the uterus during early pregnancy. These phenotypic characteristics seem to be common with those of cancer. E.g. ability to invade its host tissues, promote angiogenesis, survive hypoxic conditions and escape scavenging by the immune system. Studies have shown the placenta and cancers to have similar DNA methylation patterns, which suggest some common epigenetic mechanisms may be regulating these phenotypic characteristics.
This new study
has shown that patterns of hypomethylation distinguish the placental chorionic villi of first and third trimester. These patterns of hypomethylation are similar to hypomethylation patterns that distinguish tumors from corresponding normal tissues. The study suggests presence of similar epigenetic switches in the placenta during pregnancy and in tumors during neoplastic transformation, which can be characterized and used as biomarkers and drug targets in treatment of cancers.
Source: Epigenetics

Epigenetic exhaustion of T-cells causes drug resistant cancer (and infections)

In a new study published in Cell, researchers from St. Jude Children’s research hospital have shown that immune cells and T-cells get exhausted while fighting invading viruses and caner cells (prolonged antigen exposure). The exhaustion is so intense that patients treated with immunotherapies (immune-checkpoint-blockade mediated rejuvenation) are often non-responsive or have relapse. The study found that a de nova DNA-methylation (epigenetic modulation) in CD8 T-cells was responsible for this exhaustion. Blocking this de nova DNA methylation could effectively reverse the exhaustion and provide for T-cell rejuvenation and improve efficacy of drugs (pharmaco-epigenetic modulation).
Source: Cell.com

The epigenetics behind unique human faces

Why are people’s faces so distinct from one another even though they all have basically the same ‘parts’ serving the same function? French and Swiss researchers wondered what factors affected facial development and their study has been published in Science. Epigenetics turns out to be a key player.
Source: WhatIsEpigenetics.com

Genomics in Society Up arrow

To get your latest full version of Genomics in Society news, visit genomealberta.ca/newsletters
You can subscribe to receive your bi-monthly edition direct to your email, cancel a subscription, and view all of our back issues.

Canadian clinics begin offering stem-cell treatments experts call unproven, possibly unsafe

Canadians counting on the promise of stem cells to help cure their illness have had to travel outside the country to such places as Mexico, China or Arizona. Now they are finding they have Canadian option. Unfortunately the treatments are no more reliable.
Source: National Post

First gene therapy – ‘a true living drug’ – on the cusp of FDA approval

A Food and Drug Administration panel has unanimously recommended that the agency approve the first-ever treatment that genetically alters a patient’s own cells to fight cancer. It is a literal example of personalized medicine as a separate treatment must be created for each patient. Cells from the patient are removed at an approved medical center, frozen, shipped to a Novartis plant for thawing and processing, frozen again and shipped back to the treatment center. The FDA has not officially approved the panel’s recommendation but it is likely to receive the go-ahead. But is it really gene therapy asks Gizmodo.
Source: Calgary Herald and New York Times

LISTEN: Working night shifts may trigger cancer by hindering DNA repair

Workers on night shifts face an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and even certain types of cancers. A a new study is showing this seems to be connected to melatonin which helps regulate our sleep and wake cycles - our circadian rhythms.
Source: CBC Quirks & Quarks

Scientists synthesize smallpox cousin in ominous breakthrough

Alberta scientists are behind a project using commercially available genetic material to piece together the extinct horsepox virus. Horsepox is not known to harm people and is no longer found in nature but the technique used by the University of Alberta team could be used to bring back smallpox. There are good scientific reason behind the research but AAAS Science says it raises the fear of using modern biotechnology as a weapon especially as the project was low cost and used readily available genetic material and technology.
Source: Washington Post

Events Up arrow

Genome Alberta has an extensive Events Calendar on our website. Visit GenomeAlberta.ca to see all the events, and sign up for our newsletters while you're there!

Mining Microbial Genomes and Metagenomes

As part of the Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology's annual meeting, the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DoE JGI) will offer a 1-day workshop on Microbial Genomics and Metagenomics. The workshop will include seminars and extensive hands-on tutorials on how to use the IMG interface for comparative analysis of isolate genomes and metagenomes.

When: Sunday, July 30, 2017, 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Where: Sheraton Denver Downtown, Denver CO

Details and registration information.

Agriculture Bioscience International Conference

Hosted by the Life Science Association of Manitoba and the Government of Manitoba, this year's ABIC Conference is set up to provide three days of guest speakers, student research presentations, exhibitors and networking opportunities for attendees.

A few of the topics to be presented:
  • Quality versus Quantity and the Implication to Food Security
  • Nutrigenomics / Nutrigenetics – How our DNA will shape our diets in the Future
  • Smart Farms - The Link between Biotechnology and Enhanced Nutrition
When: September 25 - 28, 2017
Where: Delta Winnipeg Hotel, Winnipeg, Manitoba

More details on the program, accommodations and registration can be found here.

MedTech Conference

The MedTech Conference (formerly AdvaMed) offers connections with thousands of medical technology professionals for business development, innovative technology, and networking with policymakers, business executives and industry leaders.

When: September 25 - 27, 2017
Where: San Jose, California

Registration & conference details available at the conference website.

SPARK 2017

Registration is now open for SPARK 2017, a clean technology/bioindustrial conference being co-hosted this fall by Emissions Reduction Alberta and Alberta Innovates. The event will provide an opportunity for innovators and researchers to connect with others in their field, and with purchasers, funders, innovation advisers, and industry groups and associations.

SPARK 2017 is expected to attract 400 or more attendees from the oil and gas, agriculture, forestry, clean technology and bioindustrial sectors. Conference sessions will cover a range of topics, including how Alberta is advancing technology through policy and regulation, how other jurisdictions have succeeded in advancing this area, innovators who have successfully accessed funding and what they learned, what the market is demanding today, and next-gen products and technologies.

When: November 6 - 8, 2017
Where: Shaw Conference Centre, Edmonton

View more information on the conference here

4th Annual Canadian Conference on Epigenetics: Mechanisms of Disease

This symposium is intended to bring together epigenetics researchers and key international leaders in the field to engage in cross-disciplinary dialogue on recent advancements in the field of epigenomics with a focus on the impact of epigenetic mechanisms in human disease.

When: November 26 - 29, 2017
Where: The Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler, British Columbia

Conference web site
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