Untapped Area of Research in Stress Hormones

       Everyone has experienced stress before, but where is it all coming from and how can our body deal with it? According to the American Psychological Association, the average stress levels rose from  4.9 to 5.1 out of 10 in 2015. It seems that stress is everywhere, but this can be both good and bad. Stress is a natural response that occurs when we experience a demand that seems threatening. It is a result of brain chemicals called hormones being released in our body in response to the demand. Low levels are healthy as they help us accomplish daily activities, but too much stress can have very negative effects on our physical and mental health. Therefore, managing stress and the hormones related to it can be very important for our overall health. However, research shows that we are missing important facts on how stress hormones are made.

       Jordan Hamden and a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) are investigating how stress hormones are created in the body. Specifically, he looks at the regeneration of a stress hormone called corticosterone in tissues of rats, mice, and songbirds. The creation of corticosterone in these tissues is due to an inactive molecule called 11-dehydrocorticosterone (DHC). DHC regenerates corticosterone and thus, is another source of hormone production (hormones regenerate).

        Jordan’s research team found a way to measure DHC, something that has not been done before. This was accomplished by creating an immunoassay. This test uses other molecules that can tag DHC in the tissue and then make it visible to researchers. Jordan then measured how DHC levels change as mice develop. Results showed that the presence of DHC was most notable during a period of development called the Stress Hyporesponsive period (SHRP). SHRP occurs in both rodents and other species, such as humans, and is unique because it is when normal stress responses are not observed, including the release of stress hormones from the brain. It allows researchers to look at other important, but less obvious processes happening in the body such as hormone regeneration within tissues. As a result, Jordan found that this was when the conversion from DHC to corticosterone was most prominent.


Immunoassays show how some tests are colored differently to tell researchers that the protein in question is present. (Source: Flikr Commons)


Podcast about how this period is gaining fame in research, including Jordan’s.


         Jordan also looked at the stress response of songbirds and rodents, and if DHC levels were affected. He found that DHC increased when the animals were stressed. There are a few theories as to why this occurs but more research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

         Research shows that we do not see the entire picture when considering how the body creates hormones. This can greatly affect treatment plans for hormone-related problems. Additionally, it may allow us to target specific tissues for hormone regulation. Either way, more research is being done so that we can continue our current understanding of how hormones in the body are created.

Short video of how Jordan’s results can have future implications in medicine.


By: Katie Donohoe, Hani Ghaffari, Malavan Subramaniam, Qiuning Lyu

Hyperspectral Cell Imaging: A New Possible Gadget to Combat Cancer

As medical technology make advances and quality of life improves, it has become increasingly common for us to know of someone who has experienced cancer. But if our way of life today is better than it was fifty years ago, why do we hear more about cancer now than before?

To understand why, we should first understand what cancer is and a bit about our bodies. Inside our bodies we have trillions of cells, and every day billions of them die and get replaced through mitosis (a process that splits one cell into two identical cells). Due to the number of times that cells go through mitosis, it’s almost impossible to avoid making a mutation – a mistake in copying (think about your own repetitive experiences). Of course, the body has mechanisms to fix the mutations, and most mutations are harmless anyway, but sometimes the mechanism will miss one. Eventually, over a long enough period of time, the body will miss a mutation that is capable of causing a lethal form of cancer.

So, we learned that if we live long enough, we can’t escape cancer but what is it? Cancer is a general term for more specific diseases, but we just call them cancer because they share a common similarity. Normal cells will go through a death-rebirth cycle, but cancer cells are dysfunctional cells that don’t have the death signal. Instead, the cancer cells just keep dividing, taking away nutrients from the surrounding functioning cells. When a tumour (large lump of cancer cells) form, cancer can also metastasize. This is when part of the tumour breaks off and travels to another part of the body, forming a new cancer site. Cancer is dangerous because if there are not enough functioning cells, the result can be fatal.

Why has cancer become so prominent? We mentioned earlier that we increase our chance of developing cancer over time; cancer is a function of age. Well, fifty years ago, people were more likely to die at younger ages due to injury or other diseases. With new medical advances we have increased our average life span, and have thus increased our chance of developing cancer.

Although researchers have been working towards a cure for cancer, there has been no definitive success yet. However, Dr. Martial Guillaud, a senior cancer researcher at the BC Cancer Research Centre, and his team have just made a strong contribution to cancer research. They have developed a new imaging technique called Hyperspectral Imaging technique that will give medical practitioners accurate information in a short time frame. One benefit to the new imaging technique is that it can predict whether or not a patient will respond to immunotherapy – a treatment that uses your own body to fight against cancer. To gain a better understanding of the research take a look at our video describing the technology and demonstrating the imaging analysis, as well as a listen to our podcast highlighting how the imaging system is supposed to help doctors.


Podcast sound track from CCCM Labs.

Group 3: Simrat Chahal, Cindy San, Eurwin Szeto, Justin Wong


What is Meta-analysis?

What is real research? Is there a true definition to describe the essence of research in science? You may have learned that scientific research is done by constructing a hypothesis, procedure, doing the experiment, and arriving at a conclusion. Is compiling observations from tons of literature consider scientific research?

Back in the 17th century, a paper was published by taking observations from several studies and analyzing the data. This was the first meta-analytical approach back in the 17th century,  but many argued the validity of the research.

How is meta-analysis done?  

The steps involved in meta-analysis are similar to traditional science experiment. Instead of observing chemical reactions in labs or gathering sample in the field, papers relevant to the research are compiled from multiple databases. However, researchers do not decide whether they agree with the results or not.

“The articles themselves are basically the unit of observation,” said Dr. Brooks Kaiser, a resource management economist at the University of British Columbia.

Researchers would simply gather outcomes that are clearly measurable from their selection of papers. Finally, they use statistics to summarize their findings.

For example, Dr. Kaiser decided to investigate whether there was any bias in the scientific community about an invasive species of crabs in Russia and Norway called the Barents Sea Red King Crab. She used meta-analysis to look for a trend in negative biological impacts. Here is a video explaining more about the Red King Crab and her research


Relation to Dr. Kaiser’s research

As we have seen from Dr. Kaiser’s work on the Red King Crab, meta analysis is an excellent method for bridging the gap between different disciplines of research. 

In this particular study, Dr. Kaiser has compiled research from over a thousand scientific publications from multiple countries and uses these findings as data for her economic analysis. This combination of expert biologists and economists makes the key finding that economic incentives may bias scientific research so much more credible.

Check out the podcast below to hear Dr. Kaiser explain the concepts of vertical and horizontal integration in an industrial production regarding the invasive species, the Red King Crab.


Overall, meta-analysis provides researchers with more generalized results which are not only more precise, but also applicable to a wider range of further research processes. This method does not require a strong background in the fields of studies as it enables scientists to simply gather information from studies of multiple disciplines and conduct a single research with the data collected.

Therefore, a meta-analysis could be of great help in those cases where a multi-disciplinary background is absent, as well as when a result that should be contributive to a wider population is in demand.


By Isaac Clark, Siqi Tao, Stacy Wu, Tina Kwon






Hyperspectral Cell Imaging: A New Possible Gadget to Combat Cancer

A Model for Predicting Population Abundance of Species

Vancouver Island as seen from North Shore Mountain. The phytoplankton used in the experiment were sampled from Vancouver Island. (Source: Morgan Strohan)

As the environment changes with time and climate, the ability for a species to survive is dependent on the resources available to support body functions. The process by which nutrients from the environment are converted into the energy needed to support an organism is called metabolism. As temperatures increase, the metabolic rate of species increases; this means that resources in the environment are used up faster to produce energy. While previous studies looked at the effects of temperature on a species’ population growth rate, Dr. Joey Bernhardt and her colleagues decided to look at how temperature affects a species’ population carrying capacity, and how the metabolic theory of ecology (MTE) can explain these effects.

Background of the experiment

Phytoplankton were sampled in areas around Vancouver Island, from the Pacific Ocean.

Several populations of phytoplankton were kept under a fixed supply of resources between 5-38°C for forty-three days. As the phytoplankton’s ideal temperature is 25°C, the researchers measured their oxygen production between 8-24°C so as to see the rates of photosynthesis and respiration (their metabolic functions). It was found that carrying capacity declined with increasing temperature.

Phytoplankton is a simple organism relative to multicellular organisms so it provides a good model within the lab. (Source: Dr. Joey Bernhardt)

The stability of the environment

Carrying capacity describes the maximum size of a species population in a certain environment as a function of time, which is related to the amount of resources available. As resources are limited, the environment can only support a certain number of organisms. Carrying capacity is reached over time as resources are used up and the population growth rate naturally reaches zero.

[The phytoplankton] grow from almost no cells, through an exponential phase, and then eventually they plateau out; upon plateauing, they’ve reached carrying capacity. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Of course, an environment is not stable forever – natural disasters occur, other species evolve and dominate, etc. – thus the carrying capacity of a species population is subject to change. The metabolic theory of ecology can be used to explain the phenomenon of population decline with increasing temperatures.

Listen to the podcast below to hear why!


Why does this all matter?

Given all this information on theories and phytoplankton, what does this really mean as a big picture and why is it important? We know that along with climate change comes warming waters in our oceans. As stated above, warming temperatures have obvious effects on populations, specifically phytoplankton in this case. But just because phytoplankton may seem boring and meaningless to most people doesn’t mean these results don’t have a much bigger meaning to all other species on Earth!

Watch the video below to find out just what phytoplankton have in common with every other species on this planet, and what warming temperatures could really mean…


As we can see, the factors of temperature, metabolism and the surrounding environment all have significant effects on a population. Climate change is currently happening and we are already starting to see the effects on ecosystems around the world, both in oceans and on land. We are not able to predict all outcomes – as there are many unknowns associated with climate change – but Dr. Joey Bernhardt said it best: “One thing we can say for sure is that warming temperatures will undoubtedly accelerate metabolic rate, and this will have predictable effects on abundance.”

By Gabi Rosu, Morgan Strohan, Dan Choi, and Olivia Wong

Raw Meat-Based Pet Foods – Are They Really Good for Your Pets?

Puppy eating kibble pet food (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

We all love our pets dearly, and there is nothing wrong with that. So wouldn’t you want what’s best for your pet’s health? Recently, many cat and dog owners are switching over from dry kibbles and wet-canned foods to a raw pet food diet. The raw pet food diet usually consists of uncooked animal meats, organs, bones, fruits, and vegetables. Many have claimed that they see an increase in their pet’s poop quality, shinier coats, cleaner teeth, and just an overall improvement in their health.  Yet, veterinarians, the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), and CVMA (Canadian Veterinary Medical Association)  don’t agree at all with these claims, and they have a really good reason why.

Many studies have been conducted to analyze raw meat-based pet foods, and show some pretty interesting results. Studies have found bacteria like Salmonella and E.coli in raw meat pet foods, as well as large amounts of these bacteria in the poop of pets being fed raw meat. Salmonella can affect humans and animals, and is known to cause diarrhea (a condition where stool or poop is watery) and are often dehydrated (a condition where there is more water leaving the body, rather than entering). E.coli can also affect both humans and animals, and is similar to Salmonella, except it can cause strong cramps, and bloody vomit and diarrhea. The craziest part is that certain studies have also found that the bacteria in the these types of pet food can resist many kinds of drugs that are meant to kill it. So we know that there’s an insane amount of bacteria found in the raw meat pet foods, and studies show that they can be resistant to drugs. But how does this affect humans and our pets?

There are a lot of health risks that come with eating a raw meat-based diet. Aside from what bacteria like Salmonella and E.coli can cause in humans and pets, pets can fracture their teeth upon eating large bones, become constipated, and rupture their gastro-intestinal tract. The gastro-intestinal tract is the part of the body that deals with digestion, absorption, and excretion of food. Animal and human bodies work similarly by breaking down food to absorb the nutrients and be used for various biological processes. Unfortunately, certain substances are left in the meat products if not cooked and when consumed they can prevent the break down process within the gastro-intestinal tract. Thus, pets that consume these raw meat-based foods can become nutrient deficient. Upon eating raw meat-based foods, pets can also pass on bacteria like salmonella and E.coli from their poop and also from their mouths via licking. To make matters worse, if indeed bacteria is passed on from pets, there is an increase risk of infection in young children, kittens, and puppies, the elderly, and those that are pregnant or have a weak immune system.

To sum everything up, studies can’t conclude the benefits and one should consult with their Veterinarian for diet changes.

Link to the study: https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/raw-meat-based-diets-for-pets 

Colorful Droplets

Water droplets of varying sizes reflect different colours Credit: Zarzar Laboratory, Penn State Source: https://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/194181.php

Pigments, dyes, and the rainbow are one of the many examples of the physical phenomena that create colour. A purple coloured t-shirt appears purple due to scattering and absorption of a certain wavelength of light more than others. The scattering and diffraction of light in a circular droplet forms a spectrum of colours in the atmosphere, which is known as a rainbow. However, an unrecognized mechanism of changing the structural shape of a droplet can also generate hues of colour.

In most cases, oil and water do not go so well together. However, transparent oil droplets have shown that a change in the structural shape of these concave droplets can appear as different colours depending on the viewer’s perspective. Below is a video demonstrating the many hues of colour that appear at different viewing directions.

A group of researchers at Penn State published a paper which explored the origin of these colours by projecting white light into a biphasic (have two phases, water and oil) concave droplet in a petri dish. The light enters the droplet which bounces on the oil-oil interface, and the reflected colours are projected in the shape of a translucent dome, which are the colours you see. They discovered that the curvature of the oil-oil interface in the droplet corresponds to the change in the iridescence. With correct techniques, they were able to manipulate the droplet shape, size, and curvature to produce an image of a blue and green penguin. This research can be of use to a variety of fields from sensors, displays, cosmetics and any colour-changing materials.

A penguin image produced by the reflection of oil in water droplets Credit: Zarzar laboratory, Penn State Source: https://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/194182.php?from=422099

Observation of this phenomenon applies to droplets on transparent surfaces, and you can easily replicate this at home. A container with hot food and a sealed transparent lid will lock the steam forming droplets which will produce hues of colour.


Stacy Wu