Research Roundup

- June 5, 2023

Dalhousie virologists Dr. Eric Pringle, left, and Dr. Brett Duguay (Alison Auld photo)
Dalhousie virologists Dr. Eric Pringle, left, and Dr. Brett Duguay (Alison Auld photo)

Approved drug offers promise of potential antiviral

The spread of SARS-CoV-2 set off a daunting quest to both develop vaccines and look for ways to treat a novel coronavirus that appeared to be highly transmissible and deadly.

 Those efforts included an examination of existing drugs that could be repurposed to safely and effectively treat people infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. 

Virologists at Dalhousie University took on that challenge, using their work researching antivirals for influenza viruses to explore drugs that could be used to treat SARS-CoV-2. They discovered that an FDA-approved drug known as 6-thioguanine, or 6-TG, can inhibit the replication of human coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2. The finding could eventually help in the development of effective, safe treatments for future coronavirus outbreaks.

Researchers: Brett Duguay, Eric Pringle, Craig McCormick; University of Saskatchewan; University of Calgary

Further reading: Dalhousie researchers discover existing drug can disrupt coronavirus replication

Seafood beats beef in nutrition, environmental battle

When it comes to the battle over nutrition and the environment, salmon, herring, mackerel, and wee anchovies may have beef beat. 

Researchers from Dalhousie and Sweden have found that seafood can provide greater nutrition to people with a lower rate of greenhouse gas emissions than beef, pork, and chicken. They found that wild-caught salmon, herring, mackerel, and anchovies, as well as farmed mussels and oysters, had the lowest climate impacts relative to their nutritional value. Half of the seafood species had a higher nutrient density and emitted fewer greenhouse gases than beef, pork, and chicken.

The findings suggest that policies to promote seafood in diets as a substitute for other animal protein could improve future food security and help address climate change.

Researchers: Robert W. R. Parker,  Kathleen Mifflin, Peter Tyedmers; RISE Research Institutes of Sweden; Aquaculture Stewardship Council (The Netherlands)

Further reading: Swapping meat for seafood could mean more nutritious and climate‐friendly diets

Social work scholar ranks top in the world

Dr. Michael Ungar has transformed the way we think about resilience. Challenging assumed wisdom that people independently summon the strength needed to thrive, his work shows that societies also play an important role.  

 The lens provided by Dr. Ungar’s research has come into focus for scholars around the globe, a fact reflected in his recently publicized status as the world’s leading social work researcher based on the impact of his scholarly writing and citations. The ranking was published by the journal Research of Social Work Practice, which drew on a database of more than eight million scientists globally from every discipline and filtered out the top 100 researchers in the field of social work.

His ideas have gained wide recognition across mental health disciplines, including publication in Lancet Psychiatry, and his Resilience Research Centre collaborates with local, national, and international institutions to explore pathways to resilience across cultures.

Further reading: Dalhousie social work scholar ranks top in the world

Dr. Afua Cooper, winner of the Royal Society of Canada's J. B. Tyrrell Historical MedalWeaving Black history into the Canadian narrative

Dr. Afua Cooper is a walker. She says it’s when she does her best thinking. But when she weaves her way through the streets and pathways of Halifax, the past is always with her. It’s a history that she wants to make evident to her students and the world beyond the classroom. 

The facts, she says, provide the foundation to build a common understanding, a starting place for a more productive dialogue and empathy. And, according to the Royal Society of Canada, no one has done more to build the facts of Canadian Black history than Dr. Cooper, who they named the winner of the J. B. Tyrrell Historical Medal in September 2022, an award granted every two years.

“For them to recognize the work that I’m doing, which focuses predominantly on Black history, it signals that they recognize the importance of this other history that has been at the margins for so long—recognizing it as an integral thread of Canadian history.”  (Dr. Afua Cooper, Daniel Abriel photo)

Further reading: Weaving Black history into the Canadian narrative

Recruitment of new Black scholars to boost key academic priorities at Dal

Dalhousie will hire five Black scholars as part of an ambitious recruitment initiative that promises to strengthen key research and teaching priorities at the university. Recruitment for individual positions in the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, Management, Science, Health, as well as the Schulich School of Law took place over the winter term. 

Dalhousie’s location in a province with more than 50 African Nova Scotian communities offers a rich cultural backdrop for the new scholars and could provide unique opportunities for academic projects as well as for connecting campus with community.

Further reading: Recruitment of new Black scholars to boost key academic priorities at Dal

Chemist wins award for science that begins with structural beauty  

Dr Saurabh Chitnis has a novel approach for selecting the molecules he creates. He starts with beauty.  

“Students in my lab and I are really drawn to molecules that exhibit structural attractiveness,” says Dr. Chitnis. “It really starts from this point of beauty and then we tease out the chemical consequences of that structure. When we do this, we make fascinating discoveries.”

This novel approach attracted the recognition of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which awarded Dr. Chitnis a 2023 Sloan Research Fellowship in February 2023. While his chemical journeys begin in an unexpected place, they can lead to impactful desitinations.  

He is currently working with Dalhousie’s Office of Commercialization and Industry Engagement to secure a patent for a molecular structure which promises to revolutionize the way materials are created. It's a discovery that may catch the eye of industrial partners keen to leverage the chemistry to build materials with desirable new properties and without the input of fossil fuels. 

Further reading: Elemental attraction: Dal Chemist wins international award for science that begins with structural beauty

Dr. Saurabh Chitnis in the lab (Nick Pearce photo).

This story appeared in the DAL Magazine Spring/Summer 2023 issue. Flip through the rest of the issue using the links below.


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