The research work led by Dr. Jacob Levman, Canada Research Chair in Bioinformatics in StFX's Computer Science Department, is focused on developing tools that will address a key medical challenge—namely the early diagnosis of neurological disorders in children—using advanced computing techniques.
Dr. Levman and members of his lab are focused on the development of computational techniques and software tools that can be used in a variety of health applications. His work, “Novel pattern recognition technologies in medical imaging applications,” received funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust to help purchase a series of high-end secure computer workstations and advanced software to help with machine learning analysis of MRI data for the lab, located in newly-renovated research space with the Physical Sciences Building.
L-r, Lab members Derek Berger, Shekhar Dewan, Acting Senior Director Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education Greg Ells, Dr. Jacob Levman, Deputy Minister of the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education Duff Montgomery, Duncan Osmond, Marissa Campbell and Joshua Henderson
On June 25, 2019, the Levman lab welcomed Duff Montgomery, Deputy Minister of the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education, and Greg Ells, Acting Senior Director. The two were on campus for a morning session and lunch meeting with the StFX President’s Council, and to learn more about Dr. Levman’s project, which involves computational research to support a wide variety of medical imaging applications such as neurodevelopmental imaging.
Dr. Levman maintains an affiliation with Harvard Medical School to provide ongoing access to high-quality clinical imaging data and to facilitate collaborations with physicians and neuroscientists.
The goals of this research, he says, include the development of new detection and diagnostic technologies, which can improve the standard of patient care for Nova Scotians and Canadians. This research is also intended to help the scientific community better understand the underlying physiological conditions associated with the development of a variety of medical disorders. It is hoped that, by providing a better understanding of medical conditions, this research can contribute to educating physicians and inspiring clinician researchers to develop novel therapeutic interventions for a variety of disorders.
Dr. Levman currently has a number of StFX students involved in his research.
StFX has received some very good news. The university, through its Physics Department, has been voted as a new institutional member of the Belle II collaboration, a major particle physics experiment that includes over 100 institutions and close to 1,000 members worldwide.
The collaboration is based at the KEK (High Energy Accelerator Research Organization) in Japan. It carries out and continues research work that has previously resulted in a Nobel Prize.
StFX physics professor Dr. Hossain Ahmed was in Japan in late June to present StFX’s presentation to join Belle II. He says it is rare that a primarily undergraduate university is part of this type of collaboration. StFX is also now part of the Belle II Canada Project Grant, which receives funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI).
Dr. Ahmed, who was instrumental in StFX’s participation in the BABAR collaboration, a large, international particle physics experiment at Stanford University in California, says he is thrilled with the news.
He says this collaboration will bring opportunities for StFX students, researchers, and colleagues in the experimental particle physics area.
“To put this in perspective of what it means, it’s a brand new collaboration. It will collect data for five to 10 years and conduct data analysis for another five to 10 years. This means StFX will be able to work with other well-regarded universities, and to work on potentially Nobel Prize winning experiments,” says department chair Dr. Peter Marzlin.
StFX students can certainly benefit from being involved in this research, and StFX, he says, is fortunate to have the only elementary particle physicist in Atlantic Canada involved in such a collaboration in Dr. Ahmed.
Dr. Marzlin says as part of the presentation, Dr. Ahmed discussed what StFX can bring to the group. “We can prepare our undergraduate students in a fantastic way in our research, providing them with future graduate students who know exactly what they are doing.”
Dr. Ahmed says the Belle II collaboration continues the work of the BABAR collaboration and Belle project, which recorded data and studied matter and anti-matter symmetry in the universe.
BABAR produced more than 500 journal papers, including the precise measurements of differences between matter and antimatter, which have proved the theory of Makoto Kobayashi and Toshihide Maskawa, resulting in the awarding of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics.
More research though is needed as there is not currently enough evidence to explain symmetry in the Big Bang. Dr. Ahmed says the Belle II collaboration will have about 40 times more data than its predecessors and researchers are expecting to uncover more evidence and a deeper understanding. This next generation B-factory experiment will also be important for New Physics beyond the Standard Model scenario, he says, such as flavour violation, dark matter particles search etc.
Patrick O’Brien, a 2019 StFX physics graduate who will start his fully-funded master’s studies at the University of Alberta in the fall, says his work with the BABAR project as a StFX student has been beneficial.
“It’s certainly helped me already,” he says. “I’ve found a good supervisor, it’s sparked my interest even more, gave him a set of skills that will help me in my master’s and PhD, and maybe even opportunity for future work and collaboration.”
Likewise, current StFX physics student Noah Tessema of Ottawa, ON is looking forward to becoming involved in this research and the opportunities it may bring. “I’m very excited,” he says.
Dr. Ahmed says he is very grateful for the support and collaboration inherent in the StFX physics department. “It’s just like a family,” he says noting how Dr. Marzlin and faculty colleagues helped in any way they could to prepare for this collaboration.
Welcome changes are coming to the StFX Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science. In the 2018-19 academic year, the Computer Science group, and the Mathematics and Statistics group requested that two new departments be created from the existing Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science Department
As of July 1, 2019, the current department will reform into two separate departments—the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and the Department of Computer Science, offering students two distinct educational pathways.
The new, separate departments will also provide students with a distinct academic home, fostering academic engagement and pride.
The Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science was unique in StFX’s Faculty of Science in that it housed two related, but different fields of study. The two fields co-existed within a single department, but offered separate honours, advanced majors, majors and minors, along with a research-based MSc program in computer science.
It’s expected that the two programs will benefit from enhanced visibility both within and outside the university as separate departments.
To the campus community,
It is my pleasure to announce Dr. Kevin Wamsley as Interim President of StFX University, effective August 1, 2019. The recommendation was submitted by the Human Resources Committee of the Board, and unanimously supported by the StFX Board of Governors earlier today.
Kevin began his term as Academic Vice-President and Provost at StFX in 2015. His leadership and unwavering commitment to our academic mission has supported our Faculty members and greatly contributed to the exceptional learning experience we offer to our students. His time serving as an ex-officio member of StFX’s Board of Governors, a member of the Executive and President’s Council, leading the academic portfolio, and his more than 30 years of post-secondary experience have provided him with an in-depth understanding of the complexities and opportunities related to running a world-class institution such as ours.
Most recently, Kevin accepted a request to renew his term as Academic Vice President and Provost, serving the campus community for another six years, effective August 1, 2020, what he considers to be a most important honour. He has agreed to accept the role of interim President until a permanent appointment is announced, after which he will return to the role of Academic Vice President and Provost. There will be more on the status of our search for the President in the months ahead.
An award-winning teacher and celebrated researcher, Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours), Master of Arts from Western University, and a PhD from the University of Alberta. He and his wife, Carol, live in Bayfield and are very happy to be members of the Antigonish community.
Please join me in congratulating Kevin.
Mike Boyd ’85
Chair, StFX Board of Governors
StFX human nutrition retired faculty member Dr. Laurie Wadsworth, part-time faculty Fran Haley and 2018 graduate Heather-Ann Burrell certainly have reason to celebrate—they all received major awards at the Dietitians of Canada conference held in Ottawa from June 6-8, 2019.
The trio were among the individuals celebrated at an awards ceremony on June 6. The awards celebrate individuals who have inspired, empowered and lent their passion to promote and elevate the dietetics profession.
Ryley-Jeffs Memorial Lecture
Dr. Wadsworth delivered the prestigious Ryley-Jeffs Memorial Lecture. Dr. Wadsworth’s career has focused on nutrition and health policy development in public health and academia. She investigates mass media messages to understand the roles of food in society and studies the historical roots of dietetics. She has worked collaboratively to effect change in public policy for improved nutrient profiles in the national food supply as a member of the Trans Fat Task Force and with Heart and Stroke Canada. Dr. Wadsworth also mentors dietetic students in policy development and research to build capacity for a strong future profession. She is a Fellow of Dietitians of Canada and served as Chair of the DC Board of Directors. “Dr. Wadsworth has certainly made a dynamic impact on individual dietitians and the profession and is very deserving of the prestigious Ryley-Jeffs Memorial Lecture Award for 2019,” says a release from Dietitians of Canada.
Fran Haley was presented with the DC Emeritus award. The Board of Directors bestows this permanent designation to retired members of DC in appreciation of unique and outstanding contributions to the advancement of the dietetic profession in Canada during the nominees' career.
National Morgan Medal
Recent StFX graduate Heather-Ann Burell received the Regional Morgan Medal (Ontario) for research completed for her honours thesis at StFX. At the 2019 conference she was awarded the National Morgan Medal for excellence in research.
StFX Rankin School of Nursing professor Dr. Donna Halperin is the successful recipient of two new Canadian Immunization Research Network (CIRN) grants that will help fund vaccine research.
CIRN has recently funded two new studies with Dr. Halperin, the co-principal investigator. The first project is funded for $300,481 over two years to research “Burden Ethnographic Modeling Evaluation Qaujilisaaqtuq (BEMEQ) RSV,” and she has been granted a further $150,010 to fund, “A multifaceted evaluation of provincial maternal Tdap immunization programs.”
Dr. Halperin says the multi-faceted evaluation of provincial maternal Tdap programs study is taking place in five provinces, which will inform the implementation of maternal Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis) programs being rolled out across the country.
“The purpose of administering this vaccine is to protect newborn infants in Canada from severe outcomes of pertussis infection. Bordetella pertussis causes pertussis (Whooping Cough), a severe respiratory infection. Unimmunized infants, including those who are too young to have completed their primary infant immunization series, are at the greatest risk of hospitalization and death,” she says. “Immunization in pregnancy is safe and protects the infant until they are ready to receive the vaccine at two months of age.”
She says the focus of this study is to determine support and resources offered to health care providers for maternal Tdap programs and to identify gaps in learning needs according to provider type.
Also, she says knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs and behaviors (KABB) of pregnant women will be determined regarding the maternal Tdap vaccine. Three interventions will be developed; a practice intervention tool for providers and an information intervention and social marketing strategy directed towards pregnant women for maternal immunization. These three interventions will be evaluated for acceptability.
In the “Burden Ethnographic Modeling Evaluation Qaujilisaaqtuq (BEMEQ) RSV” study she says there has been the recent accelerated clinical development of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) vaccine candidates for pregnant women and children that offers the promise of RSV prevention.
“RSV is the most common cause of severe lower respiratory tract infection in young children worldwide. Exceedingly high rates are observed in the Canadian Arctic,” she says.
This study, which is situated in Nunavik (northern third of the province of Quebec) and Nunavut, will help inform public health planning by collecting data on RSV morbidity and health care use, careful modelling and economic analysis of the potential benefits of vaccines and an understanding of the acceptability of proposed interventions in target populations.
Dr. Halperin says there are three separate studies within the broader study, which brings together 28 investigators across Canada.
The focus of her portion of the study will be to describe the key determinants of vaccine acceptance and refusal at the demand side (values, attitudes, beliefs) and the access side (logistical, healthcare system factors impacting access and vaccine services) amongst parents, healthcare providers, educators, and public health practitioners. Sharing circles and key informant interviews will be used to collect this information in Nunavut, she says.
CIRN is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), and is a national network of vaccine researchers who develop and test methodologies related to the evaluation of vaccines as they pertain to safety, immunogenicity and effectiveness, and program implementation and evaluation.
CIRN is a network of networks, comprising eight sub-networks, composed of over 100 investigators across 40 Canadian institutions, involving experts in vaccine-related evaluative research.
Three StFX Rankin School of Nursing students and recent graduates, Layla Green, Antonia Di Castri and Laura Leppan, are all employed and gaining valuable experience this summer working at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology (CCfV) in Halifax.
The Canadian Center for Vaccinology was established to develop, implement and evaluate technologies and vaccines for infectious diseases that have a significant impact on Canadian and global health, and to train experts in these critical and evolving fields. It’s housed in the IWK Health Centre, and is a collaboration of the IWK, Dalhousie University, and the Nova Scotia Health Authority.
The students are supervised by StFX nursing professor Dr. Donna Halperin, who holds a cross-appointment in pediatrics at Dalhousie University and is the associate director of the CCfV, responsible for the Programs, Policy and Implementation Group; and Dr. Scott Halperin, director at the CCfV and a professor of pediatrics, and microbiology & immunology at Dalhousie and adjunct professor at StFX.
Laura Leppan, of Halifax, NS, is entering her fourth year of the nursing program at StFX, in the honours stream. Her research at CCfV this summer is part of an ongoing clinical trial examining ways to protect very young infants from whooping cough (pertussis).
“Specifically, I will be analyzing breast milk from women who were vaccinated during pregnancy to test for antibodies against whooping cough. If there are sufficient antibodies against whooping cough present in the breast milk, it could suggest that breastfeeding after maternal immunizations during pregnancy may offer additional protection to the newborn until they are old enough to receive their own vaccines,” she says
She says becoming part of the CCfV team came from expressing interest in gaining research experience to her professor, now her honours co-supervisor, Dr. Donna Halperin, this past winter.
“She was very keen to help me in this journey, and after discussing my interests in public health and maternal and newborn health, she consulted with Dr. Scott Halperin, also of CCfV, who suggested this project may be a great fit. I am so grateful for this incredible learning opportunity,” Ms. Leppan says.
“So far, I have learned a vast amount about immunology, physiology behind vaccines, breast feeding, and preventable diseases, which have all further sparked my interest in these areas.”
Layla Green from Falmouth, NS, who just graduated from the honours nursing program in May 2019 is continuing the research she took part in as the subject of her undergraduate thesis at StFX, looking at the experiences and perspectives of community health experts in Nunavut with regard to maternal immunization in Inuit populations.
“With this current position, having put in two years on this project already with my thesis, it has been great to continue on with this work past graduation and see where it goes,” says Ms. Green, who has also been added to the teams developing the protocols for two new recently funded projects.
“I have had Dr. Donna Halperin as a prof since my first year at StFX and developed a very good working relationship with her over the course of my honours thesis project, where both she and Dr. Scott Halperin were my thesis advisors. She has definitely been a wonderful support and has opened up many doors for me in terms of research opportunities.”
Ms. Green says the entire honours process at the Rankin School has left a strong impression on her and where she sees her career as a nurse going. “While I still thoroughly enjoy working at the bedside, having had the experience of doing research and learning to look at health care questions in a much different light has been truly eye-opening, and I hope to always keep one foot in the realm of research as I move forward in this profession.”
Antonia Di Castri, of St. Albert, AB, graduated with a honours nursing degree from StFX in 2017 and is now a MSc candidate in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie University. This summer, her primary focus is work on her master's thesis project, a mixed methods study of the knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviours of pregnant Inuit women and Northern healthcare providers about maternal pertussis immunization.
She is also writing manuscripts for projects she has worked on in previous years at the CCfV. Among them is her quantitative undergraduate honours thesis project, which explores public and healthcare provider perceptions of pharmacists as immunizers in Nova Scotia.
“I am finding it to be a very exciting time in my work because I am finally able to see the results of these studies that I have been involved with since their nascence,” she says.
Ms. Di Castri says she was first offered a position at the CCfV during the summer between her third and fourth year of the StFX nursing program.
“Working at CCfV has been, and continues to be instrumental in my career path. I have honed a diverse research skill set that has proven to be very useful in my pursuit of graduate studies in epidemiology. I have had the opportunity to be a co-author on several academic articles and to present our research studies at national conferences. I am indebted to the investigators at the CCfV for their commensurate mentorship. Any future success that I might encounter is built upon the foundation laid by these outstanding people.”
Dr. Donna Halperin says this opportunity provides students with multidisciplinary exposure to a complete range of health disciplines, as CCfV brings together researchers from multiple institutions with biomedical, clinical, social sciences, and humanities backgrounds.
She says the opportunity also aligns members of the School of Nursing with a large, interdisciplinary research group comprising members from a broad range of health disciplines with an international reputation in vaccine research, and provides an impactful mechanism to expand StFX’s footprint in the health-related research realm.
Nursing faculty and educators from schools of nursing across Atlantic Canada will converge on StFX this week as the Rankin School of Nursing hosts the 2019 Atlantic Region of Canadian Schools of Nursing’s (ARCASN) annual conference from June 13-15.
This year, the conference focuses on ethics within nursing and will bring educators together to share energies and insights as they network together for ethics and quality nursing education under a theme of “Fostering a moral climate of care and nursing research, practice and pedagogy.”
“This year’s ARCASN conference aims to explore several areas related to ethics in nursing, including highlighting ethics as a fundamental guide to nursing and health care,” says Rankin School nursing faculty Marion Alex, an ARCASN representative and the conference’s committee chair.
Highlights from the event will include keynote addresses from Dr. Franco A. Carnevale, a nurse, psychologist and clinical ethicist from McGill University, who will lead an address and discussion focused around “Recognizing nurses as moral agents: New directions in nursing ethics;” as well as a keynote address from Kerry Prosper, Mi’Kmaq Elder from Paqtnkek First Nations and the Inaugural Knowledge Keeper at StFX, whose work is in traditional ceremonies and healing practices.
Other highlights will include a panel discussion lead by guest speakers Cynthia Baker, Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing; Christine Rieck Buckley, Canadian Nurses’ Foundation; and Dr. Claire Betker, scientific director for the National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health; and a closing address about moral agency and ethics in professional nursing from nurses Jeanne Sarson and Linda MacDonald, Speaking on Persons Against Non‐State Torture. They have recently returned from a global conference about women’s and human rights in Paris, where they continued advocating for recognition that forms of domestic violence manifest as torture.
A special part of the conference will be a dedication to the legacy of Sister Simone Roach and the Sisters of St. Martha, pioneers in nursing and health care in eastern Nova Scotia.
“In this conference about nursing ethics, here at St. Francis Xavier University’s School of Nursing, we stand upon the shoulders of a giant in nursing education and nursing ethics in Canada: Sister Marie Simone Roach. With admiration, gratitude, affection, and respect, we dedicate this conference to her memory and to her Sisters of Saint Martha,” Prof. Alex says.
Among numerous accomplishments, Sister Simone led the four‐year integrated BScN program at StFX and served as its chairperson from 1970‐1979. As well, in the 1980s she responded to a request to direct a Code of Ethics Project for the Canadian Nurses Association. The code she authored was the first to be grounded in clearly articulated ethical values—fundamental values that remain as its cornerstone today. She received the Order of Canada for her work on Ethics and Caring Theory in 2010.