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What We're Reading


Courtesy of fivers.com

This Year’s Flu Season Prediction — Global News

Contributor Michelle Li, Communications Committee Member


Surprisingly, this year’s flu season may be milder than previous years, at least according to Leslie Young’s article from Global News. The condition of flu season cannot be determined accurately but scientists can still make predictions based on trends seen in the southern hemisphere. The southern hemisphere typically experiences their flu season during May-October, and this year reports have shown that Australia’s flu season was relatively tame.

The prominent influenza strains, H1N1 and influenza B are milder than H3N2, that occurred last year. The vaccine that will be used this year has been modified in hopes of matching the viruses present this year. Since the vaccine has proven to be effective against the H1N1 and Influenza B virus, which were predominant this year in the Southern Hemisphere, health professionals are hopeful that the vaccine will play a role in decreasing the flu outbreak this year. However, we cannot be completely confident in this prediction because the virus may mutate by the time it gets to the Northern Hemisphere.

Experts advise that everyone get vaccinated, especially those most at risk from the flu such as young children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. This doesn’t mean that young individuals shouldn’t get vaccinated because catching the flu can still severely affect people. While it may be too early to predict the effectiveness of the vaccination mix this year, getting vaccinated is still the recommended to battle against the flu season.



More Canadian clinics are offering unproven stem cell therapiesCBC news

Contributor Claire Millard,  Communications Committee Member


CBC recently reported that 30 businesses at 43 clinics are marketing stem cell therapies not approved by Health Canada. These businesses are marketing their services through direct-to-consumer online advertising. Provincial healthcare plans do not cover these “unproven” treatments, so patients end up paying exorbitant sums for treatments they don't fully understand. These treatments may also carry risks and the benefits may also be attributed to the placebo effect. Leigh Turner, the researcher who authored the study CBC used, said these businesses exploit ill individuals and give them hope. But these clinics don’t just exist in Canada, hundreds of such clinics exist in the U.S. as well as in other countries around the world. Turner wishes partly to challenge Health Canada to clarify and enforce regulations governing the clinical use of stem cells and to crack down on clinics making claims not based on scientific evidence. Currently, Health Canada is following up on clinics to take action to mitigate the risks posed to Canadians. Although concerns of unapproved and unproven stem cell therapies must be voiced, stem cell research and treatments opening up a world of possibility for scientists and physicians — more research just needs to be conducted.



Redefining how we think about the brain - “The empty brain” by Robert Epstein

Contributor Ramtin Hakimjavadi, Communications Committee Member


The history of ways in which humans have conceptualized the brain is rich and diverse: beginning from its earliest descriptions in the Bible—essentially as a clump of clay infused with spirit (i.e. our intelligence)—to more complex theories in neuroscience. Today, the brain is predominantly viewed as a sort of supercomputer that follows the information processing (IP) model: encoding, storing and retrieving information. In his essay, “The empty brain”, Robert Epstein argues against this IP model of the brain. Epstein highlights that due to the prevalence of such theories, it is difficult to imagine any other way in which the brain works. What’s so interesting about this article is that it illustrates the tendency for the scientific community to become pigeon-holed into one point of view. Whether it be creationism before evolutionary theory (which is still somewhat controversial) or the Bohr model of the atom before the advent of quantum mechanics, we as humans have a track record of being narrowly focused on one idea. Epstein discusses the shortcomings of the IP model and provides some interesting insight on how we should begin thinking about the inner-workings of the brain.



E-cigarettes are almost certainly better than smoking — The Economist

Contributor Vivian Cheng, VP Communications


This article delves into the origins, benefits and risks of using E-cigarettes, also known as “Vaping”. Public-health officials have been quick to conclude that they are much better than smoking, but there is little information about their effects. A growing epidemic among teen users has prompted worries from the community. While cigarettes contain much more chemicals than vapes, e-cigarette vapour has been found to contain some carcinogenic chemicals (albeit at low levels), free radicals (from flavourings) and metallic particles — causes for concern. Vaping can also cause an inflammatory response in the lungs, and may be linked to  unpleasant effects, inducing kidney dysfunction and cardiac fibrosis. However, many think that the toxic nature of e-cigarette vapour may have been exaggerated by unrealistic laboratory conditions. E-cigarettes do contain the highly addictive substance nicotine, which may cause teens to be addicted to other substances later on in life or have an adverse effect on the body, besides addiction. Overall, more evidence is needed to determine its exact safety. But vaping is certainly better than smoking.



2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: a turning point in the war on cancer — The Conversation

Contributor Si-Cheng Dai, Communications Committee Member


Though radiation and chemotherapy serve as cornerstones of cancer treatment, a recent breakthrough in immunotherapy is challenging the status quo. For the past century, cancer research has focused on destroying malignancies by kick-starting the immune system. James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo’s discovery of two immune checkpoints, pathways able to shut down the immune response, may finally provide a solution. The researchers found that the CTLA-4 and PD-1 proteins in these pathways are attached to T-cells and deactivate these lymphocytes through a lock-and-key type interaction with tumour cell proteins. The use of monoclonal antibodies as immune checkpoint inhibitors, which attach to the CTLA-4 and PD-1 proteins to prevent T-cell shutdown, has met success in melanoma, lung cancer, and kidney cancer, among other cancers. As novel immune checkpoints are continually being discovered and more inhibitors are being clinically tested, immunotherapy may soon overtake chemotherapy as the first line of defence against cancer. Still, no treatment is without its drawbacks. Letting the immune system run wild can cause inflammation in various parts of body; in addition, long-term tumour regression is rare, long-term side effects of the treatment are unknown and some cancers are resistant to the immunotherapy. More research in this field will surely occur as the race for the cure continues.