Archive for May 2009

Crime-stopping pays for Contré

May 25, 2009


It reads like a Hollywood screenplay.

After joining the military at 17 and traveling the globe, soft-spoken and mild mannered Stephane Contré from Quebec City becomes a beat cop in Ottawa. His hobby is tinkering with technology and caressing computer code to help him to do his job better. One day, it will enable authorities to fight crime in a way no one really thought possible: to predict when and where it would happen… and to stop it before it occurs.

After three years in our nation’s capital, Contré finds himself deep in North Central Africa, in the Republic of Chad. He is many time zones away from Canada’s House of Parliament and even farther away from his wife Tia. She has returned to her hometown, Edmonton, where the couple met when he was posted at Griesbach with the Military Airborne School.

In Chad, Contré is a security advisor for EnCana Corp. on an oil and gas exploration project, mitigating security issues. He recalls, “This is where things started to percolate… looking to see where and when things might occur. I was looking for more attributes within the criminal space that would lead to better forecasting and allow us to better manage our security forces.”

Two years later—and before things really get off the ground—he faces another challenge: His position abruptly comes to an end.

Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise. Contré is over 11,000km away from his wife… it’s “a 32-hour flight”… they see each other every 35 days.
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The “dog’s breakfast of innovation”

May 12, 2009

Alberta’s innovation framework is getting a facelift. But it’s more than just a nip and tuck. Bill 27 is reconstructive surgery which the government justifies as necessary to ensure Alberta is a strong contender in the emerging next generation of knowledge economy.

Bill 27 was introduced to the spring sitting of the legislature by Doug Horner, Minister of Advanced Education and Technology.

When passed, it will be known as the Alberta Research and Innovation Act, and it will reconfigure such icons of the province’s scientific landscape as the Alberta Research Council and the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. Neither will recent initiatives like Alberta Ingenuity, iCORE, and the various research institutes avoid resculpturing.          Read More

Prion conference advances CWD concerns

May 12, 2009

cdn concernsPrion researchers from across Canada as well as from the United States, Asia and Europe met in Edmonton this spring to discuss their latest findings. The conference was hosted by PrioNet Canada and the Alberta Prion Research Institute.

Misfolded prions are the culprits behind bovine spongiform encephalopathy or “mad cow” disease. And while mad cow seems to be well under control, it has raised the red flag on other prion diseases like chronic wasting disease (CWD).

The big concern now for scientists is the spread of CWD through wild herds of deer, elk and possibly caribou.

According to Dr. Neil Cashman, the scientific director of PrioNet Canada, “It has been estimated that a hundred years in the future there will not be a single cervid—deer, elk or caribou—left in North America because of the unrelenting advance of CWD. My colleagues and I feel that there is a significant risk of penetration to the north, and the northern economy’s involvement of the caribou herd would be nothing short of a disaster of the first order for aboriginal populations.”

Scientists revealed at the conference that prions shed from infected deer linger in the soil for decades, making containment of this disease in the wild very difficult.

PrioNet Canada belongs to the national Networks of Centres of Excellence. There is a great deal of collaboration between PrioNet Canada and the Alberta Prion Research Institute. √   ~ Cheryl Croucher

MacEwan BlogCamp – A first for Canada!

May 4, 2009

101How does a post-secondary institute open the door to social media for the first time?

Well, if you’re Jana Clarke, marketing manager for the MacEwan School of Business you go big, which is exactly how it should be.

First item on the list is to shoot an interesting and funny video webisode series with local acting and directing talent. The webisodes are entitled Mike and Lenny—Mike played by Richard Meen of MacEwan commercials fame and Lenny played by Donovan Workun of Atomic Improv. They tell a story about choosing a career in business and how the first step should be to consider Management Studies at MacEwan. Amid all the excitement, the day wouldn’t have been complete without a personal appearance by “Mike and Lenny,” and the guys didn’t disappoint. Mike and Lenny was directed by Jeremy Chugg of Brainstorm Productions and, through this process, I’ve come to better appreciate how the mind of a professional director works. Jeremy is a talented guy and he has a tough job. To see his work, search Google for Mike and Lenny, you’ll find all three episodes ready to roll.

My team at fusedlogic worked collaboratively with the entire marketing department at the MacEwan School of Business to plan out a great social media event called BlogCamp. This would accomplish a number of key objectives, not all of which I can go into here. However, BlogCamp definitely served to get students involved… after all, they know what it’s like to struggle with choosing a post-secondary institution. Who better to take the MacEwan school spirit message to the social web than existing students? Leading up to the event, fusedlogic provided no less than 12 hours of on-site social media instruction, not only for students but also for faculty, administration and BlogCamp sponsors such as the guys from Sonic 102.9FM. We covered blogging, Twitter, Facebook and numerous other tools and platforms.

One of the difficult things about this project was scheduling: Unfortunately, April 3rd ended up being right in the middle of mid-term exams for much of the School of Business. Despite that, Joe Difabio of MacEwan’s Commerce Club was instrumental in getting students involved as participants and volunteers. So we worked extra hard to get contestants who would be willing to blog for nine hours straight. What we ended up with was a group of talented and dedicated bloggers who exceeded our expectations. If these contestants were not typing, they were on the phone to friends for votes and support. During the event I had the privilege of chatting with contestants, sponsors and audience members who were on-site and the feedback was positive. The gang at Segway Canada (located in West Edmonton Mall) said they had a great time. Segway’s rock—I was surprised at how easy and how much fun they are to ride. The Ranch Roadhouse folks came out with their fun tunnel and there was never a shortage of students who wanted a chance to grab the Ranch bucks. See all the goings-on at

The entire MacEwan School of Business can be proud of the fact that they broke new social media ground with BlogCamp. Until that day, a social media event of this type and in this format has never been done in Canada. Just search “blogcamp, Canada” if you don’t believe me. √

Shadoo Protein detected by student researcher

May 4, 2009


may09-david-westawayAnother step forward in understanding what causes prion diseases like mad cow is the recent discovery of the shadoo protein.

Dr. David Westaway of the Centre for Prions and Protein Folding Diseases at the University of Alberta says shadoo is the name given to a theoretical protein by scientists studying DNA sequences on chromosomes. Its actual existence was confirmed by a student in Westaway’s lab. The student showed that shadoo is abundant in the brain and has a lot of features similar to normal prion proteins.

As Westaway explains, “We think that they may be part of a family of molecules on the surface of brain cells that help brain cells deal with damage. We have looked at what happens to the shadoo protein in an animal that has a prion disease… We were very surprised to get a very simple answer: that the shadoo protein starts to disappear. In one sense, the fact that the shadoo protein disappears when animals are replicating prions, it is what we call a tracer. We didn’t expect to make this discovery, but somehow when the protein is disappearing, it’s telling you that prions are replicating.”

Dr. Westaway speculates this may be related to yet another class of proteins called proteazes which function as a waste disposal team in the body. √    ~ Cheryl Croucher

 You can learn more about the research underway at the Centre for Prions and Protein Folding Diseases at

Urine test for mad cow means early detection

May 4, 2009


At the present time, the only way to confirm whether cattle are suffering from mad cow disease is to test them after they are slaughtered.

However, the research of Dr. David Knox and his colleagues at the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg may soon lead to a simple urine test for mad cow disease.

Dr. Knox presented his findings at the recent prion conference in Edmonton which was hosted by PrioNet Canada and the Alberta Prion Research Institute.

As Dr. Knox explains, an examination of cattle urine would reveal biomarkers that indicate whether the cattle are infected, long before clinical symptoms appear.

“We found one marker, at least in our small test set, that is able to discriminate with 100 percent accuracy between control and infected samples. And that’s a protein called clusterin. However, it requires further validation. Does it work in all BSE infected cattle is one question. And the other question is, do you see increased amounts in response to other types of infection as well?”

Mad cow disease has a long incubation period. The good news is that Dr. Knox has detected the biomarker in urine as early as eight months after infection—long before clinical symptoms appear in cattle. √                                                            ~ Cheryl Croucher

 Cheryl Croucher’s interviews on prion research were funded by a grant from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.