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Cutting Edge

Initiated in 2003 with the express purpose of fostering communication between scientists in different disciplines as well as between scientists and the public, Cutting Edge Lectures in Science are made possible through the generous support from the Faculty of Science (Dean, Martin Grant); Faculty of Medical Sciences, and the Centre for Applied Mathematics in Bioscience and Medicine (CAMBAM).

Where: Auditorium, Redpath Museum, 859 Sherbrooke Street West, Metro McGill/Peel
Seating is limited. No reservations necessary.
When: 6 PM, followed by a reception.
Cost: FREE, everyone welcome.

Please help us to continue with the series.

Most of the Cutting Edge Lectures in Science are available on iTunes U and on McGill podcasts. Go under the section entitled "Science and Technology" for video and audio recordings of Cutting Edge lectures.


February 12: Development of Personalized Treatments for Chronic Pain

By Luda Diatchenko (Professor, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Human Pain Genetics, Dept. Genetics, McGill University)

Approximately 20 per cent of Canadians suffer from chronic pain, making it not only the number one reason that people seek health care, but also the number one concern of patients with long-term illnesses.  Chronic pain drains more than $10-billion annually in lost productivity and health-care services from the Canadian economy, which is more than the cost of heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. Moreover, there is a personal toll associated with chronic pain that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Patients living with this condition face challenges such as social isolation, increased risk of suicide, and greater mortality rates. Chronic pain conditions are very difficult to treat and our existing treatment approaches are largely inefficient.  One of the reasons of inefficiency of current treatment approaches is heterogeneous nature of chronic pain, as people develop pain for multitude of diverse reasons and each individual has many ways to deal with a disease.  My primary objective is to better understand the genetic mechanisms at the roots of chronic pain as a basis for developing new pain-relief drugs and personalized pain therapy strategies. To accomplish this goal, my colleagues and I study chronic pain mechanisms and risk factors through genetic analysis of well-characterized populations of pain patients, through the mapping out the molecular mechanisms that mediate the biological, psychological, and genetic factors that contribute to the onset and persistence of chronic pain.

March 19: When less may be more - Why health screening isn’t always a good idea

By Brett D. Thombs (William Dawson Scholar and Associate Professor, Senior Investigator, Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, Jewish General Hospital)

Medical screening involves using tests to identify people who may have a condition or disease before there are signs or symptoms to alert us that there may be a problem. Since the 1960s, when mammography was first tested in a randomized controlled trial, enthusiasm for the idea that some diseases can be prevented through early detection has resulted in an explosion in the number of screening tests that are promoted. Some screening tests do lead to better health and longer lives. Others, however, cause harm without providing meaningful benefit and, in doing so, expend scarce health care resources that are then not available for other potentially beneficial health care interventions. Despite growing recognition that screening can both help and harm, much of the general public and  many health care professionals continue to overestimate the benefits that may be accrued by screening and fail to understand potential harms. Based on my experience with the Canadian Task Force for Preventive Health Care and my team’s research on depression screening, I will describe how decisions about whether screening is a good idea are made, as well as information gaps and misunderstandings that may lead people to incorrect conclusions, in some cases, about the benefit-harm ratio of undergoing screening tests.

April 9: The neuroscience of balance - From athletes and astronauts to the elderly

By Kathleen Cullen (Professor, Physiology and Director of McGill’s Aerospace Medical Research Unit)

Aristotle described five senses: sound, sight, touch, smell and taste that provide us with a conscious awareness of the world around us. But he missed one of our most important senses, the vestibular (inner ear) system which contributes to a surprising range of functions from reflexes to the highest levels of perception and consciousness. The brain combines information from the vestibular system, with proprioception (or sense of body position), and vision to adjust for unexpected motion during everyday activities. How does the brain achieve this? How do athletes maintain their balance for very complex motions (imagine an Olympic gymnast doing a back flip on a balance beam)? How do astronauts adapt to Zero-G where input from the vestibular sense is altered? Why do we start to loose our sense of balance as we age? This lecture will discuss recent (and not so recent) theoretical and experimental work that characterizes how single neurons, organized into dedicated circuits, support our ability to stay on our feet.


October 9, 2014: Supersoldier ants

By Ehab Abouheif (E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellow, Canada Research Chair in Evolutionary Developmental Biology, Associate Professor, McGill Dept. of Biology).

Prof. Abouheif is President of the Pan American Society for Evolutionary Developmental Biology, Adjunct Professor and Member of Social Insect Research Group and member of the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, Austria. He Co-directs the McGill Centre for Islam and Science.

November 13, 2014: The rising tide of dementia: Challenges for statisticians

By David Wolfson (Professor, Dept. of Mathematics and Statistics, McGill)

As we live longer we become more vulnerable to diseases associated with aging. Dementia is one class of such diseases that not only will touch almost every one of us either directly or indirectly but will also place an increasing burden on society. There are many different types of dementia although by far the most common is due to Alzheimer’s disease. As a statistician, my interest in dementia began with a question posed by a principal investigator on The Canadian Study of Health and Aging: “How long do people live following the onset of dementia?” I will tell the story of how my co-researchers and I sought to answer this question, and of our surprising findings, using an area of statistics called survival analysis. Like the Hydra, however, a problem solved quickly led to new questions; these will be part of the story. I will give a brief non-technical introduction to some basic principles of statistical inference, and the main ideas of survival analysis in order to tell my story.

December 11, 2014: What our data says about us - Insights into human behavior from social media

By Derek Ruths (Assistant Professor, School of Computer Science, McGill)

January 8, 2015: Nutrients and the brain

By Dr. L. John Hoffer (Professor, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, Principal Investigator, Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research and Senior Physician, Divisions of Internal Medicine and Endocrinology, Jewish General Hospital, Montreal)

Do vitamin and mineral nutrition and malnutrition affect brain function and mood? Yes, they do! Regrettably, the topic of nutrition and the brain is badly muddled by ignorance, confusion, bias and hype. This presentation aims to provide an easily understandable, rational, evidence-based overview of the topic. It will include clinical research on vitamin C we have been carrying out at the Jewish General Hospital.