University of Saskatchewan

September 16, 2014   

Medical/Life Sciences

Canada's First Betatron
The U of S Department of Physics had, by the 1940s, developed a reputation for innovation and in post-war times was at the forefront of nuclear physics in Canada. This expertise led to Canada's first betatron (and the world's first used in cancer treatment) being installed on the U of S campus in 1948. A betatron accelerates electrons, using magnetic induction, to energies of several hundred million electron volts.

World's First Non-Commercial Cobalt-60 Therapy Unit
The U of S in the 1940s and '50s was a pioneer in the use of radiation for cancer treatment. The world's first non-commercial cobalt-60 unit for the treatment of cancer was officially opened at the U of S in 1951. With this unit, research was undertaken in the areas of radiological physics, radiation chemistry and the effects of high energy radiation on plants and animals.

First Successful Kidney Re-Transplant in Canada
In 1964, a team of Saskatoon physicians performed Canada's first successful kidney re-transplant at Royal University Hospital. The patient, a 19-year-old woman, first received a kidney donated by her mother. Unfortunately, it failed within hours of the operation. A second transplant, from an accident victim, was successful.

The operation used techniques in existence for less than a year. At the time, only five kidney transplants of any kind had been performed in Canada. Dialysis was also in its infancy, offering only a brief window of time for doctors to find a suitable kidney and save the patient's life.

Dr. Marc Baltzan, an intern at the time, organized the surgical team that included Drs. Neville Jackson, Casimir Wolan and Manuel Ty. The Saskatoon group were pioneers in the field, performing 10 of the first 100 kidney transplants, including the second such operation in Canada in 1963.

Baltzan explains that the re-transplant proved that a second transplant in case of failure of the first was possible. Before this, the prognosis in case of a transplant failure was grim - there was no chance of survival.

U of S Lab Scores World First in Biotech Research
A U of S lab was the first in the world to convert an antibody into an enzyme, a discovery that could pave the way for better tools to kill viruses, dissolve blood clots, or destroy toxins in crop seeds. Biochemistry Professor Jeremy Lee directs the lab where the work was done in 1998. Enzymes are proteins that speed up the body's chemical reactions and scientists want to harness their power in antibodies, which are proteins that defend the body from foreign invaders.

Discovery of M-DNA Molecular Wire
Biochemist Jeremy Lee and colleague Palok Aich recently developed a new DNA molecule capable of conducting electricity. The metal-DNA complex, or M-DNA, has enormous potential for development as a molecular wire. The discovery led to the development of a new U of S spin-off company, Adnavance Technologies, which will further develop the technology with investment capital from a Toronto-based venture capital fund. In 2002, Lee and Aich won the first Innovation Place/U of S Award of Innovation for the discovery of M-DNA.

First Ultasound of Egg Release from Human Ovary
In 1990, obstetrician-gynecologist Roger Pierson, using non-invasive ultrasonography, witnessed for the first time in medical history the cyclical release of an egg from the human ovary.

Proving Ground for World's First Contraceptive Patch
Dr. Roger Pierson, U of S professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the Reproductive Biology Research Unit, served as principal investigator for the 14-centre North American trials of the world's first contraceptive patch.

Pierson, working with U of S professor and clinician Dr. Femi Olatunbosun and graduate student Angie Hess, showed the once-a-week patch worked much more effectively than contraceptive pills. The findings helped catapult Johnson and Johnson's Evra patch from new product status to the most prescribed contraceptive in the United States in six months.

In the process, the team came up with an entirely new way of testing contraceptive effect on ovaries, a method many times more accurate than those previously available. The method has been widely adopted by reproductive researchers in North America and Europe, where its superior data guides new drugs through clinical trials.

Discovery of Waves of Follicular Development
In 2003, Dr. Roger Pierson, head of the U of S reproductive biology research unit and U of S Distinguished Researcher, made headlines with research suggesting the traditionally accepted model of the human menstrual cycle is wrong. His research team discovered that, contrary to traditional belief, some women experience two to three "waves" of follicular development each month. Pierson received the Women's Health Hero Award from Chatelaine magazine for the discovery.

Leading the Fight against Heart Disease
In 1977, mechanical engineer Madan Gupta and physiologist Kailash Prasad collaborated to develop a computerized, early warning system that can detect and diagnose heart disease in its earliest stages - sometimes years ahead of conventional methods. In the 90s, Prasad made several breakthroughs in research linking oxygen free radicals and heart disease. He showed that by reducing the amount of oxygen free radicals in the body, antioxidants like garlic, vitamin E and flax could reduce hardening of the arteries and other cardiovascular illnesses.

Non-invasive Technology Delivers Macromolecules through the Skin
Pharmaceutical scientist Marianna Foldvari developed a novel microscopic delivery system technology that could replace needles in the administration of proteins and genes, the pharmaceutical drugs of the future. These large molecules generally can only be administered by painful injections or may not be useful because they degrade before reaching the disease site. The Biphasix™ technology is the first technology in the world involving a large protein molecule in a pharmaceutical product that is applied on the skin in the form of a cream rather than by an injection or any other electrical device. There are vast implications of this technology to protein therapeutics, gene therapy and global immunization by patches. This breakthrough technology is being developed by PharmaDerm Laboratories Ltd. (subsidiary of Helix BioPharma Corp.) and has already advanced to Phase II clinical trials.