Research Round Up

McGill research news: Weather disasters may help rural poor; New Quebec-China alliance looks at male infertility; Disguising red blood cells may get around blood typing; and a new tool in the fight against TB. Read on to learn more.

Weather disasters may help rural poor

A new study in Honduras conducted by the Dept. of Geography’s Oliver Coomes and a colleague from Ohio State University suggests that climate-related weather disasters could actually provide opportunities for the rural poor to improve their lives. Researchers found that that the poorest inhabitants of a small village in northeastern Honduras increased their land wealth and their share of earnings relative to more wealthy residents after Hurricane Mitch devastated the region. The findings offer a glimmer of hope from widespread concerns that the world’s poor will suffer the most from shocks created by global climate change.

New Quebec-China alliance looks at male infertility

The Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec, Génome Québec and the National Natural Science Foundation of China recently announced funding of a project which will bring together research teams from Quebec and China to better understand the causes of male infertility through innovative genomic investigations. Simon Wing, a McGill Faculty of Medicine researcher, will lead the group from Quebec. Together they aim to better understand the causes of male infertility that are attributable to developmental and functional anomalies in sperm cells. This work could lead to the development of new targets for more precise diagnosis of causes of infertility.

Disguising red blood cells may get around blood typing

Scientists have long sought a way to create an all-purpose red blood cell for transfusions that doesn’t rely on costly blood typing or donations of a specific blood type. Blood transfusions require a correct match between a donor and the recipient’s blood – a tricky proposition, given that there are 29 different red blood cell types, including the familiar ABO and Rh types. An important step toward the development of a universal blood product that would eliminate the need to “type” blood to match donor and recipient before transfusions has recently been made by Maryam Tabrizian, Dept. of Biomedical Engineering and the Faculty of Dentistry and her colleagues. To develop this “universal” red blood cell, the scientists discovered a way to encase living, individual red blood cells within a multilayered polymer shell. The shell serves as a cloaking device, they found, making the cell invisible to a person’s immune system and able to evade detection and rejection. “The results of this study mark an important step toward the production of universal RBCs,” the study states.

A new tool in the fight against TB

In the days leading up to World TB Day 2011 on March 24, a team of researchers from McGill and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre officially launched the BCG World Atlas: a first-of-its-kind, easy-to-use, searchable website that provides free detailed information on current and past TB vaccination policies for more than 180 countries. “The Atlas is designed to be a useful resource for clinicians, policymakers and researchers alike,” said McGill professor of epidemiology, Dr. Madhukar Pai. “It has important implications on diagnosing and treating TB and on the research that’s being done on developing a new TB vaccine.” Pai is a senior author on a paper about the Atlas that was published in the journal PLoS Medicine.