The Next Big Thing: Submissions

We are asking UBC researchers to let us know about the next big thing in their field: a game-changing innovation that could have a dramatic impact in their field and the world. The responses we’ve received cover a broad range of topics, highlighting the depth and breadth of research taking place on campus.

Here are the submissions we’ve received thus far. Check back for updates.

Have an idea you’d like to share? Submit it here

Early palliative care for patients suffering from advanced heart failure

Submitted by: Gil Kimel

Patients suffering from advanced heart failure – there are more than 3,000 in B.C. – often have months to live, and more often than not, it’s an unsatisfactory quality of life. They are often unable to walk even a block without shortness of breath. They often fall victim to kidney failure and are at risk for falls that could cause further discomfort and immobility. And, knowing that their time is limited, they tend to become depressed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Studies show that patients would “trade” half of their remaining life just to feel better. That would mean providing early palliative care now available to patients with cancer. Communicating regularly with patients and using data from patients’ cardiac devices, we could minimize their visits to hospital – where most patients say they don’t want to be – and minimize their symptoms to make the most of their final months or years of life.

Preventing seahorses from getting caught in trawl nets

Submitted by: Tanvi Vaidyanathan

Conservation efforts in shallow seas could benefit species living in deeper waters. To that end, I am focusing on seahorses, which are threatened and iconic species in marine conservation. The UN’s Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species controls exports in many species like seahorses, which are often caught in trawl nets.  National authorities are at uncertain of how best to ensure that their trade in such accidentally-caught species is sustainable, and that seahorse habitat is protected. I am exploring how India’s management of shallow waters and fisheries in the Gulf of Mannar might benefit seahorses and other species.

How dam operation affects nutrient flow and fish populations

Submitted by: Patricia Woodruff

While many people rely on the electricity produced by hydroelectric dams, little work has been done studying the reservoirs that are created by these facilities. I will use data from four B.C. reservoirs in the Columbia watershed to see how dam operation affects nutrient flow and fish populations within and between the reservoirs. My research will be used to examine how best to incorporate biodiversity and fisheries values in the operation of hydroelectric facilities, while adjusting to climate change and allowing for power generation. The results from this project will help inform the upcoming negotiations of the Columbia River Treaty.

Including swimming lessons to educational programs in developing in the Philippines

Submitted by: Danika Kleiber

In small island communities of the Central Philippines, being surrounded by water is a part of daily existence.  Yet my research shows that less than 30 per cent of women know how to swim. In contrast, almost 80 per cent of men can swim at least 100 metres. For adult women, this inability to swim represents a safety issue and reinforces the restriction of their fishing activities to shallow waters.  Children (girls and boys) are, however, at greatest risk of drowning, constituting nearly 75 per cent of victims. Swimming lessons should be added to educational programs in a bid to overcome gender disadvantages and improve safety.

Organs on a Chip

Submitted by: James J. Feng

A computer chip, that is. Recent breakthroughs in growing artificial organs in the lab have led to a “lung-on-a-chip” and other “organs-on-a-chip”. These are grown from cultured cells in microscopic channels fabricated from silicon wafers. The fabrication resembles that of microelectronics, and hence the reference to “chip.” We are striving to translate such lab operations into computer simulations – a shift from silicon wafers in the lab to memory chips in a computer. This will allow us to screen huge numbers of designs rapidly and cheaply, and help bring artificial organs from lab experiments to clinical applications.

Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC)

Submitted by: Natalie Marshall

The bacterial pathogen enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) causes severe diarrheal disease and significant mortality worldwide. In Canada, EHEC causes ~50,000 infections/year and numerous deaths. Outbreaks from contaminated water (Walkerton), beef (XL Foods), and cheese (gouda) further highlight the relevance of this pathogen to Canadian health and industry.

I study how EHEC causes human disease, specifically the EHEC proteins that are injected into human cells by a syringe-like nanomachine. Using a proteomics technique developed at UBC, I examine how these injected bacterial proteins affect entire human cellular pathways during infection. Understanding the molecular mechanisms by which these proteins contribute to disease could reveal clinical targets against EHEC.

Assessing sustainability of the seahorse trade

Submitted by: Sarah Foster

Seahorses are small fishes that are making a big difference to how we manage wildlife trade for sustainability.  They were the first marine fishes brought under global export regulations, requiring 178 countries to prove that their seahorse exports are not harming wild populations. Failure to do so could mean trade bans. Our research builds in-country capacity for assessing sustainability of seahorse trade, by generating new information and frameworks for assessment, and by exploring management options. Our outputs are transferable to other marine fishes in trade, including the sharks and rays that have followed seahorses in coming under global export controls

Who is viewing your information? Next generation privacy tools

Submitted by:  Daniel Papania

Over a billion people use social networks to share personal information with friends, colleagues, even strangers. Disturbingly, most social network platforms provide few (if any) feedback cues indicating that one’s information has been viewed by others. This absence, coupled with current rudimentary privacy tools, forces users to blindly choose between including or excluding potential audiences while ill-equipped to make such decisions. If users could see who had viewed their information they could better engage their networks. This research investigates tools to reduce the costs of sharing without reducing the benefits.

Control of floating offshore wind turbines

Submitted by: Ryozo Nagamune

Wind is a clean and renewable source of energy for electrical power generation. To harvest wind energy efficiently without negatively impacting the environment and human beings, large-scale offshore wind turbines that float on the ocean are becoming popular. To make the floating offshore wind turbine technology economically viable, this research project aims at reducing the cost of wind energy from the control engineering viewpoint, by increasing the energy capture and expanding the lifetime of the wind turbines. The research is important to meet the ever-increasing electricity demands as well as to realize sustainable society in Canada and worldwide.


Driverless Cars

Submitted by: Dr. Homayoun Najjaran

It may seem scary seeing a car passing through an intersection with no one in the driver seat. This unexpected scene will be the norm of our urbanized societies in less than a decade, according to many car manufacturers racing to be the first to capture the market. But even before this is realized, existing driver assistance systems are making a difference alleviating the biggest source of fatality of the modern era. It is motivating to know that even the existing technology could have prevented many tragedies including Ottawa’s recent bus-train crash. UBC-ACIS researchers are collaborating with UC Berkeley to help the automotive industry in this challenge one step at a time.




Fighting poverty and promoting behavioural sustainability

Submitted by: Jiaying Zhao

My research shows that poverty poses significant budgetary challenges that impair cognitive function, leading to suboptimal behaviours that can perpetuate the condition of poverty. Moreover, the poor face stigmas associated with poverty, which further reduces mental function. To alleviate the impact of poverty, I’m currently investigating how unconditional cash transfers and self-affirmation lead to sustainable gains in income, cognitive function, and well-being in low-income villagers in Uganda. The research not only offers new insights on the psychology of poverty, but also has important implications of policy on poverty and sustainability.

Born to be good: the morality of babies

Submitted by: Kiley Hamlin

Research with babies suggests that the roots of compassion, empathy and moral reasoning might be in place from birth. Where does this moral sense come from? Although developmental psychologists traditionally explore morality from a learning and development perspective, some aspects of the human moral sense may be built-in. I’m exploring this idea through a recent body of research with infants and toddlers. The research reveals surprisingly sophisticated and flexible moral behaviour and evaluation in young babies whose opportunity for moral learning is limited. Although this work itself is in its infancy, it supports theoretical claims that human morality is a core aspect of human nature.


Building Canada’s healthiest and most sustainable community in the Okanagan Valley

Submitted by: Bahareh Reza

The urban environment – buildings, cities and infrastructure – represents one of the most important contributors to climate change, while at the same time holding the key to a more sustainable way of living. This research aims to investigate the transformation strategies from traditional to sustainable systems for a new neighbourhood development in the Okanagan Valley. New Monaco, a master-planned community that aims to be Canada’s healthiest and most sustainable community will be used as a case study. The District of Peachland, New Monaco Enterprise, Focus Corporation, Fortis BC, and Urban Systems are the industrial collaborators in this ambitious research project.


Sequencing genomes

Submitted by: Daniel Lai

Soon for under $1000, we can sequence your genome with a machine. Clinicians can then scan through all 3 billion letters to determine what is or will be wrong with you.  This used to take years for a single patient, but with the help of computer programs, researchers can now scan through multiple genomes in an afternoon. Behind every computer program is a bioinformatician, an individual bridging the life and computer sciences like me. Our programs don’t make new discoveries or save lives, but it helps those who do, and that’s got to count for something.

How global accords affect conservation of marine fish

Submitted by: Ting-Chun Kuo

Since hunting or fishing for trade can pose a very significant threat to wildlife populations, international agreements have emerged to restrict exports to sustainable levels. My study focuses on how such global accords affect conservation of marine fish. I use models to describe wildlife trade among countries, and use real data to examine how trades changed once regulations were applied. I also investigate the effects of export regulations for conservation purposes on fishers’ and traders’ livelihoods, as mediated through fisheries and trade management. My work explores how respecting marine fish as wildlife plays out in the global arena.

Targeting cancer cells

Submitted by: Noushin Moshgabadi

Chemotherapy can have side effects in normal cells. Tumours can also develop resistance to therapeutic treatment. The aim of my project is to identify conditions that better sensitize cancer cells to chemotherapy.

Cancer cells carry somatic mutations that genotypically distinguish them from noncancerous cells. We take advantage of the presence of the somatic mutation in cancer cells in combination to DNA repair enzyme inhibitor and chemotherapy agents. The inhibition of DNA repair enzyme inhibits the repair of somatic mutation and also the damage that was induced by chemotherapy agents in cancer cells. Therefore, only cancer cells will be eliminated.

“How are you?” The question that saves lives

Submitted by: Dr. Melanie Murray & Dr. Richard Lester

The WelTel study investigates whether text messaging can revolutionize the notion of ‘house calls’ for women and families living with HIV in B.C. Engagement in care and adherence to medication are vital determinants of health outcomes for people living with HIV, but stigma, homelessness, depression and other social challenges are major barriers to care. Through weekly ‘how are you’ text messages to our most vulnerable patients, we are staying connected in between clinic visits and finding solutions for problems in real time. As cell phones are widespread, this cost-effective patient engagement model could transform care for patients with chronic conditions.

Coral reefs and the effects of fishing

Submitted by: Jennifer Selgrath

I am asking how resilient coral reefs are to the effects of fishing. To address this question, I create vital underwater habitat maps of threatened coastal habitats (e.g. coral, seagrass) in the global centre of marine biodiversity. I then assess fishing impacts on these habitats by mapping dynamic choices that fishers make about which areas to target and which fishing gears to use. One finding is that fishers deploy increasingly more damaging fishing gears.  These two branches of research support my third focal area, which focuses on developing strategic conservation and management strategies based on ecosystem responses to fishing impacts.

Can mind-wandering and daydreaming hold the key to our creativity?

Submitted by: Kieran Fox

We spend a huge amount of our time dreaming and daydreaming – but what is it all for? Many people find personal meaning in dreams and daydreams, but the consensus scientific viewpoint is that they’re just senseless fantasy. Our research shows that the same brain regions involved in daydreaming are also active in nighttime dreams, during creative thinking, and when planning for the future. Dreaming and daydreaming might be key to our creativity and our ability to plan for the future. We’re continuing our work on understanding the positive, constructive side of dreams and daydreams. Find us at

Paying attention to sexuality and gender marginality saves lives

Submitted by: Lisa Mighton

The Cancer’s Margins research project is Canada’s first nationally funded LGBT cancer research project.

The new research demonstrates that a patient’s sexual and/or gender identity must be taken into consideration as part of the delivery of breast and gynecologic cancer screening and cancer care. And this is cool because it may change the way medicine, and cancer screening, is practiced.