Patty Wellborn

Email: patty-wellborn@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

A participant performs a computerized task designed to probe cognitive function in Paul van Donkelaar’s concussion lab.

A participant performs a computerized task designed to probe cognitive function in Paul van Donkelaar’s concussion lab.

Groundbreaking research seeks to create better supports and outcomes for women

While the diagnoses and treatment of sport-related concussion have well-established guidelines and protocols, a new study from UBC’s Okanagan campus is looking at what has previously been an understudied group—women survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV).

Their hope is to develop a simple screening tool to help front-line services, like women’s shelters, identify traumatic brain injury (TBI) earlier, says Paul van Donkelaar, lead researcher and professor with the School of Health and Exercise Sciences.

“It is widely known survivors of intimate partner violence face many short- and long-term consequences from abuse which can have profound impacts on both their mental and physical health,” says van Donkelaar. “But there is currently very little direct evidence for the potential link between this violence and traumatic brain injury-induced brain dysfunction.”

Despite the abundance of research and public awareness around brain injury in athletes, van Donkelaar says traumatic brain injuries suffered by survivors of IPV are largely ignored. In fact, his most recent research, which is hoping to establish the incidence and effects of TBI on these women, is only the fourth study he knows of that deals specifically with this issue.

“IPV happens behind closed doors and usually there are no witnesses—if there are witnesses they are generally the children and they are traumatized,” says van Donkelaar, adding that if a survivor does seek medical help after an attack it is often for other traumatic injuries. “In many cases, survivors of IPV don’t necessarily know they have had a traumatic brain injury and yet they are suffering from chronic symptoms including headaches, dizziness, and difficulty remembering,” he says.

“If a brain injury is diagnosed, it might be several months or even years after the initial damaging blow took place. And was it caused by one blow, multiple attacks over several months, or from being shaken or even strangled?”

While diagnosis is a challenge, there also remains a social stigma with IPV. Van Donkelaar says many women who do seek medical help, may not tell the truth when asked how the injury occurred. For these reasons alone, van Donkelaar and his research team, including former UBCO postdoctoral fellow Jonathan Smirl, want to make concussion assessments and care for survivors of IPV accessible and straightforward.

“Although the health care system is a good place for TBI diagnoses in the context of IPV, many survivors do not feel comfortable accessing care in this manner so this leaves staff at women shelters as the first line of defense,” says Smirl. “Yet these staff members aren’t necessarily aware TBI can be part of their client’s experience and currently do not have appropriate screening tools available to them.”

For this latest research, the team used two brain injury questionnaires—the Brain Injury Severity Assessment tool (BISA) and the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT5)—to get a better sense of the symptoms experienced by survivors of IPV. Eighteen women who had experienced IPV took the part in the study.

The research, published in Brain Injury, determined that by using the BISA test, which asks questions about symptoms resulting from episodes of IPV, more brain injuries were reported by the survivors. The study determined that each of the participants have suffered at least one previous TBI, and most had suffered many.

“It’s estimated that several hundred thousand Canadian women a year experience a TBI, an even greater number than hockey or football players,” says Smirl. “And yet, due to the perceived stigma around IPV, many of these women don’t seek medical support. Unfortunately, living in this situation is their normal, waking up in a daze because she was punched again is her normal. Not only is it going undiagnosed, it’s going untreated.”

The findings from the current investigation can help develop TBI-informed screening tools to help front-line staff at women’s shelters identify a brain injury as a possible factor in the symptoms experienced by IPV survivors.

“What we’re hoping to do is implement a simple informed screening tool, just a few questions that front-line staff can ask which can help reveal whether a woman has potentially experienced an IPV-related TBI,” he says. “We will then be able to use it as a means to refer them to appropriate supports in the community.”

Van Donkelaar says providing these practical support resources to IPV survivors will improve their chances of breaking the cycle and enable them to move forward into an abuse-free future for themselves and their children.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBC research goes from the athletic stadium to African wildlife sanctuaries

An international research group at UBC, Harvard University, and Cardiff Metropolitan University has discovered how the human heart has adapted to support endurance physical activities.

Chimpanzee echocardiogram being performed by Aimee Drane from the International Primate Heart Project. Photo courtesy of Robert Shave.

Chimpanzee echocardiogram being performed by Aimee Drane from the International Primate Heart Project. Photo courtesy of Robert Shave.

This research examines how the human heart has evolved and how it adapts in response to different physical challenges, and will bring new ammunition to the international effort to reduce hypertensive heart disease - one of the most common causes of illness and death in the developed world.

The landmark study analyzed 160 humans, 43 chimpanzees and five gorillas to gain an understanding of how the heart manages different types of physical activity. In collaboration with Harvard University’s Daniel Lieberman and Aaron Baggish, UBC Professor Robert Shave and colleagues compared left ventricle structure and function in chimpanzees and a variety of people, including some who were sedentary but disease-free, highly active Native American subsistence farmers, resistance-trained football linemen and endurance-trained long-distance runners.

The wide variety of participants were specifically recruited to examine cardiac function in an evolutionary context. From the athletic stadium to wildlife sanctuaries in Africa, the team measured a diverse array of cardiac characteristics and responses to determine how habitual physical activity patterns, or a lack of activity, influence cardiac structure and function, explains Shave.

“While apes showed adaptations to support the pressure challenge associated with activities such as climbing and fighting, humans showed more endurance related adaptations,” says Shave, director of UBCO’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences.

Guiding their inquiry is the well-known idea that the heart remodels itself in response to different physiological challenges, he notes.

“Moderate-intensity endurance activities such as walking and running stimulate the left ventricular chamber to become larger, longer and more elastic—making it able to handle high volumes of blood,” he says. “But pressure challenges like chronic weight-lifting or high blood pressure, stimulate thickening and stiffening of the left ventricular walls.”

Among humans, the research team showed there is a trade-off between these two types of adaptations. This trade-off means that people who have adapted to pressure cannot cope as well with volume and vice versa. Basically, the hearts of endurance runners aren’t great at dealing with a pressure challenge, and the weight lifter’s heart will not respond well to increases in volume.

This new research provides evidence that the human heart evolved for the purpose of moderate-intensity endurance activities, but adapts to different physical (in)activity patterns.

“As a result, today’s epidemic of physical inactivity in conjunction with highly processed, high-sodium diets contributes to thicker, stiffer hearts that compromise the heart’s ability to cope with endurance physical activity, and importantly this may start to occur prior to increases in resting blood pressure,” explains Shave.

This is often followed by the onset of high blood pressure and can eventually lead to hypertensive heart disease.

“We hope our research will inform those at highest risk of developing hypertensive heart disease,” says Shave. “And ensure that moderate-intensity endurance-type activities are widely encouraged in order to ultimately prevent premature deaths.”

This research was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

During the international expedition to Peru, Ben Stacey a doctoral student from Cardiff, United Kingdom conducts a blood vessel function test on a local Andean resident. Researchers are trying to understand how some Andeans, who live at high altitude, develop altitude sickness.

During the international expedition to Peru, Ben Stacey a doctoral student from Cardiff, United Kingdom conducts a blood vessel function test on a local Andean resident. Researchers are trying to understand how some Andeans, who live at high altitude, develop altitude sickness.

International team conducts high-altitude research experiments

A group of international researchers went to great heights to better understand how high altitude affects both newcomers and Indigenous populations.

The 45-person international research team completed more than 15 major scientific studies in Peru’s Cerro de Pasco—a mining town at 4,330 metres. During the 30-day expedition, the team conducted more than 750 study sessions accounting for over 3,000 hours of experimental testing.

Roughly the size of an NFL team, the 2018 expedition included undergraduate and graduate students, as well as researchers and physicians from six countries and 11 universities. No easy feat to organize or execute, says UBCO’s Mike Tymko, expedition co-leader.

“Despite encountering serious logistical challenges, each of the proposed studies was completed at both sea level and high altitude,” says Tymko, who has just completed his PhD in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences.

It was not without challenges, he notes. The first being the logistical nightmare when more than 15 per cent of the expedition’s research equipment was delayed in customs at Lima airport.

The group, however, had a happy conclusion. The team’s perseverance, he says, ensured that all four metric tons of equipment and consumable research items, valued at $1.5 million, arrived at the high-altitude site. This allowed the team to set up six temporary laboratories that worked almost around the clock.

This achievement was part of the Global Research Expedition on Altitude-related Chronic Health—or Global REACH, the acronym the researchers devised for the far-reaching connectivity of the team and the study results.

“The results of the collective research will progress our understanding of how changes in blood flow to different stimuli, at low and high altitudes, alters the human body,” says Tymko. “The findings directly affect our understanding of high-altitude exposure on health. This research is relevant for people who suffer from conditions that are characterized by low oxygen including those with lung or heart disease.”

Along with several high-altitude studies, the team also wanted to help a group of local Andeans—a portion of the population who have developed a genetic mutation from their habitat. These are people who have developed an advanced form of altitude illness where their blood becomes extremely thick.

“In particular, our work explored important mechanisms that underpin both adaptation and maladaptation to high altitude in Indigenous populations to South America,” Tymko says, explaining they have an excess of red blood cells in their body. “It’s like their heart is pushing sludge through their blood vessels.”

Tymko says the findings of the 15 studies will result in a comparable amount of peer-reviewed publications over the next few years.

“These studies have the potential to improve quality of life and treatment strategies for those suffering from low oxygen levels in their body,” says UBCO Professor Phil Ainslie, Canada Research Chair in Cerebrovascular Physiology in Health and Disease.

“Understanding maladaptation to such stress helps inform unique avenues for new treatment strategies,”

As Tymko’s doctoral supervisor and Global REACH co-lead, Ainslie has organized several high-altitude research expeditions, including trips to Everest, that aimed to investigate how low oxygen affects the human body in both healthy and diseased populations.

The findings of the expedition will be released throughout 2019, the first of which is now live in the journal Hypertension.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca.

UBC research shows personal input and collaboration provide positive results

New co-created research at UBC’s Okanagan campus has resulted in ground-breaking increases in physical activity and fitness for those living with spinal cord injury (SCI).

Jasmin Ma is a recent doctoral graduate in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences. Along with her supervisor Professor Kathleen Martin Ginis, she recently published a study examining a time-efficient physical activity-coaching program created through community collaboration.

The key ingredient, says Ma, is partnership.

“The foundation of the project’s success is the networked approach. Health professionals, peers, researchers, and especially people living with SCI are all part of the development story,” Ma says of the intervention development process.

During the past three years, Ma worked with more than 300 people to explore the physical activity experiences of those living with SCI. The randomized controlled trial of the resulting intervention showed a five-fold increase in physical activity for its participants.

What’s impressive, says Ma, is six months after the trial ended, these levels of activity were maintained by the participants. Additionally, it’s also the first study to demonstrate improvements in fitness following a behavioural coaching intervention in this population.

While the physical activity progress for those living with SCI is in the study’s convincing numbers, the true success for Ma is how the community is thriving.

“Some of our participants have gone on to act as physical activity champions within their own networks,” she says. “Two of these outstanding individuals started the South Fraser Active Living Group and are working with Spinal Cord Injury BC to push the boundaries for accessible physical activity opportunities outside of Vancouver.”

With more than seven years of experience training clients with physical disability, Ma was no stranger to the barriers her clients face when it comes to exercise. Working individually with study participants, she found specific solutions to meet those challenges.

“The first step is asking the right questions, such as current physical activity levels and function, goals, barriers, preferences and available resources to collaboratively develop solutions,” says Ma. “After we get a good picture of our client’s situation, then it’s a matter of figuring out what strategies are needed to overcome their barriers. These strategies fall under the categories of education, referral to the right professionals, peers, or community resources, and physical activity prescription.”

Martin Ginis says the study will provide strong evidence for continued community-engaged research.

“The partnership with the SCI community and physiotherapists has resulted in a study that will improve the lives of people with spinal cord injury,” says Martin Ginis, director of the SCI Action Canada lab, which focuses on community-engaged research to advance physical activity participation in people living with spinal cord injury.”

“This study is a great step forward to collaborative community-engaged research,” adds Martin Ginis.

For Ma, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at UBC’s Vancouver campus, this is just the beginning. Her passion for bridging health care and recreation will continue as she works with Martin Ginis, the Rick Hansen Institute, Spinal Cord Injury BC, and GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver to implement this intervention in a hospital setting.

The research, which received funding from an Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation grant and a Rick Hansen Institute grant, was published recently in Sports Medicine.

Jasmin Ma is a recent doctoral graduate from the School of Health and Exercise Sciences.

Jasmin Ma is a recent doctoral graduate from the School of Health and Exercise Sciences.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca.

UBC research shows that participants who listen to motivational music reported greater enjoyment from their high-intensity interval training sessions.

UBC research shows that participants who listen to motivational music reported greater enjoyment from their high-intensity interval training sessions.

Insufficiently active people might benefit from choosing the right tunes

New research coming out of UBC’s Okanagan campus demonstrates that upbeat music can make a rigorous workout seem less tough. Even for people who are insufficiently active.

Matthew Stork is a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences. He recently published a study examining how the right music can help less-active people get more out of their workout—and enjoy it more.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT)—brief, repeated bouts of intense exercise separated by periods of rest—has been shown to improve physical health over several weeks of training. But, cautions Stork, it can be perceived as gruelling for many people, especially those who are less active.

“While HIIT is time-efficient and can elicit meaningful health benefits among adults who are insufficiently active, one major drawback is that people may find it to be unpleasant. As a result, this has the potential to discourage continued participation,” he says.

Previous research led by Stork and UBC Okanagan’s Kathleen Martin Ginis has examined the effects of music during HIIT with recreationally-active people. Their latest study tested the effects of music with participants who were insufficiently active, used a more rigorous music selection process and implemented a HIIT regimen that is more practical for less-active adults.

The study took place at Brunel University London and Stork worked with Professor Costas Karageorghis, a world-renowned researcher who studies the effects music has on sport and exercise. First, Stork gathered a panel of British adults to rate the motivational qualities of 16 fast-tempo songs. The three songs with the highest motivational ratings were used for the study.

“Music is typically used as a dissociative strategy. This means that it can draw your attention away from the body’s physiological responses to exercise such as increased heart rate or sore muscles,” says Stork. “But with high-intensity exercise, it seems that music is most effective when it has a fast tempo and is highly motivational.”

Next, a separate group of 24 participants completed what has been referred to as the ‘one-minute workout’—three 20-second all-out sprints, totaling 60 seconds of hard work. A short rest separated the sprints, for a total exercise period of 10 minutes including a warm-up and cool-down. Participants completed these HIIT sessions under three different conditions—with motivational music, no audio or a podcast that was devoid of music.

Participants in the music session reported greater enjoyment of HIIT. They also exhibited elevated heart rates and peak power in the session with music compared to the no-audio and podcast sessions.

“The more I look into this, the more I am surprised,” he says. “We believed that motivational music would help people enjoy the exercise more, but we were surprised about the elevated heart rate. That was a novel finding.”

Stork believes the elevated heart rates may be explained by a phenomenon called 'entrainment.'

“Humans have an innate tendency to alter the frequency of their biological rhythms toward that of musical rhythms. In this case, the fast-tempo music may have increased people’s heart rate during the exercise. It’s incredible how powerful music can be.”

Stork’s research indicates that for people who are deemed insufficiently active, music can not only help them work harder physically during HIIT but it can also help them enjoy HIIT more. And because motivational music has the power to enhance people’s HIIT workouts, it may ultimately give people an extra boost to try HIIT again in the future.

“Music can be a practical strategy to help insufficiently active people get more out of their HIIT workouts and may even encourage continued participation.”

The study was published this week in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise. Stork received financial support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research over the course of this project.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca.

Leadership, prevention and health of children topic of keynote address

What: UBC Okanagan Diabetes Research Day
Who: Keynote speaker Dr. Tom Warshawski, Chair of Childhood Obesity Foundation
When: Wednesday, June 19 at 5 p.m.
Where: Eldorado Hotel, 500 Cook Rd, Kelowna

Type 2 diabetes was once a condition that only affected adults. But today Type 2 diabetes is on the rise among children and youth globally.

A recent Canadian study found that 95 per cent of children newly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes are obese. Dr. Tom Warshawski of the Childhood Obesity Foundation has made it his life’s work to stop this concerning trend.

As past-president of the BC Pediatric Society, Society of Specialist Physicians, and Surgeons of BC, Warshawski has been responsible for leading multiple initiatives across Canada. These include spearheading the development of Sip Smart (a campaign to reduce sugary drinks for children) and Screen Smart (a campaign to reduce screen time).

Warshawski’s goal to improve the health of Canadian children has driven his work as a pediatrician. On June 19, he will deliver the keynote address at the UBC Okanagan Diabetes Research Day, which takes place at the Eldorado Hotel. His presentation will share his work on diabetes prevention and translating diabetes research into practice.

The event is open to the public and free, but online pre-registration is required at: diabetesbc.ca/our-events/ubc-okanagan-diabetes-obesity-research-day-2019

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca.

Ryan Hoiland has spent the past few years conducting research with UBCO’s Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health.

Ryan Hoiland has spent the past few years conducting research with UBCO’s Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health.

Governor General’s Gold Medal awarded for top academic achievement

A UBC Okanagan student, who has literally climbed mountains to conduct his research, has reached the peak of his university career by winning a top academic recognition.

Ryan Hoiland, who received his PhD in Interdisciplinary Graduate studies from the School of Health and Exercise Sciences today, is the Governor General Gold Medal winner for UBC’s Okanagan campus. It’s an award presented annually to the graduate student with the highest academic achievement. He has been at UBC Okanagan for nine years, earning three degrees: Bachelor of Human Kinetics, Master of Science, and finally his PhD.

Whether it’s the top of his class, or the top of the mountain, Hoiland’s goal has been to research and understand how the human body adapts to low oxygen levels.

“When people experience low oxygen—either at high-altitude or perhaps through illness— the brain works to increase the amount of blood it receives to maintain a stable supply of oxygen. Failure to do so can end in catastrophic consequences and neurological injury,” he explains.

Hoiland is no stranger to heights—conducting his research at high-altitude labs in Peru, California and Nepal. This research, along with his scientific travels, has led to more than 45 peer-reviewed published papers—15 as lead author—an accomplishment that Hoiland attributes to the mentorship of his supervisor Professor Phil Ainslie. He met Ainslie in the third year of his undergraduate studies. Less than a year later, the pair were 5,050 meters high near Mt. Everest Base Camp as part of an international research team.

“After that, I was hooked,” says Hoiland of the experience that satisfied his innate sense of curiosity.

Ainslie has taken several teams of scientists to the Mt. Everest research station, conducting numerous research projects each time. Much of Hoiland’s PhD work investigated high-altitude natives, like the Sherpa, who have lived in this low oxygen environment over thousands of years to determine if they possess unique evolutionary adaptations. One study, published in the Journal of Physiology this April, demonstrated that the blood flow response to low oxygen levels is distinctly different between high-altitude natives and those who live near sea level.

“Despite similarly low-oxygen levels in the blood, the Sherpa, who have lived at high-altitude for more than 25,000 years, had a lower oxygen supply to the brain,” he says. “This suggests that their brains may have evolved to be more resistant to low oxygen levels. Future investigation into how and why these differences exist may provide us valuable information that will help us better understand how the brain responds to low oxygen levels in certain clinical populations.”

While Hoiland’s research may sound lofty, it has practical applications for the general population—especially people living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). An earlier PhD study demonstrated that oxygen therapy in COPD patients may reduce the risk of dementia by improving the health of blood vessels in the brain.

“This particular aspect of brain and neurovascular function is extremely important, with impaired neurovascular function implicated in the development and progression of diseases such as dementia,” says Hoiland. “This improvement in oxygen supply to the brain and neurovascular function might provide a physiological link between oxygen therapy and a reduced risk of certain brain diseases for people with COPD."

While difficult and intriguing questions have motivated Hoiland and fuelled his endless sense of curiosity, he believes it was the team culture in Ainslie’s lab that truly underscores his combination of academic and research success—including winning the UBCO’s student researcher of the year award in 2018

“I cannot stress enough the importance of the team I have been a part of,” says Hoiland. “Being part of a supportive group that is working together to grow and explore new research avenues is vital and what initially drew me to UBC Okanagan.”

Ainslie, the Canadian Research Chair in Cerebral Vascular Physiology, describes Hoiland as an exceptionally enthusiastic and driven researcher.

“I have been working in the field of cerebral vascular physiology for more than 15 years and cannot express how impressive Ryan was as a doctoral student,” says Ainslie. “Overall, out of the last 40 doctoral students I have supervised or co-supervised, Ryan has proven to be the best all-around at research and has continued to improve his abilities at an astounding rate.”

Ainslie notes Hoiland’s research will provide new information about the fundamental basis and mechanisms of how the human brain can cope with low levels of oxygen.

“His capacity for succinct scientific writing and communication is exceptional, and he possesses remarkable presentation skills,” says Ainslie. “There is no question that Ryan will become a figurehead within the field of human and molecular vascular physiology, and that at this point in his career is deserving of being awarded the 2019 Governor General’s Gold Medal.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca.

Gabriel Dix was awarded the Lieutenant Governor's Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation at this year's UBC Okanagan Convocation.

Gabriel Dix was awarded the Lieutenant Governor's Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation at this year's UBC Okanagan Convocation.

Being a top student in high school not always a priority for Gabriel Dix

Gabriel Dix, winner of one of the top academic awards at UBCO's convocation this week, admits there is a slightly ironic twist to his accomplishment.

Today as he crossed the stage to earn his bachelor’s degree in human kinetics, Dix was awarded the Lieutenant Governor's Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation. It's presented to an undergraduate student who has remarkably high-academic standing and work in the community or around the world.

Dix is quick to confess he wasn’t a top student in high school. In Grade 12, instead of taking university prep classes like physics, biology or pre-calculus, he selected courses he thought would be fun or easy to complete.

“I used to be pretty self-limiting,” Dix says, who took a college upgrading program to gain entrance to UBCO. “I almost failed out of college and university. My first year of human kinetics at UBCO I earned an average of 69 per cent. The cut off to pass is 65.”

It was almost as if someone flipped a switch, he says. It wasn’t a matter of being smart. It was simply a case of applying himself.

“One day, I woke up and decided to try harder. When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be a personal trainer, so I tried for that. Then I thought, maybe I could be a physiotherapist? So I tried a little harder. And I did well. Then I thought I could try medicine,” he explains. “I told myself I can do this if I tried hard enough. I kept trying and working hard and I kept getting the results I needed.”

Dix has just completed his honours thesis working under UBC Professor Kathleen Martin Ginis in her Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Lab. Next year, as a graduate student, he will conduct research on how diet and exercise affect inflammation and neuropathic pain for people with SCI.

As someone who likes to be fit, he was at the gym when he ran into Martin Ginis, director of UBCO’s Chronic Disease Prevention Program. His interest in research, and his goal for helping all people live a better life, was a perfect match for her team.

Martin Ginis at first thought she might be a “back-up plan” for Dix, common practice for students if they don’t get into med school. She accepted him as a grad student “on the spot” when she learned he had full intentions to complete a masters degree first.

“Gabriel is an outstanding student,” says Martin Ginis “But more importantly, he genuinely cares about the people he works with—whether that be people in our campus community, our local community, or our global community.”

It’s that global community that has helped foster his passion for humanitarian medicine. For the past three years, he has travelled to Africa to volunteer and work alongside a team of international physicians in Malawi providing care to people who might not have access to health practitioners. One of his jobs was to help deliver dozens of free vaccinations for pneumonia, measles, mumps, rubella and tetanus to children in rural villages.

“It is my long-term goal to work as a humanitarian medic in countries like Malawi,” he says. “I believe individuals are often at their most vulnerable when seeking medical care and it is at this time a person can have the largest impact.”

This is the first time UBC Okanagan has been able to offer the Lieutenant Governor's Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation. To be eligible, a student must also show some work in either inclusion, democracy and reconciliation—Dix has all three covered.

Along with his volunteer hours as a basketball coach with Special Olympics Kelowna, he also volunteers weekly at Kelowna General Hospital and is an executive member of the UBC Okanagan Pre-Medicine club. He currently works as a research assistant with the UBCO Community Health Research Eminence Project which focuses on people living with mental health challenges, diabetes or obesity in both aboriginal and non-aboriginal settings.

Martin Ginis says his accomplishments mirror his passion to make the world a better place for all citizens.

“Gabriel’s commitment to excellence, and to making a difference in the lives of others, are what make him deserving of this award,” she adds “Our lab is so proud of him and so pleased that he will be joining us in the fall for graduate studies.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca.