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In Brief

Honorary graduand receives Nobel Prize

Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, who is set to receive an honorary doctor of science degree during convocation ceremonies at Memorial Oct. 23, has won the Nobel Prize.

Dr. Blackburn and her colleagues Carol Greider and Jack Szostak were awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their chromosome research. The Karolinska Institute in Sweden, the steward of the Nobel Prize, says the trio was honoured for showing how chromosomes can be copied in a complete way during cell divisions and how they are protected against degradation. The Nobel Laureates have shown that the solution is to be found in the ends of the chromosomes – the telomeres – and in an enzyme that forms them – telomerase.

Dr. Blackburn is a prominent biologist and physiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.

Dr. Blackburn will receive an honorary doctor of science at the 10 a.m. session of Convocation on Oct. 23.

Memorial will also award an honorary degree to former Sunday Express editor Michael Harris at the 7 p.m. session of convocation the same day.

For more on convocation, see

Memorial to transfer ownership of hyperbaric equipment

Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine is working towards concluding an agreement which will see the university transferring ownership of its hyperbaric chamber to Eastern Health, the province’s largest health authority.

Under the proposed agreement, the university would retain the right to use the specialized equipment for education and research purposes, but Eastern Health will manage the clinical use of the chamber itself. The facility, located on Memorial’s St. John’s campus, has increasingly been used to treat patients suffering from a variety of conditions and illnesses.

“The equipment provides a very controlled environment in which air pressure and oxygen and other gas concentrations can be safely adjusted,” said Dr. Jim Rourke, dean of the Faculty of Medicine. “The facility has also been made available for acute emergency patient care several times per year, most often for treatment relating to diving emergencies when controlled decompression was needed.

“The understanding of the usefulness of hyperbaric treatments relating to patient care has increased over the years, leading to use of the chamber by Eastern Health for a wider variety of patients other than for acute emergency care,” said Dr. Rourke. “We hope that this agreement, once concluded, will lead to greater use of the hyperbaric chamber for patients in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

With the shift in priority focus from research to patient care, Memorial University, the Faculty of Medicine and Eastern Health have agreed that Eastern Health will be fully responsible for equipment and staff related to patient care.

Peggy Lewis walk supports research

The Newfoundland and Labrador Lung Association with the Peggy Lewis Memorial Walk Committee has committed $110,000 over six years to support idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) research at Memorial University.

Drs. Bridget Fernandez and Mike Woods, genetics researchers in the Faculty of Medicine, accepted a cheque for $6,250 on Sept. 17 from representatives of Lung Association and the Peggy Lewis Memorial Walk committee (PLMWC) as one instalment on this overall commitment.

Pulmonary fibrosis causes abnormal formations of fibre-like scar tissue in the lungs – as the disease progresses lung tissues thicken and become stiff and breathing becomes difficult. The term idiopathic means “of unknown origin.” To date there is no cure; the only treatment is a lung transplant.

Dr. Fernandez and Woods are working with local respirologists, radiologists, pathologists and laboratory scientists to identify the gene for inherited pulmonary fibrosis. Their hope is that by discovering the gene’s role in lung physiology it will eventually lead to more effective therapy.