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On social media platforms, the transmission of false information and disinformation is made possible by several causes. Social media’s information overflow creates a chaotic, overwhelming environment that makes it challenging for users to distinguish between fact and fiction. This opens channels for negative actors to disseminate false information, disproportionately harming underprivileged populations. In the past, such bad actors have deliberately disseminated false information about incorrect voting dates and polling places, intimidated voters or made other threats at polling places, or used messages to prey on common concerns among Black and Latino voters about the effectiveness of political processes.
While this is happening, social media algorithms are created to show users the content they will likely interact with. These algorithms use extensive data collection of consumer online activities, including browsing habits, past purchases, location information, and more. Confirmation biases are made possible because users frequently come across content that supports their political views and worldviews. Due to the resulting tensions, the Stop the Steal Movement following the 2020 U.S. presidential elections and the January 6 uprising were both driven by misinformation that was able to propagate and solidify among specific groups as a result of this.
Disinformation has also been distributed thanks to microtargeting. This enables political organizations and individuals to accurately distribute adverts to certain demographics using information gathered by social media platforms. Microtargeting has drawn criticism in business contexts for allowing discriminatory advertising and denying historically excluded communities access to possibilities for employment, housing, banking, and other services. In contrast, political microtargeting has come under equal criticism, partly because political ad purchases are not closely monitored.
Political campaigns have also used geofencing, another data collection technique that enables additional microtargeting, to track when people enter or are present in specific geographically defined locations. CatholicVote employed technology at a church in 2020 to target supporters of Donald Trump with specific messages, gathering voters’ religious affiliations without their knowledge or consent. This creates a fresh opportunity for data collecting that algorithms and microtargeting tools can use.
Threats from disinformation are also made worse by automation and machine learning (ML) technology. Relevant technologies range from very basic automation, such as computer programmes (“bots”) that operate fake social media accounts by reproducing human-written text to sophisticated software. These types of advanced software use ML techniques to create realistic-looking profile pictures for fake accounts or fake videos (“deepfakes”) of politicians.
There need to be better accountability mechanisms for big tech companies:
There has been little oversight over how tech companies have handled the many problems of disinformation and privacy infringements. Over the years, scholars and civil rights organizations have repeatedly flagged instances where tech companies have failed to remove misinformation or incitements of violence in violation of the company’s own policies.
Unfettered access to customer data can be prevented via a federal privacy framework :
The blatant data gathering that permits microtargeting and algorithms to discriminate based on protected characteristics is made possible by the absence of federal privacy regulations. The American Data Privacy and Protection Act, which was recently unveiled, is a step in the right direction for Congress in establishing much-needed privacy legislation. The bill forbids the collecting and using of data for discriminatory reasons, which is its most significant prohibition. Additionally, the measure includes improved kid privacy protections, organizational standards for data reduction, and a constrained private right of action. The improvement of voter safeguards online would be significantly aided by enacting this legislation.
Are Your Household Products Increasing Your Likelihood of Diabetes?
By: Harsimranjit Nafriaan
After your refreshing shower, you reach for your deodorants and perfumes to carry you throughout your day. However, these ‘life-saving’ utilities have ironically been claimed to be life-threatening. Do such products, along with many others, actually, have a causal relationship with the development of diabetes?
Claims have been circulating that suggest a relationship between diabetes onset and certain chemicals. This list of chemicals constitutes dioxins and phthalates. Dioxins are toxic chemicals byproducts of chemical processes, including the burning of waste or fuel or the production of pesticides. After becoming airborne, these chemicals quickly settle in the soil and are, in this way, transported to our food and water supply. Once dioxins have been ingested, they remain in our bodies for several years. Phthalates are commonly found in soft plastics and are used to create solvents. They are also most often found in products that list the word “fragrance” in their ingredient list, such as makeup and perfume.
What is Diabetes
Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States in 2017. Diabetes is an impairment in how our body regulates and uses sugar, specifically glucose. Glucose is necessary for our body as it provides fuel and energy for the metabolic activities of our cells. This long-term condition, however, causes there to be far too much sugar in our bloodstream. High blood sugar levels, termed hyperglycemia, can lead to immune, circulatory and nervous system disorders. However, the symptoms of diabetes are not always very dramatic and often go unnoticed, with millions living with the illness without realizing it, therefore, deeming it the name “silent killer.” Diabetes can occur in both childhood and adulthood, but type 2 diabetes is more common in adults. However, increasing rates have been seen in children, which has been correlated with the rising levels of obesity among children. Since treating diabetes is a long and expensive process, deriving treatments for prevention is definitely more favourable.
Contrary to popular belief, diabetes is not caused by too much sugar intake and is, therefore, not self-induced. Blood sugar levels are governed by insulin, a hormone produced by beta cells in your pancreas, a gland located below and behind the stomach. Sugar in the bloodstream that has been digested from food or released by the liver triggers insulin secretion. The hormone allows sugar to enter your cells so that it can be used. When the sugar levels in your bloodstream drop, insulin production also decreases. However, in diabetes, this mechanism is flawed.
There are two types of diabetes, type 1 diabetes and type 2. Type 1 diabetes refers to when your immune system destroys insulin-producing beta cells by mistake, which depletes the body’s ability to produce insulin in the first place. This form of diabetes is usually genetic and will not be the focus of this article. On the other hand, type 2 diabetes is characterized by an insufficient amount of insulin produced by the pancreas or insulin resistance which involves cells in your liver, muscle, and adipose tissue not responding well to insulin and therefore not effectively taking up glucose from the bloodstream. It is important to note that insulin resistance can occur in individuals without diabetes, but it often leads to the onset of prediabetes or type 2 diabetes if left unchecked.
Dioxins and Diabetes
Since the 1980s, over 100 peer-reviewed studies have been published examining the relationship between diabetes and dioxins. Looking specifically at the dioxin TCDD, it is already a confirmed carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). Similar to other dioxins, it is linked to many complications in the human body, most notably ischemic heart disease, chloracne (an acne-like skin illness), and type 2 diabetes. TCDD is extremely lipophilic, bioaccumulates, and resists metabolism. Exactly how dioxins operate in the human body is still being investigated and confirmed. However, scientists are now certain that in this complex chemical pathway, the first step occurs when dioxin binds to the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), an intracellular protein. This binding induces the AhR to alter and interfere with the function and expression of particular genes. Genes are responsible for all our cells to function normally. Therefore, this imbalance promotes adverse health conditions. Specifically, AhR mediates the development of insulin resistance and diabetes.
Chemical compatibility is necessary for any substance to bind to a specific protein, such as AhR. TCDD is unique as its structure makes it highly amenable to protein receptor bonding. However, TCDD is not the only chemical that binds to AhR. Therefore, public health officials take into account that individuals are often exposed to a mixture of DLCs (dioxin-like compounds) and dioxins rather than just one.
Laboratory studies on animals have supported the above claim that TCDD can be linked to insulin resistance. However, results from epidemiologic studies are inconsistent. These studies look at exposure to TCDD and the resulting glucose homeostasis. For example, some studies portray significant positive correlations between diabetes and exposure to Agent Orange (TCDD-contaminated) by Vietnam veterans, but others do not. In the SWHS (Seveso Women’s Health Study), diabetes diagnosis at a time period of thirty years after exposure to TCDD levels in serum was not conclusive. Operation Ranch Hand veterans experienced lower insulin sensitivity. Residents near a Superfund site contaminated by TCDD were found to have higher insulin levels. Non-diabetic individuals inhabiting a deserted Taiwan pentachlorophenol factory showed increased insulin resistance when exposed to high serum levels of dioxin.
The variability in results makes it evident that the circumstances and type of exposure do have an impact on if dioxin exposure will result in diabetes onset. Further studies need to be conducted to satisfy this inquiry. However, medical officials have begun considering TCDD as a risk factor for diabetes.
Phthalates and Diabetes
Most previous studies on this group of chemicals have focused on child development and reproductive health complications as scientists believe they impact sex hormones by acting as endocrine disruptors. However, recently they have been cause for investigation because of their possible negative impact on the health of seniors, individuals over age 65. The study showed that the prevalence of diabetes increased when the subject was overweight or had high levels of blood cholesterol. This risk doubled when phthalates became a factor. Lind, an associate professor at Swedish Uppsala University, says, “even at relatively low levels of phthalate metabolites in the blood, the risk of getting diabetes begins to rise.”
Nonetheless, this study only shows a positive correlation and does not, by any means, indicate a causal relationship between the presence of phthalates and diabetes. On this matter, Lind states, “further studies are needed that show similar associations…experimental studies are also needed regarding what biological mechanisms might underlie these connections.” Therefore, without the presence of more experimental evidence, it can not be said with certainty that phthalates cause diabetes.
While confirmations of causal relationships between phthalates and some dioxins are still pending, these chemicals have been proven to be toxic and cause other adverse health effects; there is more evidence to support claims on dioxins, specifically TTCD, than phthalates.
Use glass or stainless steel instead of plastic to store drinks and food
Refrain from using scented candles, cleaning products, laundry detergents, or body and hair products that list “parfum,” “natural fragrances” or “fragrance” in their ingredients. Products using essential oils for scenting are a better alternative.
Instead of using vinyl flooring, use flooring composed of natural materials such as wood, natural linoleum and bamboo
Several other precautions can be taken to avoid dioxins and phthalate exposure. It is crucial to continue educating yourselves on these topics as new studies continue to be conducted and analyzed. Due to their confirmed adverse health impacts, exposure to these chemicals should be minimized as much as possible.
Warner, M., Rauch, S., Brambilla, P., Signorini, S., Mocarelli, P., & Eskenazi, B. (2020). Prenatal dioxin exposure and glucose metabolism in the Seveso Second Generation study. Environment International, 134, 105286. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2019.105286Xu, C-X., Wang, C., Zhang, Z-M., Jaeger, C. D., Krager, S. L., Bottum, K. M., Liu, J., Liao, D-F., & Tischkau, S. A. (2015). Aryl hydrocarbon receptor deficiency protects mice from diet-induced adiposity and metabolic disorders through increased energy expenditure. International Journal of Obesity, 39(8), 1300–1309. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2015.63
Fast fashion refers to the area of the fashion industry that is geared towards producing the latest trends at relatively low prices. Many individuals relish being able to stay on top of the newest trends and not go over their spending limits. However, these large fashion companies have done an excellent job concealing the truth from us consumers. Fast fashion companies can mass-produce clothing items and have low-profit margins since they cut back on other expenses. For instance, poor working conditions for employees, insufficient pay, and outsourcing from countries with few environmental policies are highly unsustainable. Most notable examples of fast fashion companies include Zara, Shein, H&M and Urban Outfitters. All of these companies are highly successful, as they cater to providing buyers with precisely what they want for a fraction of the price.
The reasoning behind why fast fashion is raising concern amongst activists across the globe has to do with its detrimental environmental impacts. According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, the fast fashion industry is responsible for nearly 10% of annual greenhouse gas emissions . And has stated that it is more than international flights and maritime usage. You may be wondering, where exactly are these emissions coming from? Well, from the very beginning of when an item is manufactured, transported to stores and the consumer, and then typically thrown away, there are many opportunities to negatively impact the environment. Nearly 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions annually result from fast fashion. Many individuals believe that clothing articles can be worn a few times before it is deemed “waste” and ultimately takes space in a landfill . A report from Carbon Literacy found that companies have increased the number of new clothing collections from 2 per year to 24 since 2000 . We need to step back and reconsider the impacts of our everyday choices and make a change.
A prime example of the severity and consequences of supporting fast fashion companies was the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse, which supplied garments to companies including the Canadian-based Joe Fresh and many others. Nearly 230 workers were killed, and many others severely injured. Improper building maintenance, management and not providing workers with proper working conditions lead to the collapse. Before the collapse, workers recalled seeing “cracks” forming along the walls of the building. However, management deemed the conditions “safe to work in” and failed to address the issue adequately. Following the collapse, families were given compensation, and Joe Fresh made press releases, etc. However, the company continues to outsource goods from Bangladesh to this day. Although this incident shed light on the negative impact of the fast fashion industry, these companies remain to manufacture goods and supply goods at lower prices. Some may say to prohibit companies from outsourcing from less developed countries entirely. However, it is vital to recognize that it would render many individuals jobless without these manufacturing plants. These companies provide individuals with a source of income. However, further pressure needs to be placed on these companies to ensure that workers are paid adequately and are in safe working conditions.
Some companies have addressed their environmental impact and presence in the fast fashion industry. For instance, H&M created a line of clothing labelled “Conscious,” which claims that “at least 50% of each piece [clothing article] is made from more sustainable materials”. Similarly, they have a policy by CanopyStyle (a company that encourages sustainable fashion practices) that will prevent deforestation in some areas of its supply chain, along with many other guidelines to make H&M more sustainable. While it is true that companies as such are publicising their efforts to become more sustainable, creating new and improved policies and new clothing lines, there is hardly ever any actual evidence of them following through. This is the case for many companies we blindly support and never actually stop to think of the harm they are causing to our environment. It is up to us to, instead of buying conscious products, to instead become conscious consumers.
It is up to us as a society to educate ourselves and others around us to create a brighter future. We need to start taking action and pay attention to our purchasing habits. For starters, the easiest way to stop fast fashion is to stop purchasing goods from these brands entirely or buy new items less often. This concept is beautifully summarised in a quote by Patagonia’s Chief Product Officer, “The most environmentally sustainable jacket is the one that’s already in your closet…” . Since fast fashion companies thrive off consumers and their bizarre purchasing habits, eliminating that would raise concern for these companies. It is crucial as consumers to realize that our actions do impact the environment, and our failure to recognize that has led to our earth suffering the consequences.
Another way we can become more sustainable buyers is to shop from sustainable and ethical brands. Companies such as Patagonia, an activist company, and IKEA, which manufacture products from sustainable materials, are prime examples of sustainable companies (Check out the link at the end of the article). When society begins to support more sustainable companies, this can pressure companies to also engage in sustainable practices and create a cause for action.
Buying items from thrift stores or other second-hand shops is a great way to improve our carbon footprint drastically. Thrift stores acquire nearly all merchandise through donations and help to reduce garment waste significantly. According to an article published by The Recycling Council of Ontario, the average Canadian throws out 81 pounds of textiles annually . So, when you think that your choices will not leave an impact, it’s important to realize they do!
Lastly, we can shift to purchasing locally made goods and supporting small businesses. This will contribute to the betterment of your community, but it is much more susceptible than buying from fast fashion companies that pay little or no regard to the environment. Many small businesses purchase raw materials, manufacture goods themselves and take care of shipping themselves. It is up to us as consumers to decide whether to continue supporting companies willing to put our environment at risk or make a change.
Sometimes, buying sustainable or more ethically sourced items can become costly; fast fashion companies have expedited shipping times and often charge a fraction of the price a sustainable company would impose. However, the only way that we will see a change is if we as a society choose to make it happen. We need to decide if we are willing to put our environment at risk or help create a better world to live in by reflecting upon our purchasing habits.
To get brand sustainability ratings check out the link below:
This website provides brands with a sustainability rating score and rates brands on three main categories: Planet, People and Animal ratings.
This website also is a great resource to find more articles about sustainability and the impacts of fast fashion, be sure to check it out!
 comms. “The Average Person Throws Away 37 Kilograms of Textiles Annually.” Recycling Council of Ontario, 2019, rco.on.ca/the-average-person-throws-away-37-kilograms-of-textiles-annually/#:~:text=In%20Canada%2C%20the%20average%20person,Waste%20Reduction%20Week%20in%20Canada.. Accessed 29 May 2022.
 “Fast Fashion’s Carbon Footprint – the Carbon Literacy Project.” The Carbon Literacy Project, 17 Aug. 2021, carbonliteracy.com/fast-fashions-carbon-footprint/. Accessed 30 May 2022.
Why all-nighters do not work, and how sleep deprivation affects your psychological and physical health
Written by Varvara Dyakonova
The final exam season has begun for many and is fast approaching for others. And with all the stress and rushing to review and memorize a lot of information, the choice of pulling off an all-nighter might arise. All-nighters are marathons of studying when people stay up for several days. However, there are some risks associated with it and some difficulties.
The medical term for the absence of sleep for more than 24 hours is sleep deprivation. It can range based on the awakening duration and can be described in terms of 24, 36, 48, 72, 96 and more hours of being without sleep. Although it might seem like the desired state when you are productive and can get many things done due to the prolonged wakening time, the psychological and physiological risks associated with this state are essential to mention.
But let’s first discuss what sleep is and how it works from a physiological standpoint. The behavioural definition of sleep includes minimal movements, the lack of ability to describe the state you’re in, the lack of attention to the environment and relaxed posture. However, it is not enough to describe sleep from a cognitive or more scientific perspective. Thus, indirect neurophysiological measurements, such as EEG, EOG, and EMG, should be used.
Scientists have discovered that brain activity differs in the types of waves or the pattern of neural excitement happening in the brain. Six distinct brain wave patterns can describe different stages of human activity. These brain patterns correspond to various activities humans perform, and the diagram below indicates the relative frequencies as well as actions performed during each type of wave.
Additionally, several neurotransmitters are involved, such as GABA, adenosine, nitric oxide and melanin. GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter involved in “shutting down” the activity of wake-promoting brain regions. Adenosine is a byproduct of brain metabolism, and when the levels are high, people start to feel sleepy. That’s why coffee is used as a minor stimulant, as it blocks the binding of adenosine to the receptors, and thus, a human starts feeling more alert and less tired. Nitric oxide is tied to the production of adenosine and acts as a signal to increase production. Melanin, famous for various supplements available for sleep-enhancing, is a regulator of the internal clocks by reacting to the dark environment.
Two distinct theories can describe the reasons why we sleep. The first is the homeostatic theory, which states that humans and other animals need sleep for recovery to keep up with health and reestablish homeostasis. Homeostasis is the maintenance of relatively constant conditions in the body, despite the variability of external conditions. Examples of homeostasis can be body temperature, salt balance, pH levels and others. However, this theory is difficult to test and to do so we need to find people who do not restart and without any recovery with altered homeostasis. People with sleep disorders are under stress conditions (cofounding variable). Is it stress or sleep deprivation? Philosophical assumptions can frame the definition of stress and explain how stress is a particular case of distorted homeostasis. These assumptions refer to external conditions that put external adaptive pressure on an organism.
The second theory is the adaptive theory of sleep, which states that different sleep schedules among living organisms are due to various environmental needs for adaptations. And these environmental factors affect sleep.
Sleep is an important mechanism that helps achieve memory consolidation; during slow-wave sleep, declarative memory – knowledge, concepts, and meanings – is consolidated, while procedural memory, or how to perform some action, is consolidated during the REM sleep or rapid eye movement sleep, which happens about 90 minutes after a person falls asleep, and this is the stage in which people see dreams and most of the brain activities related to benefits of sleep happen during the REM sleep.
So what happens with the brain and body when someone does not get enough sleep and is sleep-deprived?
While sleep deprivation can be divided into stages, such as sleep deprivation for 24, 36, 48, 72, or 96 hours or more, the symptoms increase in strength and severity with the prolongation of such state. They vary in severity from fatigue and irritability to anxiety, hallucinations, and distorted thinking and can cause sleep deprivation psychosis. Sleep deprivation psychosis includes hallucinations, such as visual, auditory and tactile hallucinations, and overall disconnection from reality, Sleep deprivation has a severe effect on the brain. Firstly, the brain disposes of most of the waste during sleep, which happens by the lymphatic system, affecting the proneness of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. It takes longer sleep time for recovery, and statistically, just 1 hour of sleep takes four days to recover.
Additionally, sleep deprivation alters the neural connections in the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, which causes impairments in executive functioning, which refers to the mental processes of self-regulation, planning, decision making, attention and multitasking. These alterations cause increased moodiness and heightened emotional responses with hypersensitivity to rewarding stimuli. Additionally, there is an over-exertion of the prefrontal cortex, which causes impairments in alertness, thinking and concentration.
Therefore, sleep deprivation does not only affect the physiological state, causing hypertension, heart diseases and obesity but also causes changes in the neurological structure of the brain, altering consciousness and concentration. Consequently, there are changes in neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain that act as messengers and signals for different functions, predominantly inhibitory, accountable for producing the feeling of sleepiness. Thusly, overproduction of adenosine causes the feeling of tiredness, and this feeling only builds up more as sleep deprivation prolongs. Therefore, creating an imbalance in the chemical content of the brain. However, due to neuroplasticity or the ability of the brain to modify, adapt and change in response to life experiences, and homeostatic properties of the brain, sleep deprivation can be treated with sleep.
Overall, being awake for several days might seem like an attractive option, especially when there are so many things to do. Still, the abilities of the brain to memorize and recall information and the opportunity to think clearly decreases with the prolongation of being awake. Additionally, if you learn all the information, the cost outweighs the benefits, and you can start developing diseases and suffering from long-term consequences, especially as you get older. Even though everyone is telling us that sleep is essential, it is crucial to understand all the risks and make an informed decision of valuing your physical and mental health over some exams. You have only one body and one mind while having countless tests that, in the long term, will matter a lot less rather than your state.
Tips and tricks
I know how stressing it might be to study for the exams, and I have laid down a couple of tips and tricks on how to improve your study habits without using all-nighters:
Use the technique of the 2-3-5-7 revision rule.
This strategy indicates the revision schedule for any upcoming exam. Firstly, mark the day of the exam, then the day before would be the full review day. Then, count two days earlier from that day, this will be an additional review day. Then count back 3 days, 5 days and 7 days and those would be the days for review for the upcoming exam.
Use a mind map to see all the topics being covered on an upcoming exam.
It can be very overwhelming to cover a whole year or a whole semester’s worth of material right before the exam, but writing down what topics are needed to be studied, as well as marking ones that you are familiar with can take off the pressure and help to create a study plan suitable for your own needs.
Use retrieval practices to test how well you can recall the information.
This includes the usage of flashcards, doing practice tests, and making and answering questions. The usage of active recall improves the neural connections used to retrieve this information and helps to extract information better during exams.
Understand the format of the upcoming exam.
Exams are different, and they can include multiple-choice, filling the blanks, true/false statements, short answers and long answers. Those evaluation methods involve different skill sets that you can use to your advantage. If the exam is all long answers, then most likely it will include describing and providing arguments for some major topic in the course, whereas multiple-choice questions can be done with the process of elimination. Try to create a sample final exam for yourself and realize how the material can be tested to help prepare better.
Study with friends
This way you can ask each other questions and explain difficult topics, which helps to better consolidate information and involves active recall and understanding of the material rather then memorization. Additionally, you can take turns explaining one concept at a time, while other people are asking questions and testing the knowledge of the orator.
Do a lot of practice questions
Usually, exams test the understanding and application part of the topics, rather than simple recall and factual knowledge, especially in technical subjects, such as math, chemistry, physics or biology. Do a lot of practice questions as it will help to learn strategies for solving different problems as well as understand the application of theories and equations.
Take care of your physical and mental health
Exams are stressful, but taking care of yourself should be the primal focus of any human being. Going for a walk, taking breaks, eating healthy and having a proper sleep schedule help to improve the mental state, decrease stress as well as keep the brain in the best possible state to actively work during the exam season. One of the professors at my university has told everyone: “You can easily recover from a low grade, but being admitted to a hospital due to a nervous breakdown or overwork will leave permanent damage to both your health and your current studies”. So please take care of yourself, a grade is just a number and it does not reflect who you are as a person, your intelligence or your self-worth.
Lambert, K. G. (2018). Biological psychology. Oxford University Press.
Siegel JM. The neurotransmitters of sleep. J Clin Psychiatry. 2004;65 Suppl 16(Suppl 16):4-7. PMID: 15575797; PMCID: PMC8761080.
Posada-Quintero, H. F., Reljin, N., Bolkhovsky, J. B., Orjuela-Cañón, A. D., & Chon, K. H. (2019). Brain Activity Correlates With Cognitive Performance Deterioration During Sleep Deprivation. Frontiers in neuroscience, 13, 1001. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2019.01001
Waters, F., Chiu, V., Atkinson, A., & Blom, J. D. (2018). Severe Sleep Deprivation Causes Hallucinations and a Gradual Progression Toward Psychosis With Increasing Time Awake. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 303. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00303
Stem cells are unspecialized human cells, able to differentiate – or undergo maturation – and become a variety of specialized cell types, including neurons (nerve cells), hematocytes (blood cells), and myocytes (muscle cells) . Unlike regular somatic cells in the body, stem cells undergo mitotic division anunlimited number of times.
The term “stem cell” was first coined in the late 19th century by German biologist Ernst Haeckel and American epidemiologist William Thompson Sedgwick . However, it was not until the mid-1990s that stem cell research seriously took flight and the self-renewing properties and behaviour of stem cells were uncovered. Ernest McCulloch and James Till incited the stem cell revolution with their 1960s research at the University of Toronto, where they found that specific cells in the bone marrow of mice had the ability to generate new colonies of the same type once transplanted into other mice . Drawing on the work of Drs. McCulloch and Till, other scientists and clinicians went on to isolate stem cells (1981), perform innovative bone marrow transplants (1957, 1968), and discover a link between stem cells and human diseases such as cancer (1997) . Today, stem cell research remains a vast field of cell biology, heralding the arrival of a new era of personalized medicine.
Types of Stem Cells
Stem cells are categorized as either embryonic stem cells (ESCs) or adult stem cells (ASCs) . Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are derived from the inner cell mass of an embryo that has undergone an in vitro fertilization procedure (IVF) . Before implantation and about 3-5 days after fertilization, the blastocyst (embryo at this stage) has an inner cell mass that has the ability to give rise to all the specialized tissues in the human body.  When used for research purposes, the inner cell mass is extracted and grown in specific laboratory conditions, where they retain their properties of being ESCs. Adding on, ESCs are pluripotent, meaning they can turn into almost any type of cell in the body or divide into more stem cells .
Stem Cell Properties
Stem cells are characterized by their ability to divide indefinitely and differentiate into different adult cell types .
Differentiation of stem cells relies heavily on the presence of growth factors from surrounding cells, epigenetic changes to the cells’ own genome, cytokine activity, and transcription factors that promote the expression of some genes but inhibit the expression of others . Epigenetic changes include the silencing of pluripotent genes, which limits the cell’s differentiation ability .
The ability of stem cells to divide indefinitely is partly due to the fact that stem cells express the enzyme telomerase . Telomeres are non-coding, repetitive sequences of DNA located at the ends of chromosomes. The purpose of telomeres is to protect the genetic content of chromosomes from being damaged each time the cell divides . A typical eukaryotic cell (e.g. somatic cell) that doesn’t express telomerase will experience a shortening of telomeres each time it divides . Since telomeres are not regenerated in these cells, they become shorter and shorter with each cell division until the telomeres reach a critically low length, and the cell will no longer divide . In stem cells, telomeres are regenerated with each cell division because they express telomerase, which allows them to divide indefinitely .
Stem Cell Differentiation
Multicellular organisms have different types of specialized cells (e.g. skin cells, stomach cells, muscle cells, etc.) that originate from undifferentiated stem cells. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that are capable of continually dividing and becoming specialized. A stem cell potency refers to the number of differentiated cell types that a stem cell can give rise to; this potency diminishes with time .
There are several types of stem cells, each with its own differentiation abilities. A totipotent stem cell, for example, can divide and differentiate into any type of cell . Zygote cells in animals are examples of totipotent stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells can differentiate into almost any type of cell. Early embryos contain pluripotent stem cells. Compared to previous stem cells, multipotent stem cells have a lower differentiation potential and fewer differentiation options. Multipotent stem cells can be found in the adult bone marrow. Additionally, we have unipotent/bipotent stem cells with only one or two options for differentiation. Therapeutic stem cells can be used to repair damaged organs, but this approach comes with many ethical implications.
Applications of Stem Cells
There are numerous applications of stem cells, including:
This is one of the most important and common applications of stem cells. It includes growing new cells in order to replace damaged organs or tissues. For example, using existing skin stem cells to make new skin tissue .
Stem cell therapy for curing diseases
Cardiovascular and vascular diseases can be treated with the help of stem cells . Other diseases like diabetes can also be treated by stem cell therapies . Many other brain diseases, genetic defects, and blood diseases can be cured with stem cells .
Stem cells are extensively used in testing and developing new drugs. For this purpose special types of stem cells are used: induced pluripotent stem cells. These are a type of pluripotent stem cells which are derived from adult somatic cells and pluripotency is induced in them [8,11].
Main Takeaways – Dr. YuFei Chen (Ph.D.)
YouthConnect led a webinar with Dr. Chen to have an opportunity to learn about the cutting edge stem cell research that he and his research team are conducting. Key things to know about stem cells are that they are the body’s raw materials and possess specific characteristics which differentiate them from other cells. For instance, they have to be able to adhere to plastic surfaces, be able to express certain surface antigen markers, and have to show multipotent differentiation potential. The experiment in his research lab was conducted using animals and there was evidence of wound closure due to the regeneration assisted by the BD-MSCs(burn-derived mesenchymal stromal/stem cells). In his lab, they observed the wound closure and saw the level of epidermis restoration and fibrosis of the local tissue to indicate whether regenerative skin is effective. His research gave an efficient finding that MSCs that are isolated from the burned skin have efficient regeneration for the skin. The low dose of MSCs also demonstrated much better skin regeneration.
During the pandemic, mental health has significantly become a major concern for many youths across the world. As the world continues to adapt in new alternative methods to a new normal, teens are facing the pressure as the situation with these adaptations alongside their personal life has become a serious tassel that can be hard to handle for many. Such adaptations can include a progression into a completely new learning model in many schools across Ontario. By diminishing the old semester model into a quadmester and community-based learning model, learning has become a serious struggle when it comes to managing time. Undoubtedly, students’ mental health is deteriorating as these drastic changes in the education system result in students completing courses at an incredibly fast pace that is nearly half the length of a normal semester-based model. Not to mention, the models’ unsuitability for long-term learning and development of youths. This burden results in teens creating competition amongst their fellow peers and the sacrifice of their personal well-being for their success in school.
One of the leading causes of high suicide rates amongst adolescents is the inability to seek mental support. Many children do not feel comfortable conveying their thoughts to parents or guardians due to fear of unacceptance, causing emotional distress to pile up and clouding their minds to think critically. According to WHO, depression is the fourth leading cause of illness and disability among adolescents aged 15-19 years and fifteenth for those aged 10-14 years. Anxiety is the ninth leading cause for adolescents aged 15-19 years and sixth for those aged 10-14 years. These factors are known to cause emotional disorders, which are noticeable in changing behaviours of youths to being more irritated, frustrated, disappointed, and likely to have emotional outbursts. Can lead to depression, ultimately suicide due to self-isolation
A healthy mind means a healthy gut; bad mental health can transfer to a person’s physical health, increasing the chances of stress-induced disorders/diseases. This can lead to some individuals expressing their emotions over other students through various forms of bullying, creating a chain effect to occur amongst teens in declining mental health.
Although very commonly heard, anxiety is not commonly addressed and treated among youths. Lack of proper education towards managing personal matters in a controlled manner leads to individuals doubting their abilities and limiting their capabilities and potential to learn and succeed in life. Loss of self-confidence makes individuals take fewer risks to expand their social network, join clubs, limit their opportunities by setting lower standards for themselves, etc.
This leads to eating disorders, where there can be signs of obesity at early ages. Youths may start to compare themselves to their peers in a school or work environment and feel they are not intelligent to the point where self-harm may be present. An estimated 62 000 adolescents died in 2016 as a result of self-harm. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in older adolescents (15-19 years).
Ways to Prevent Mental Illness Amongst Youths:
social media make mainstream society feel supportive of mental health
When someone confronts you about their mental health, make sure they feel welcome to share their thoughts and understand their perspective. This prevents youths from “bottling up” their thoughts and feelings.
DON’T SET EXPECTATION
There is already a lot of pressure youths have to handle, whether social stigma, academics, sports, or relationships with family and friends. Less pressure means these individuals would not lose confidence and feel they are always below the standards. Make them feel capable and talented in their own unique way by highlighting their strengths, not their weaknesses!
Tips for Parents/Guardians
DO NOT COMPARE YOUR CHILD TO OTHERS
try changing your daily routine to bring an insightful and positive change to your life for a new beginning. Try to imagine yourself in the future already accomplishing the things you planned to achieve. What you believe is what you achieve!
When eating, talking, or thinking, always keep the mindset of positive thoughts. If you put out bad thoughts, you will just surround yourself with this radiating negative energy. This is similar to when consuming food, don’t think negatively as this energy will radiate to your food which you ultimately consume in your body.
Have you come across the term redlining before? Maybe you heard a politician or activist use it in their speech. But what exactly does it mean, and what is the history behind it as well as its impacts today?
The term redlining refers to the practice of banks denying mortgages to people based on group characteristics such as a person’s race and ethnic background! This practice started in the United States of America with the introduction of Franklin Roosevelt’s Housing Administration. This housing administration granted mortgage loans to primarily white people who lived in “green” areas but denied lending loans to foreign-born or people of colour from “red areas.”
This practice was introduced as a result of the 1933 housing shortage, which led the federal government to increase and segregate America’s housing stock explicitly. These federal government efforts were designed to mainly provide housing for the white, middle-class to lower-middle-class families. Many people of colour were left out of the new suburban communities and pushed into urban housing projects.
Additionally, the Federal Housing Administration (FDA) subsided builders, mass-producing entire subdivisions for white people. They also required that none of the homes be sold to African-Americans and other people of colour. When questioned about this practice, the FDA’s justification was that if African-Americans purchased homes in or near these suburbs, the property values of homes they were insuring and the white homes they were insuring would decline, and because of this, their loans would be at risk.
However, there wasn’t any basis for this FDA claim. Property values rose when homes in all or mostly white neighbourhoods were attempted to be purchased by African-Americans. This is because African-Americans were more willing to pay more for properties than white people since their housing supply was so restricted and limited their choices. So the justification that the FDA used wasn’t based on actual data or proof.
The practice of Redlining has contributed to long-lasting effects on wealth inequality since people who grew up in the red-zoned neighbourhoods struggled to build intergenerational wealth.
Furthermore, Canada has also seen redlining historically, and a prime and well-documented example is the story of Africville. Africville in Halifax was a small thriving Black Community that was forcefully displaced on the order of the municipal government. In 1964 the area was bulldozed down. But even before the destruction, the Black neighbourhood was segregated and disadvantaged by many levels of the government.
The practice of redlining still continues to exist in Canada as many immigrants and people of colour face discrimination from banks, landlords, developers, etc. Also, due to the lack of Canadian housing data related to race compared to America, it’s difficult to monitor this issue and its impact. The lack of data in many cases also makes practices of race-based housing discrimination harder to identify and regulate.
Ericaalini. (2021, January 29). What it’s like to rent as a Black Canadian: ‘I don’t even have a
Have you begun to notice the sudden increase in computer prices? Do you have to pay more for repairs, or are you facing a sudden backorder for newer electronics? Many of you are already familiar with the notorious lack in PlayStation 5’s, well there is a reason for it, and it’s not because SONY wants to see you suffer. The culprit behind the increased price fluctuations arose from the shortage of microchips. Microchips consist of a series of tiny integrated circuits embedded in silicon. Our technology cannot function without them. For instance, phones, televisions, and GPS tracking devices are just a few applications of microchip usage.
From the beginning of the pandemic, many companies have had to shut down manufacturing plants, lay off workers, and overall adjust to the sudden increases in raw material prices and covid-19 protocol. Besides the cost of technology and microchips, the pandemic has affected many parts of our lives.
During the pandemic, we have become more reliant on technology. Many individuals are working and spending more time at home, increasing the demand for newer technology and, thus, microchips. With the increased demand and limited supply, microchip manufacturers have had to increase their prices to meet their profit margins and supply to those willing to pay more than the average buyer.
Before the pandemic, microchip manufacturers fluctuated in their level of units supplied as the microchip creation process is known to be “very complex.” However, they could recover from such losses until the pandemic struck.
Michael Dell believes that “the shortage will probably continue for the next few years.” It is probable to say that the electronic process will reach an equilibrium in the coming years. However, it appears that many of us will need to reevaluate how much we are willing to spend on new technology.
Are Vaccine Passports in violation of Canadians’ Rights & Freedoms?
In short, not exactly. During the last two years, many have been negatively affected by the Coronavirus, and more recently, during the federal election, one of the most important topics discussed was vaccine mandates. One of the most significant concerns regarding vaccines for many healthcare and working-class members was and still is vaccine passports.
Each month more and more provinces are starting to implement a vaccine mandate. Citizens will have to provide vaccination proof to participate in significant social activities such as going to restaurants, parties, and other significant social gatherings. With this new mandate came frustration and opposition. Hesitant Canadians who oppose the idea of mandatory vaccine passports believe that their rights and freedoms are in jeopardy. Meanwhile, many also believe that this is simply a healthcare measure put in place to prevent a more devastating wave of COVID-19, especially with the arrival of the variants.
Perhaps one of the most common platforms for discourse and argument is the fact that many believe the vaccine passports violate Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” However, according to constitutional law experts, the claims being made are not technically true. Essentially, law experts say that while the vaccine passport may conflict with the Charter, they are not taken into account based on the specific case. Instead, people are using it as a generalization to boost their claim. Thus, it does not necessarily make it illegal. With this in mind, two experts gathered by CTV news provided legal insight into the case. Firstly, both experts agree that anyone can challenge this law; however, doing so successfully is another endeavour itself and is doubtful. The first expert, Cheryl Milne, executive director of the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, stated that even if people were to oppose the mandatory vaccine passport, there are very few cases in which they can argue that they are unable to due to extenuating circumstances. For example, Section 2, which is related to freedom of religion and expression, and Section 15, which covers equality for those who are disabled, would only be under these minute circumstances in which one can confidently debate the public health measures in place.
The Other side of the coin: Vaccines are not forced
Milne also points out that many seem to confuse vaccine passports for mandatory vaccinations. If someone is not willing to provide proof of vaccination, it simply means they cannot enter a particular property, i.e., a restaurant. Milne stated, “There are some people who think that vaccine passports and the use of the word ‘mandate’ mean that we’re holding people down and forcing them to be vaccinated.” Milne elaborated that the vaccine passports aren’t “physically holding people down and giving them a vaccine,” which would make it a clear charter of rights and freedoms breach. Instead, people are given a choice; however, they should also be prepared to accept the consequences of their actions and choices. For example, a restaurant owner has every right to refuse services to customers if they are unwilling to wear a mask indoors. Those who decline are also given different choices to choose from. For example, students can instead enroll in VSS (Virtual Secondary School) or eLearning courses to limit their day-to-day interactions with their peers.Samuel.E. Trosow, associate professor at the University of Western, also went on to say that while someone can challenge the law, they would also have to prove that the violation of the Charter as a result of a mandate was “arbitrary, overly broad or grossly disproportionate.” Another central point brought up was that the mandates are there to protect the general public and thus can be used as a counterargument to display the strengths of the mandates, which protect and reduce community transmission.
Everything has to have a limit.
According to Milne, if someone challenged a violation within Section 7, Section 1 of the Charter can counter the plea. “Section 1 of the charter says ‘all of the rights and freedoms in the charter are subject to such reasonable limits as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” In short, this means that our government can limit people’s rights to a certain extent given a good enough reason to. However, they can only do so as long as they have as minimal an effect on the law as possible.
I study social psychology at my university, and I have stumbled across an interesting phenomenon happening in humans: the availability of heuristics or a system that we use to judge how frequently or probably events are happening. However, sometimes availability heuristics make mistakes, especially when talking about dramatic events. Due to the media coverage of the dramatic events, people overestimate the rate of homicide, while the rate of suicide to homicide is 3:2. Suicide is a major cause of death among all age groups worldwide.
Almost 700,000 people commit suicide yearly, and suicide is the 4th leading cause of death in people 15-19 years old. There are several risk factors for suicide such as a history of suicide attempts, mental disorders, substance use disorder, family history, unhealthy social relationships, exposure to suicidal behaviour from others. Moreover, stressful life events can contribute to the risk. It is difficult to realize that someone is at risk, however, it is important to know that there are some warning signs that a person is at risk, such as talking about feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, being a burden to others, wanting to die; withdrawing from family and friends; giving away the possessions; organizing possessions and putting everything in order.
It is extremely important to realize that there are several methods for suicide prevention as well as interventions to help people who are at suicidal risk. If you are worried that someone is at risk, speak up about it. You cannot make a person suicidal by asking about it, but it would provide an opportunity for a person to open up about feelings and relieve loneliness. Additionally, you need to be able to respond quickly in a crisis, be ready to call emergency services numbers, remove all dangerous objects, and stay with the person at all times. To continue, you can offer help and support In such cases, help can include professional help, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behavioural therapy, or brief intervention strategies.
In Canada, there are multiple centers that provide support and help for suicide prevention. These include the Canada suicide prevention service, which operates 24/7, Kids help Phone, which provides counselling anonymously to people aged 5 to 29; Hope for Wellness Help Line, which is available to all Indigenous people across Canada with immediate crisis intervention.