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Medical school conducts research with ELA

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine and the Experimental Lakes area have agreed to collaborate on research into environmental health.
Experimental Lakes Area chief research scientist Mike Paterson (left) takes to the water for daily sampling with fisheries research assistant Phil Anderson. ( file photograph)

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine and the organization managing the Experimental Lakes Area have agreed to collaborate on studies related to environmental health.

Since the 1960s, scientists working in the ELA near Kenora have tracked changes in aquatic biosystems resulting from climate shift, nutrient loading, pollutants, invasive species and other alterations in the environment.

The ELA, which is comprised of 58 small lakes and their watersheds, was taken over two years ago from the federal government by the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development.  It’s been described as the only project of its kind in the world.

In a joint announcement today, NOSM said its own researchers have been looking into the impact of environmental changes on human health. That work includes how nutrient loading affects cyanobacteria — also known as blue-green algae — and better ways to detect cyanobacteria blooms. 

Cyanobacteria is known to be harmful to humans, and blue-green algae blooms are an increasing problem in northern Ontario.

NOSM associate dean of research Dr. Penny Moody-Corbett said the health of the people of northern Ontario is inextricably linked to the health of the environment.

“The work to be performed with IISD-ELA will enable scientists to advance our understanding of health risks associated with environmental change.”  She said it’s essential to develop new tools to address the changing pressures on the environment and the likely impacts on humans.

IISD-ELA executive-director Matthew McCandless said he’s excited about the potential of the new collaboration. “Working with NOSM will allow us to apply a specific focus on human health to several of the studies we are undertaking.” 

He added that the agreement will allow for educational opportunities in new disciplines with potential impact on the health of northern Ontarians and beyond.