McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Team trades lab work for snowshoeing to support cause

Published: February 3, 2009
Grigorios Leontiadis and Tammy Villeneuve
From left: Dr. Grigorios Leontiadis and Tammy Villeneuve

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A team of McMaster University scientists will be trading their laboratories for the vast Alberta wilderness this month as part of a national effort to raise $1 million for digestive health research.

Instead of peering into microscopes, they will be mushing dogsleds through snow covered fields in the Kananaskis Spray Valley provincial park, snowshoeing through the emerald forests surrounding Lake Louise, climbing the 2407m/7897ft Ha Ling Mountain and cross-country skiing over the Continental Divide, the land which divides the flow of water between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The six are among 100 individuals across Canada who are making up a team called RISE — Conquer the Great Divide to raise $1 million for the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation (CDHF), a national foundation dedicated to developing, implementing and supporting a comprehensive national digestive health strategy for Canadians.

At least 60 per cent of Canadians — 20 million people — suffer from at least one digestive disease each year — ranging from gallstones, stomach ulcers and food poisoning to irritable bowel syndrome. The cost is enormous: 18 million lost work days, $1 billion in lost productivity, more than $8 billion in health care costs and individual lives turned into turmoil.

The team from McMaster’s Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute include: David Armstrong, associate professor, department of medicine; Kathy McCoy, assistant professor, department of medicine; Markus Geuking, post-doctoral fellow; Jennifer Jury, technician; Amber Park, masters student and Tammy Villeneuve, administrative assistant.

Each member of the McMaster team plans to raise $3,500 and they’ve come up with a wide ranging list of events to accomplish that — two poker tournaments with the first an all-out success, wine tasting, selling Hamilton Bulldog tickets (at $17 each compared to the usual $26 ticket) in advance, and selling programs at the game on February 6 at 7.30 p.m. in Copps Coliseum, Valentine candygrams delivered to patients and office staff throughout the health sciences centre, tie cutting (individuals will pay $1 to snip off a portion of a faculty member’s tie), an in-house Lotto 649 pool, penny drive and Canadian Tire money collection.

With rigorous events waiting for them in Alberta February 23 - 24, each member of the team has developed individual training sessions for themselves.

They will be putting their advance training to the test in the lobby of McMaster’s health sciences centre on Thursday, February 19 from 8.30 a.m. – 4.30 p.m. in a fund-raising, 24-hour exercise session. For at least an hour, accompanied by a friend, each will run on an elliptical trainer and two stationary bicycles.

While the McMaster team spends most of its working life in laboratories, they recognize digestive health is not just abstract laboratory research but a health issue affecting the lives of many Canadians, said Dr. Armstrong.

Digestive diseases, he said, rank high on the list as the second and third most common reasons why individuals are admitted to hospital. He added the enthusiasm among the McMaster team can largely be attributed to the university’s decades-long commitment to bench-to-bedside research in which scientists' findings are rapidly translated into patient care.

Anyone wanting to contribute to the McMaster team's RISE fund-raising effort can contact Tammy Villeneuve at villent@mcmaster.ca or 905-525-9140, extension 22585.

The RISE logo stands for R(REDUCE the incidence of digestive disease), I(IMPROVE quality of life for people living with digestive disease), S(SUPPORT those suffering from digestive disease and the people caring for them), E(ENHANCE Canadian digestive health research and education).

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