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THE EDGE

AfforestationAfforestation knowledge acquired within Legacy Network of Sites can help guide climate adaptation and mitigation actions

By Tony Kryzanowski

NRCan’s Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC) recently launched its Legacy Network of Sites Initiative.

One segment is the Forest Practices Innovation Network which pertains primarily to legacy research conducted in the natural forest. The second segment of the Legacy Network of Sites Initiative is the extensive national network of afforestation sites established over the past 20 years.

A 13-year-old hybrid poplar and white spruce mixed afforestation stand.

These are sites that have no recent history of forest cover that have been planted in a high yield afforestation pattern involving fast-growing hybrid poplar or aspen clones. CWFC has also developed an innovative mixed wood pattern consisting of white spruce or white pine planted in the poplar or aspen understorey, thus yielding two potential commercial crops on the same land base. Initially, funding provided by the federal Forest 2020 initiative helped to establish many of these sites.

There are 40 to 50 afforestation sites ranging from 6 to 20 years old from Alberta to Nova Scotia under management by CWFC and its various government, industry, First Nation and academic partners.

The practical knowledge gained in establishing and managing these afforestation sites could prove invaluable as Canada launches various initiatives, including natural climate solutions, to help the forest industry and country adapt to a changing climate.

Half of the dry weight of a tree is carbon, and as such, based on the mass of a tree, CWFC has determined the carbon content based on the physical fibre aspect of the tree and the enhanced soil carbon values, as leaves, twigs and branches fall to the ground and decompose. This, added to the tree volumes, equates to approximately 250 to 350 carbon dioxide tonnes sequestered per hectare over the lifespan of the stands of 16 to 20 years.

In terms of yield, CWFC has achieved 8 to 10 times the yields garnered from a purpose-grown plantation, or 13 to 17 cubic metres of growth per hectare per year over their lifespan, versus an average natural forest. So deployment of this Canadian-made technology can deliver a proven natural climate solution over a very short time span.

“If we look at the yields that we can accrue from our short rotation afforestation work, even if we are conservative and we are looking at 10 to 15 carbon dioxide tonnes sequestered per hectare per year, that’s a minimum of $300 in carbon value per hectare, based on a $30 per carbon dioxide tonne, that we are achieving on the landscape on an annual basis on the median sites for establishing plantations that we recommend,” says Derek Sidders, Project Manager, Technology Development and Transfer at CWFC.

Furthermore, CWFC estimates that there are currently millions of moderate to highly productive hectares across Canada’s agriculture belt that would be a good investment for a purpose-grown plantation to not only produce a viable natural climate solution, but also produce a new source of wood fibre for industry, and a new source of revenue for farmers and landowners.

Based on its research and development conducted over the past two decades, CWFC’s national network of afforestation sites has the potential to offer guidance in the implementation of this initiative.

“It is invaluable to have long term research studies that we can use as leverage and validation of sound practices that can help to inform those responsible for implementing climate adaptation and mitigation measures,” says Sidders.

“We are now getting to the end of the first life span of trees planted on these afforestation sites, which has allowed us to complete the first lifecycle loop,” he adds. “This includes recovery, validation of yields and the opportunities related to carbon sequestration, biomass for energy and other alternate, green, renewable applications.”

In establishing these sites in various bio-geoclimatic zones across Canada, CWFC has been able to formulate best practices data and field guides, basically developing ‘how to’ manuals and measures, that can be replicated on a commercial scale for species selection, site selection based on a site suitability classification guide developed by CWFC, planting, maintaining and harvesting these sites.

For more information about the afforestation segment of the Legacy Network of Sites Initiative, contact Derek Sidders at derek.sidders@canada.ca


CNC-NanogelAlberta researchers achieve breakthrough with CNC-based nanogel for treatment of oral cancer

By Tony Kryzanowski

The picture shows retention of the CNC based gel (bottom sample) compared to control gel without CNC, on buccal tissue from a pig over time following wash by saliva simulating media. A new instrument was designed as part of this project to measure the mucoretention.

A challenge with treating oral cancer is delivering chemotherapy drugs directly to the site of the tumour in the mouth without the drugs being washed away too quickly by saliva.

Alberta Innovates (AI) has invested in a novel use for cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) that addresses this issue. AI awarded funding to University of Alberta researchers to develop a groundbreaking CNC-based “nanogel” that can be infused with treatment drugs and then placed in the mouth at the site of the cancer tumour for hours, if needed, without washing away.

This medical application for CNC has the potential to vastly improve the delivery of these critical drugs where they are needed, and over the time span required for successful treatment. Also, because the chemotherapy drug is delivered locally, it helps oral cancer patients avoid significant side effects that occur when chemotherapy drugs enter the bloodstream.

No other CNC-based nanogel delivery system currently exists for this treatment. Moreover, this nanogel has many other potential medical applications. It offers a more effective alternative delivery system for all sorts of drugs that are often destroyed by the liver when administered orally.

Other potential uses for this nanogel include tissue regeneration, gene delivery and possibly vaccine delivery.

The U of A research team received a total of $274,000 from the Alberta Bio Future – Biomaterials Pursuit program administered by Alberta Innovates.

This discovery is important from an Alberta forest industry perspective because wood is a natural source for CNC—a novel, advanced biomaterial derived from cellulose.

In U of A lab testing, chemotherapy drugs were applied with a non-CNC gel on mucosal tissue having similar characteristics as the environment inside the human mouth. These typically washed away in about 30 minutes. However, the drugs stayed in place for more than six hours when applied using the CNC-infused nanogel as the delivery system.

“Our research results are very promising,” says Dr. Afsaneh Lavasanifar, the primary investigator on this project. Researchers have filed a provisional patent for the CNC-based nanogel delivery system and for a tool that monitors how well the nanogel is keeping the chemotherapy drugs in place over time.

Dr. Lavasanifar is a professor in the Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Department at the U of A. She has a specific interest in pharmaceutical chemistry and drug delivery systems, aiming to make them less toxic and more effective.

The financial investment and technical support provided by Alberta Innovates was critical to the launch and advancement of this research project, she says. Assisting her were polymer chemist Dr. Mohammad Reza Vakili, Dr. Behzad Ahvazi from InnoTech Alberta, and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Waleed Mohammed-Saeid.

InnoTech Alberta, a subsidiary of Alberta Innovates, provided the CNC used in the development of the CNC-based nanogel and technical advice on its attributes to the U of A researchers. InnoTech Alberta operates a CNC pilot plant in Edmonton capable of producing CNC from wood fibre in volumes of kilograms per day.

InnoTech Alberta and Alberta Innovates held several workshops with researchers to discuss and promote the attributes of CNC, which got them thinking about its use in this specific application, says Dr. Lavasanifar.

What is attractive about using CNC is that it is a natural source of nano-scale material, meaning that it has the potential for less toxicity. The nano-structure of CNC offers a large surface area for drug incorporation and contact with biological barriers, making drug delivery more efficient. CNC is also robust and sturdy because it is a crystalline structure, which also gives it excellent retention properties against washout by biological fluids like saliva.

The goal now is to advance the research related to the use of this CNC-based nanogel. The next step is to investigate in more detail the level of toxicity for use in humans.

CNC is listed as an industrial material on Health Canada’s Domestic Substances List. But it is considered a new material and not yet accepted for medical and food-related uses by Health Canada and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States—although other studies to date are promising and so far have shown that CNC is safe for human use.

They hope to have toxicity testing underway in two to three years, hopefully leading to human trials after that

For more information about the Alberta Bio Future – Biomaterials Pursuit program, contact Julia Necheff at julia.necheff@albertainnovates.ca.