FEATURED FACULTY: Dr. Sashko Damjanovski
Visit Dr.Damjanovski's website
It took Dr. Sashko Damjanovski a while to figure out he wanted to be a scientist. “My parents were both artists, and we moved to Mississauga from Macedonia in the former Yugoslavia when I was seven” he says. “To this day, they appreciate science, but I’m not sure they entirely understand it.” Perhaps as a result, family discussions about science tended to revolve around medicine, particularly drug discovery, and the young Sashko too his interest in Science to the University of Toronto to study Pharmacology. “I wanted to be a pharmacist – I guess it was the only kind of scientist I had encountered. It was only as I progressed through that I came to understand that being a pharmacist was more about running a business than doing science, and at about the same time I started to become aware of what faculty actually do.”
Some of Dr. Damjanovski’s initial plans to become a scientist were thwarted: “the guy I really wanted to do an honours project with was retiring, so that wasn’t available to me. Then I discovered this great young faculty member (Maurice Ringuette), with whom I eventually did my MSc and PhD at Toronto, but he had just arrived and hadn’t set up his lab yet. I actually did a fifth year of undergrad biding my time waiting for him to be ready to take me on.” When his MSc began, Dr. Damjanovski recalls it was a very exciting new direction: “Maurice was quite famous as the guy who had cloned the gene for the sperm receptor in mice, but he wanted to move into bone mineralisation. My project was to figure out how a protein thought to be associated with bone mineralisation behaved in a cell culture. After a year, I realised that the answer was pretty simple: it didn’t.” Fortunately, some of the developmental biologists in the department suggested that the protein could have an interesting role in development, and Dr. Damjanovski and his supervisor changed directions again, moving their research into investigation of development in frog embryos. This led to a PhD (also in Ringuette’s lab, on frog development) and a realisation that he wanted a job as an academic. “I saw a lot of what Maurice did – from teaching a large second year Cell Bio course to being able to set the directions of your own research, and although I could also see the challenges, I could definitely see that this was the job for me.”
Seeking new directions and skills, Dr. Damjanovski moved to the National Institutes of Health in the USA to do a postdoc. “It was a very biochemistry-heavy lab. After about a year, I started to realise that a lot of the questions being asked really needed to be investigated with respect to development, and before I knew it I had set up a series of assays and projects with a focus on frog development, which I thought I had left behind!” When the time came to interview for positions, Western really stood out. “I could get on well with a lot of the people in the department, my research complemented a lot of the work really nicely, and it just felt like a better fit than many of the other places I looked.”
Moving here in 2000, when Dr. Damjanovski says that one of the things he has really learned is the extent of interconnection in the pathways regulating development. “I work on two main areas, and the links between them aren’t intuitive, but we keep finding that they are there.” Although he doesn’t spend as much time in the lab as he would prefer, he still likes to roll his sleeves up whenever he can. “It always surprises my graduate students when I come into the lab and actually turn out to be quite good at it” he smiles. “Although I must say that it disappoints me that since I’m not in the lab all the time, I sometimes only hear about the ‘Eureka’ moments later on.” To read more about the Eureka moments from Dr. Damjanovski’s lab, please visit his website http://publish.uwo.ca/~sdamjano/.
Questions for Dr. Damjanovski
When I was growing up, I wanted ... to understand how things worked. I ruined many toys and electronics as I took them apart when I was young, with the complete belief that I could put them back together as good as new. Not quite the scientific method nor hypothesis driven research, but I did have a drive for discovery. While I do not really get a chance to “take things apart” in the lab I still tinker a lot at home. If that brush on the vacuum is not spinning – I have got to know why!
My favourite organism is... snakes. They can be big or small, dull or dangerous, cute or evil, loved by some or hated by others. They are found in almost all habitats and can do many unexpected things. Unfortunately they are not a great model system to study with respect to the Developmental Biology questions which interest me. Thus a close second as a favourite organism are frogs. Even the unassuming dull green frog I work with (Xenopus) fascinates people, and I am glad to say still fascinates me.
My first publication was about ... a gene I sequenced. I cloned and determined the coding sequence of a protein called SPARC from Xenopus. Nowadays this takes about as much time and effort as ordering an iced cap at Tim Hortons. Back then I had to make a cDNA library (isolate RNA and clone the cDNA in the days when you relied on biochemistry, not kits, to get things done). I screened the library with radioactive probes and then sequenced potential clones using the Sanger chain termination method (this did not involve the use of computers to generate sequence – believe it or not). This was all while having to walk from home to the lab through 3 feet of snow, against the wind and uphill both ways – every day!
My favourite piece of research was ... my first whole mount in situ on a frog embryo. This involves adding a labelled probe to a fixed embryo (which is about 1mm in size) which results in a colour reaction that reveals the location of cells that express your gene. In my case it was localizing SPARC in the embryos. The result was a beautiful purple pattern of stripes and squiggles along the back of the tiny embryo. I remember thinking that no one has seen this before. Then I remember thinking what a great artist I am!
Biology at Western is ... varied, diverse, creative, productive and fun. Many people with many talents investigate many mysteries answering many questions, all while dealing with many students. Everyone adds to and provides a unique working environment. No work place is perfect (I guess that is why they have to pay you to be there), BUT I have visited many Departments and talked to many people from many more places, and Biology at Western has a unique balance that makes it special.
LINKS TO PAST FEATURED FACULTY, POSTDOCS and STAFF
- Dr. Bryan Neff
- Dr. Mark Bernards and Stefani Tichbourne
- Dr. Susanne Kohalmi
- Dr. Yolanda Morbey and Dr. Lin Si
- Dr. Brian Branfireun and Dr. Jason Brown
- Dr. Greg Thorn and Dr. Silke Nebel
- Dr. Nusha Keyghobadi and Dr. Leon Kurepin
- Dr. Hugh Henry and Dr. Daria Koscinski
- Dr. Charles Trick and Dr. Irena Creed
- Dr. Liana Zanette and Brenda Beretta
- Dr. Richard Gardiner and Elizabeth Myscich
- Dr. Chris Guglielmo and Ian Craig
- Dr. Beth MacDougall-Shackleton and Kim Loney
- Dr. Robert Cumming and Jacqui Griffin
- Dr. Irena Creed
- Dr. Amanda Moehring
- Dr. Brent Sinclair
- Dr. Jack Millar
- Dr. John Wiebe
- Dr. Brent Sinclair
- Dr. Greg Kelly
Check back to this page regularly as we will be highlighting news breaking research/awards by other members of our Biology Department. To find out about other research in our Department please follow the links to individual faculty web sites
This page was last updated on
November 1, 2012
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