This spring 11 outstanding graduate students represented the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Western University at the Canadian Student Health Research Forum (CSHRF) at the University of Manitoba. Their journey to Manitoba began with at London Health Research Day in March, where each student presented their research. The journey ended with the awarding of top marks from a group of senior academics for oral presentations on their work at CSHRF.

Each of student did a fantastic job representing Schulich Medicine & Dentistry at the national poster competition, and many were recognized with awards. Congratulations to all our representatives.


Student Profiles

Carmen Leung--Physiology and Pharmacology, Collaborative Program in Developmental Biology

Winner of a Gold Medal for her poster at CSHRF  

CarmenAbout Carmen Leung:
I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and Collaborative Program in Developmental Biology, working under the supervision of Dr. Qingping Feng. My work is focused on congenital heart defects (CHD), which are abnormalities in the heart that arise during development. It is the most common type of human birth defect, affecting approximately 1% of newborns. Sixty years ago, less than 20% of babies born with a CHD would survive into adulthood. Today, more than 90% will survive due to medical advances. However, survival of CHD into adulthood often means a lifetime of health challenges. This makes a further understanding of the mechanisms that underlie CHD crucial.

Why I enjoyed CSHRF:
The CSHRF conference was a great opportunity to represent Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and to learn about some of the excellent research that is being carried out by other graduate students across Canada. It was great being able to interact with other students and learn about their experiences in research and grad life.  

About My Research:
My current project is focused on a gene called Rac1 and its role in a group of cells called second heart field progenitors during heart development. So far, I have found that Rac1 regulates numerous biological mechanisms in second heart field cells and a deficiency of Rac1 in these cells can lead to the development of congenital heart defects.  

 

William Monty McKillop--Anatomy & Cell Biology, Robarts Research Institute

Winner of a Silver Medal for his poster at CSHRF

MontyAbout William McKillop:
I completed my Undergraduate Education in Biochemistry and my MSc in Immunology at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. I am currently completing my PhD investigating therapeutic strategies to treat spinal cord injury (SCI). Our laboratory targets a particularly detrimental cellular response to SCI, the upreglation of Chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans (CSPGs). CSPGs found in perineuronal nets and in the glial scar after SCI have been shown to inhibit neuroplasticity by acting as both a physical and molecular barrier to axonal growth. We have previously identified sex-determining region Y-box 9 (SOX9) as a transcription factor that up-regulates the expression of CSPGs in vitro and have demonstrated that in vivo Sox9 ablation prior to spinal cord injury leads to reduced CSPG expression and improved locomoter recovery.  The work I presented at the 2013 CSHRF investigated the effect of a conditional Sox9 knockout one week post-SCI to assess the clinical applicability of disrupting this pathway.

Why I enjoyed CSHRF:
The CSHRF allowed me an opportunity to network with like-minded individuals from across the country who all share the long term goal of improving quality of life through research. There is a lot of diverse, ground breaking, research taking place in Canada, and I am very happy and proud to be a part of it. 

About My Research:
My research focuses on increasing avenues for nervous system regeneration post neurotrauma. By altering the expression of the SOX9 gene we reduce the expression of anti-regenerative molecules which normally prevent central nervous system regeneration, and promote functional recovery in rodent models of spinal cord injury.   

 

Hilary Brown --Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Children’s Health Research Institute

Winner of a Silver Medal for her poster at CSHRF  

HilaryAbout Hilary:
I completed my BA in Psychology and Health Studies and my MSc in Community Health and Epidemiology at Queen’s University. I am currently in the third year of my PhD training here at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, under the supervision of Dr. M. Karen Campbell in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. My PhD research, funded by a Canadian Institute of Health Research Doctoral Award, focuses on the role that gestational age plays in determining the risk of poor neonatal and developmental outcomes among individuals born late preterm and early term.

Why I enjoyed CSHRF:
 It was a privilege to meet so many talented medical science trainees from across Canada and to see the wide variety of exciting research that is being done. As I look forward to further developing my research interests and skills, taking part in a multidisciplinary meeting of this kind was a great way to generate new ideas and to meet other researchers.

About My Research:
 By examining the effect of gestational age in the context of other biological and social risk factors, I hope to identify high risk groups who should be followed closely throughout infancy and childhood and potentially referred for early intervention.

 

David Putman--Physiology and Pharmacology, Krembil Centre for Stem Cell Biology, Robarts Research Institute

Winner of a Silver Medal for his poster at CSHRF


DavidAbout David Putman:

I completed my undergraduate degree at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry with a specialization in Pharmacology and Toxicology. I began work as a master’s student in Dr. Hess’ lab at Robarts in 2009, investigating applications of umbilical cord blood-derived cells for regenerative medicine. Since then, I’ve transferred to the PhD program in Physiology and have expanded and focused my research on the characterization and application of a population of myeloid hematopoietic progenitor cells to support regeneration of the vasculature after ischemic injury.


Why I enjoyed CSHRF:
The CSHRF conference was a great way to interact with other graduate students in various departments within Schulich Medicien & Dentistry, as well as other universities across the country. It was a great opportunity to meet other graduate students across Canada and discuss the amazing research they are doing.

About My Research:
I hope that my research will support the development of potential cell therapies to improve outcomes and quality of life for patients with ischemic diseases like peripheral vascular disease, myocardial infarction and stroke.


Scott Findlay -- Anatomy & Cell Biology

Received an honourable mention award for his poster at CSHRF

ScottAbout Scott Findlay:
I am a third year PhD candidate in the department of Anatomy and Cell Biology working under the supervision of Dr. Lynne Postovit. My work involves understanding human embryonic stem cell pluripotency, which is the ability of these cells to ultimately give rise to essentially any adult cell type. Specifically, I am interested in a protein called NODAL that helps embryonic stem cells maintain their pluripotent state. I have shown that small genetic differences between human embryonic stem cell lines can affect the way the NODAL message (mRNA) is spliced, leading to production of a novel NODAL isoform that adds to our understanding of the molecular complexity of embryonic stem cell pluripotency. Work such as this is helping to contribute to the long-term goals of personalized and regenerative medicine.

Why I enjoyed CSHRF:
Attending the CSHRF was an excellent opportunity to learn about diverse research from some excellent students across Canada and their experiences at various institutions. The talks given by world class invited speakers were excellent and covered emerging topics in the field of medical research such as systems biology, the human microbiome, and the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this conference along with some great fellow students from Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

About My Research:
I study how human embryonic stem cells can use different segments of genes to code for the production of multiple proteins from a single gene. Specifically, I am interested in how our genetics can influence these processes, and how they contribute to stem cell identity.

 

Greg Fonseca--Microbiology & Immunology

Received an honourable mention award for his poster at CSHRF

GregAbout Greg Fonseca:
I'm a PhD student in Dr. Mymryk's lab in the department of Microbiology & Immunology (M&I). I've spent the last number of years studying viral control of cellular transcription, specifically the regulation of chromatin modifications on histone. I have been fortunate to study at the London Regional Cancer Program at Victoria Hospital. This has exposed me, not only to the wonderful work being done in M&I but also the high quality work in cancer research in the department of Oncology. I will be graduating soon and will be moving on to a postdoctoral position, where I can continue to develop as a scientist.

Why I enjoyed CSHRF:
This particular conference very much exposed me to the high level of research being done by graduate students throughout Canada. CSHRF was an excellent forum to discuss research and share ideas. I was particularly impressed at the high calibre of research being done by my fellow Schulich Medicine & Dentistry attendees.


 Thomas Velenosi--Physiology and Pharmacolocy

Received an honourable mention award for his poster at CSHRF

Thomas

About Thomas Velenosi:
I am a third-year PhD student in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology working under Dr. Brad Urquhart. I study drug metabolism in the setting of chronic kidney disease. Patients with chronic kidney disease take many medications and experience more adverse drug events than those without renal disease. My project aims to determine the mechanism of altered drug metabolism in chronic kidney disease. My academic research focuses on improving the preservation of donor kidneys during transplantation. Kidneys are unavoidably damaged during transplantation due to exposure to prolonged periods of loss I am currently focusing on the regulation of drug metabolizing enzymes in the liver and how they are affected by the accumulation of waste products in the blood due to decreased renal function. This research aims to improve drug therapy and decrease adverse drug events patients with chronic kidney disease.

Why I enjoyed CSHRF:
The CSHRF conference was a great way to interact with other graduate students in various departments within Schulich Medicine & Dentistry as well as other universities across the country. It was a great opportunity to meet other graduate students across Canada and discuss the amazing research they are doing.

About My Research:
I study how drug metabolism is altered in kidney disease.


Omar El-Sherif --Medical Biophysics

OmarAbout Omar El-Sharif:
Omar is a second-year PhD candidate in the department of Medical Biophysics, working under Dr. Stewart Gaede at the London Regional Cancer Program. His research is supported by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and through the translational breast cancer research fellowship. Omar has a bachelor of engineering from the University of Guelph and a MS. from Western University. Omar’s M.Sc. thesis focused on cardiac magnetic resonance imaging.

Why I enjoyed CSHRF:
I was happy to be selected to attend CSHRF this year. The meeting turned out to be an excellent opportunity to showcase my research. Above all the CSHRF was the perfect atmosphere to meet fellow graduate students across the country with similar research interests and goals.

About My Research:
I am currently using my cardiac imaging background to help understand cardiac response to different breast cancer treatment strategies.


Justin Tse--Medical Biophysics, Robarts Research Institute 

 
JustinAbout Justin Tse:
I obtained my BSc in Microbiology and Immunology (2008) and MSc in Environmental Toxicology (2011) at the University of Saskatchewan. Currently, I am in the second year of my PhD in the Department of Medical Biophysics, supervised by Dr. David Holdsworth at the Robarts Research Institute, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, Western University.

Why I enjoyed CSHRF:
Attending CSHRF was an excellent opportunity in meeting other students across the country, in addition to those that were attending from Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. These types of interactions, student-to-student, are essential for the beginning of trans-disciplinary collaborations.

About My Research:
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a chronic joint disease affecting millions of Canadians every year. Currently, there remains many questions into the initiation and progression of this disease. One hypothesis suggests that a decrease in the vasculature surrounding joints may result in decreased nutrient and oxygen flow to the joint, in conjunction with decreased waste removal from the joint. Our research into the characterization of the vasculature associated with bones and joints of osteoarthritic joints will provide more insight into the initiation and progression of OA.


 Stacey Xu--Microbiology and Immunology   

Stacey

About Stacey Xu:
I am currently a fourth-year PhD student in the lab of Dr. John McCormick in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, Western University. My research focuses on a family of unique toxins known as superantigens which are responsible for activating the immune system and can cause severe shock as a result (a condition known as toxic shock syndrome). Currently I am investigating the role these toxins play during Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia where they appear to have a rather paradoxical role by suppressing the immune system and increasing the severity of disease. Understanding host-pathogen interactions during infection is crucial as we are now in an age where infectious agents have found ways to circumvent our use of antibiotics.
 
Why I enjoyed CSHRF:
I am glad I was chosen to participate in the 2013 CSHRF as this was a very enjoyable conference. The research presented was very diverse and highlighted current and exciting work being done in Canada with regards to health research. This was also a great way to meet and connect with not only other PhD students across the country, but also within the Western group of students who made this excursion an awesome experience!
 
About My Research:
I study congenital heart defects, which are abnormalities in the development and function of the heart that occur before birth. My research looks at how a gene called Rac1 contributes to normal heart development.  

Ian Lobb--MD/PhD

About Ian Lobb:
I am currently in the first year of my PhD training as part of the combined MD/PhD program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, Western University. I have previously completed a four-year Honors Specialization in Medical Sciences degree at Western in 2010 and was pursuing a Master of Science degree in Immunology from 2010 to 2012 before transferring into the MD/PhD program. My academic research focuses on improving the preservation of donor kidneys during transplantation. Kidneys are unavoidably damaged during transplantation due to exposure to prolonged periods of loss of blood flow as well as upon restoration of blood flow. Since kidney transplantation is a life-saving operation, but is severely limited by the shortage of available donor organs, it is of utmost importance to minimize transplantation-associated kidney damage to maximize the effectiveness and longevity of the limited number of donor kidneys available for transplant. My current research has shown that addition of the small, gaseous molecule, hydrogen sulfide, to standard preservation solution significantly limits the damaged caused by prolonged cold organ storage during transplantation and improves the resultant kidney function and survival. My future research will focus on applying this same concept to other modalities of clinical kidney transplantation as well as discovering the underlying biological processes that are involved in the protective effects of hydrogen sulfide.


Why I enjoyed CSHRF:
I really valued to opportunity to network with top Canadian PhD students, especially the students from Schulich Medicine & Dentistry I had never met before. We were able to discuss shared research interests, set up potential future collaborations and share our future plans for professional development. It was also great to take in some exciting research going on with top students and faculty from all over Canada.

About My Research:
My research focuses on improving the overall success of kidney transplantation. We are exploring the ability of a molecule called hydrogen sulfide to protect donor kidneysduring cold storage in a number of different kidney transplantation settings and its ability to improve donor kidney function and survival as well as attempting to discern how hydrogen sulfide is able to provide these protective benefits.

 

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