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A Research Assistant position is available with the Providence Health Care (PHC) “Practice-based Research Challenge”. The purpose of this project is to foster and generate research for point-of-care nurses and allied health care professionals who are new to research. The Research Assistant will assist a Research Challenge team in conducting their research.

A Research Associate (RA) position is available at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Division of Respiratory Medicine, Department of Medicine under the direction of Dr. Scott J. Tebbutt, Professor of Medicine of UBC Faculty of Medicine and Principal Investigator and Director of Education of Centre for Heart Lung Innovation at St Paul’s Hospital.

Apply here.

Heart attacks and strokes are leading causes of death around the world, and many are caused by atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque on the walls of blood vessels. The best way to fully understand how atherosclerosis develops and progresses is by studying plaques from human tissues.

Biobanks, or tissue registries, are collections of human biospecimens from the people who consented to donate their aborted tissues for research. For example, the Bruce McManus Cardiovascular Biobank (BMCB) at the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation (HLI) contains over 14,000 cases of specimens from hearts, blood vessels, and other cardiovascular tissues. These specimens were collected from autopsies and cardiac surgeries.

Recent advances in technologies like next-generation sequencing present new opportunities for more in depth studies on the molecular features of atherosclerosis, especially in biobanked specimens. In a review published in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine, Dr. Ying Wang, a Principal Investigator at HLI and Director of the BMCB, led a discussion on how to leverage biobank resources for translational research. From genetic studies supported by large biobanks to proof-of-concept studies that have changed the traditional view of atherosclerosis using only a dozen of biobanked samples, Dr. Wang’s group summarized a few formulas for both basic and clinical scientists to utilize biobank resources.

Dr. Wang’s group also outlines some major roadblocks for translating biobanking research to new biomarkers and therapies for atherosclerosis. These include the lack of bioinformatics or data analysis tools to interpret omics data, especially in the tissue context, as well as the difficulty of making connections between features found in the plaque and blood-based biomarkers, which are more appropriate for clinical testing.

To address these challenges, more collaborations between biobanks and between researchers are needed to link complementary resources and datasets so that results from individual studies can be validated to benefit broader patient populations. Sample collection and storage protocols also need to be updated to ensure that sample quality is appropriate for new downstream technologies and applications. Overcoming these challenges will maximize the utilization of precious human biospecimens, and will reveal important biological information on the underlying mechanisms of atherosclerosis, leading to better therapies and improved outcomes for patients.

Though initially considered primarily a respiratory disease, as the pandemic has evolved, coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been increasingly implicated in heart injury. Reports indicate cardiac damage in over 20% of patients, with evidence of direct viral injury, thromboembolism with ischemic complications (circulating clot that causes an obstruction in the blood vessels), and cytokine storm (excessive activation of the immune system).  These patients are at significantly higher risk of dying from COVID-19, but it’s not clear how infection leads to these injuries.

The Bruce McManus Cardiovascular Biobank (BMCB) team (Paul Hanson et al), recently studied the explanted hearts of 21 COVID-19 positive decedents. Using a custom tissue microarray on regions of pathological interest and immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization, they compared these hearts to clinically matched controls and patients with other causes of viral myocarditis.

The COVID-19 samples displayed signs of direct and indirect viral injury (see figure below), demonstrating the multifactorial nature of COVID-19 injury.

Signs of direct injury included depleted troponin and increased cleaved caspase-3; these markers may be helpful in prognosing and diagnosing COVID-19 heart failure in the future.

Indirect mechanisms of injury, including clots in the arteries and veins, inflammation of the blood vessels, and enhanced blood vessel formation, were unique to the COVID-19 samples, and not observed in other virus-associated heart failure samples.

Other observations included the presence of Neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) in the heart tissue of all COVID-19 patients, regardless of injury degree, and borderline myocarditis (inflammation without associated injury to the muscle cells of the heart) in 19/21 patients.

This work was highlighted in a feature publication in Laboratory Investigation, with the cover showing the characteristic histopathologic features of COVID-19-associated cardiac injury in critically ill patients.

Dr. Ilker Hacihaliloglu welcomes applications for one fully-funded Ph.D. position in machine learning for lung and heart disease.

The aim of the research project is the development of computational methods, based on machine learning, for managing post-COVID-19 related lung and heart complications, using point-of-care ultrasound imaging. The candidate will be closely interacting with clinicians, scientists, and engineers.

The successful candidate will be based at the University of British Columbia, with research conducted at the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation housed within Providence Health Care’s St. Paul’s Hospital in the heart of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The candidate will be a graduate student at the UBC School of Biomedical Engineering.

Human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) harbour enormous potential for regenerative medicine and offer a unique opportunity to advance the development of cell-based therapies. The development of hPSC biobanks, and use of hPSCs in clinical trials, drug screening, and disease modeling, all demand robust stem cell manufacturing and expansion. Although the hPSC manufacturing field is evolving rapidly, a bottleneck is throttling clinical application: existing technologies cannot efficiently scale up production of clinically viable stem cells.

In collaboration with bioengineers at the University of Calgary and with the support from Stem Cell Network of Canada (SCN), Drs. Michael Kallos, Derrick Rancourt, Breanna Borys, and Leili Rohani (a postdoctoral research scientist in Dr. Zachary Laksman’s lab at the HLI) developed a system for bioprocess bioengineering and cell manufacturing of human pluripotent stem cells in a bioreactor to produce clinically viable hPSCs. 

Dr. Rohani and her colleagues enhanced stem cell manufacturing by converting hPSCs towards a naïve state (earlier state of pluripotency). This method enabled scalable production of hPSCs and reduced initial culture heterogeneities. Given that the same starting “material” from upstream can be used subsequently to perform downstream experiments, this is a huge advantage for developing clinical cell-based therapies. The breakthrough technique was published in Nature Communications Biology (Rohani L et al. (2020), and covered by several media outlets including The Niche Knoepfler Blog and ESC & iPSC News – STEMCELL Science News

This work built upon Dr. Rohani’s research on engineered heart tissues in the Laksman lab.

Normal cell-to-cell communication within the heart is essential to orchestrate physiological heart function. In fact, disrupting these communication pathways can lead to heart diseases like atrial fibrillation, a common type of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, that can cause blood clots and stroke. Similarly, other diseases such as cardiac fibrosis, which is linked to inflammation, thickening, or scarring of the heart tissue can also occur as a result of disrupted cell communication.

To study why these disruptions occur in patients with arrhythmia and cardiac fibrosis, Dr. Rohani is working on developing laboratory tissue-engineered models using patient stem cells. These stem cells are collected from patients and can be grown into various types of heart cells, generating a model of the patient’s heart that can then be used for testing therapies.

Dr. Rohani was invited to THE STEM CELL PODCAST. Ep. 201: “The Future of Research” to talk about her research on stem cell bioprocess engineering. During this interview, she discussed the application of engineered heart tissues for cell therapy and advised her peers to be great science communicators, giving the advice that “Number 1 = Networking, Number 2 = Networking, Number 3 = Networking”. 

The podcast was featured in the Gladstone Institute News. The Gladstone Institute is one of the world’s leading institutes in the field of cardiovascular disease, leveraging genetic, systems biology, computational, and engineering approaches to study heart disease and stem cell biology. For more information, see:

The aorta is the largest artery in the body and connects the heart to the vital organs.  In 1 in 100 people, the closest part of the aorta to the heart widens, becoming an aneurysm. In the majority of cases, an aneurysm of the aorta forms when it is weak.  People with an aneurysm of the aorta are at risk of sudden tearing of the aorta (aortic dissection), which carries a high death rate.  Most people with an aneurysm of the aorta receive regular scans to monitor the size of the aneurysm. Once the aneurysm reaches a certain size – often between 50 and 55 mm – guidelines recommend surgery to replace the diseased part.  Sadly, this strategy misses 70% of patients who eventually experience tearing of the aorta.

Dr. Stephanie Sellers, a Principal Investigator at the HLI, and Dr. Alex Fletcher & Prof. David Newby (University of Edinburgh) along with international team members from the University of British Columbia, University of Edinburgh and University of Liverpool, explored whether microscopic calcification, which is formed in areas of the body under stress, could be used as a marker of those with high-risk aneurysms.  The team found that in mild aneurysm disease there is a rise in microscopic calcification, but in severe disease – when the aneurysm is very weak – this calcification is lost.  The team also demonstrated that this microscopic process could be tracked using a special scan test called a PET scan using a special tracer called 18F-NaF.

“Our study is an important step towards identifying patients at the highest risk of aortic aneurysm disease. Using these PET scans, our hope is to find patients who can be treated with early, life-saving surgery.”

Dr. Stephanie Sellers, Clinical Assistant Professor, UBC, and Principal Investigator at HLI

This study was published in Atherosclerosis Thrombosis & Vascular Biology and featured as the journal cover.

The HLI’s Dr. Tillie Hackett and former PhD Dr. Emmanuel Osei (now Assistant Professor at UBCO) were part of UBC’s joint PhD program – a program that gives candidates who would otherwise never have had the chance, an opportunity to become leaders in their fields.

The program is essentially a partnership arrangement between UBC and other universities around the world, designed to share doctoral candidates, and the costs, as candidates work towards earning their PhD. Following two years at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, Dr. Osei moved to Vancouver to join Dr. Hackett’s lab at the UBC Centre for Heart Lung Innovation to investigate factors that play a role in asthma.

People applying for this opportunity are very motivated, highly qualified students. These people wouldn’t have this opportunity otherwise to pursue what they love: research.

Dr. Tillie Hackett

Their story was recently highlighted by the UBC Vice-Provost International: