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The first launch of the CIHR Research Excellence, Diversity, and Independence (REDI; pronounced “ready”) Early Career Transition Award was designed to facilitate the transition of promising researchers who self-identify as Black or racialized women into independent research faculty positions in Canadian academic, health system and research institutions. The competition sought to address underrepresentation in Canadian faculty, and is directly aligned with the Government of Canada and Tri-agency priorities to address systemic racism, sexism, and discrimination in Canadian institutions.

Today, it was announced that two of HLI’s postdoctoral fellows, Dr. Ana Hernandez Cordero and Dr. Yasir Mohamud, will each be receiving up to $660,000 to support their training to become independent investigators over the next 3-6 years.

Congratulations to Dr. Hernandez Cordero who placed first in the national competition and Dr. Mohamud who ranked sixth, out of 200+ candidates across Canada!

The REDI award provides salary support for the next few years of their postdoctoral training, as well as matching funds that can be leveraged towards their independent research program.

What is your research about?

Dr. Ana Hernandez Cordero, postdoctoral fellow in Drs. Janice Leung and Don Sin’s labs.

Ana: The current focus of my research is on epigenetic aging, a marker of biological age, and its relationship with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in People Living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). My findings have shown for the first time that the lungs of people living with HIV and COPD are characterized by age acceleration. More recently, my work has focused on whether other modifiable environmental factors (such as exercise and cannabis smoking) can affect epigenetic aging and change the risk of age-related diseases. As an independent researcher, the REDI award will allow me to continue pursuing my interests in investigating the epigenetic and molecular regulation of aging and the impact of aging in the development and progression of complex chronic diseases. I will apply a computational approach to multiple Canadian cohorts to advance the current knowledge on aging in a way that reflects the diversity of the Canadian population.

Dr. Yasir Mohamud, postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Honglin Luo’s lab.

Yasir: As an early career investigator, my research is focused on establishing a translational virology program that leverages my unique expertise in molecular virology and cell biology to explore novel and effective therapeutic strategies against RNA viruses which are broadly responsible for the world’s greatest pandemics. My current research interest is to better understand how cardiotropic viruses, such as coxsackievirus B3, cause heart failure in at-risk individuals. Additionally, my research will explore the interactions between everyday viral infections and chronic illnesses of the ageing population, with relevance to cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, eventually expanding to include other emerging viral pathogens, such as coronaviruses.

How will this award help you transition to an independent academic career after your postdoctoral training?

Ana: In the short term my goal is to continue building a strong foundation and track record in the aging field so that I can establish an independent laboratory after my postdoctoral training. The support of the REDI award will be central to continuing my training at the UBC Centre for Heart Lung Innovation, a world-renowned research institution. In the next few years, I expect to grow my professional network, establish myself as a field expert by advancing the field of aging in the context of health and human disease, and start securing funding for my independent research lab.

Yasir: With the support of the CIHR REDI Award, I see myself transitioning to an early career academic position within the next 2-3 years. The REDI Award will provide me with the necessary mentorship support, networking and leadership opportunities, and initial start-up funds to help establish my independent laboratory in Canada. I am eager to embark on this next phase of my academic career, transitioning to independence and making significant contributions to both health research and education in Canada.

How do you see this new CIHR initiative addressing underrepresentation in Canadian faculty?

Ana: As a racialized woman in biomedical sciences, I recognize the current underrepresentation of racialized groups in research and academia, and its negative impact on public health. Through the support of the CIHR REDI award, racialized young researchers, such as myself, have a unique opportunity to help close this gap to fully reflect the interests of Canadians. In my view, initiatives that promote the recruitment of underrepresented faculty through tangible actions (mentorship, networking, and matching funds), such as the CIHR REDI award and our own UBC Black Faculty Cohort Hiring Initiative, are contributing to increased representation of Black faculty, and other racialized groups across Canadian universities. Recognizing the importance of different voices, perspectives, and backgrounds and the rich experiences and contributions that diverse people can offer, I am dedicated to studying the under-researched aspects of tobacco smoking: sex and gender, racialized groups, such as Indigenous, as well as LGBTQ+ communities. As I build my laboratory, I aim to implement practices to promote EDI and to create a safe, inclusive, and creative environment. I will encourage the free flow of ideas in a constructive and respectful manner, and promote continuing EDI education within my research team in order to overcome individuals’ unconscious biases, amongst other approaches.

Yasir: In recent years, I have seen a visible effort and commitment to addressing systemic inequities at Canadian institutions through thoughtful and strategic initiatives. Among these, the CIHR REDI program promises to have a strong and meaningful impact in addressing inequity by providing support to those most underrepresented in our academic communities. As an underrepresented individual, I have faced unique challenges and obstacles in my academic journey but I am grateful to say that the research environments where I have worked have been inclusive towards all and provided support to diverse trainees. I’m proud to see UBC and the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation working together with initiatives, such as the CIHR REDI program, to recruit and retain underrepresented researchers like myself. Building on the success of this program, I believe we have the tools and support to build a diverse and thriving research environment not only for students and trainees but also early career researchers and young investigators seeking to establish independent research programs. Although we face many challenges as early career researchers (for example, access to funding and research space), I believe our commitment to EDI initiatives will bring together a diverse group of thinkers and leaders that can share unique perspectives in addressing the obstacles ahead. For this reason, I hope to build an inclusive research team that values and promotes diversity in my future independent lab.

In the ever-evolving landscape of cancer research, oncolytic virotherapy – using viruses to specifically target and kill cancer cells – could be a breakthrough therapeutic strategy for certain cancers.

HLI Principal Investigator and UBC Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Dr. Honglin Luo, and her research team have combined the anti-cancer properties of CVB3, a tumour-killing virus, with melittin, a molecule in bee venom known to damage cancerous cells, as well as an immune activator to create a potent combination therapy for breast cancer and melanoma. CVB3 was first modified to increase its safety profile, making it less likely to destroy non-tumour cells.

“We showed that the combination therapy led to a significant anti-tumour synergy, as evidenced by a substantial inhibition of tumour growth and improved survival rates compared with individual treatment in both breast cancer and melanoma mouse models. This exciting breakthrough holds promise for advancing more effective cancer therapies, emphasizing our shared dedication to overcoming this complex challenge” – Amirhossein Bahreyni, Graduate Student in Dr. Luo’s lab

In addition to directly killing tumour cells, the combination therapy can also promote anti-tumour immunity; that is, the treatment can enhance the host’s immune system in its ability to clear cancer cells, further amplifying anti-cancer effects. In this study, the team showed that this enhanced anti-tumour immunity was able to suppress the growth of a distant tumour.

“Our study shows a new, promising combination therapy that is safe and effective. Our next step is to develop an effective delivery system to integrate all therapeutic agents, evading host immune surveillance and optimizing specific tumour targeting. This marks a crucial step toward translating this promising approach into a practical and transformative cancer treatment” – Dr. Luo

Read the full paper published in BMC Medicine: https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-023-02901-y

After recovering from COVID-19, many individuals have prolonged symptoms, especially females who exhibit a higher risk of post-COVID-19 conditions. To explore the biology underlying post-COVID-19 conditions, the ARBs CORONA I team, led by Dr. Jim Russell, measured proteins in blood plasma over six months from 74 patients in a Canadian cohort. Proteins associated with lipid-related pathways were significantly increased during this period, suggesting that they play a role in the transition from acute to post-COVID-19 conditions. On the other hand, proteins related to innate immune responses and blood vessel regulation decreased. Several biological functions were regulated differently in males as compared to females, potentially explaining why females have a higher risk for more severe post-COVID-19 conditions compared to males. The team also found 13 proteins associated with patients’ lung function.

J Proteome Res.
doi: 10.1021/acs.jproteome.3c00324

“Our study shows that lipid biology appears to be an important driver of the transition from acute to post-COVID-19 conditions,” says Dr. Russell. “These pathways could be important drug targets for preventing severe lung disease after COVID-19. The next step is to test drugs that modulate lipid levels and function, such as PCSK9 inhibitors. One PCSK9 inhibitor, Repatha, decreased mortality of acute COVID, and could also mitigate risk and severity of long COVID.”

This work has been published in the Journal of Proteome Research:

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jproteome.3c00324

Proteomic Evolution from Acute to Post-COVID-19 Conditions

Yassene Mohammed*, Karen Tran, Chris Carlsten, Christopher Ryerson, Alyson Wong, Terry Lee, Matthew P. Cheng, Donald C. Vinh, Todd C. Lee, Brent W. Winston, David Sweet, John H. Boyd, Keith R. Walley, Greg Haljan, Allison McGeer, Francois Lamontagne, Robert Fowler, David Maslove, Joel Singer, David M. Patrick, John C. Marshall, Srinivas Murthy, Fagun Jain, Christoph H. Borchers, David R. Goodlett, Adeera Levin, James A. Russell, and ARBs CORONA I Consortium

TAHLI hosted its third networking event of 2023 (Pathways to Professional Success) on the evening of December 7th in the James Hogg Conference Centre at HLI. The goal of this event was to connect trainees with industry professionals and help trainees learn about career paths in STEM.

Trainees and staff from HLI and the Centre for Advancing Health Outcomes had the opportunity to hear from four industry professionals working at STEMCELL, AbCellera, Lululemon, and Integrated Nanotherapeutics. The speakers first took the audience through their educational and career paths.

Drs. Hitesh Arora (STEMCELL) and Shauna Crowley (AbCellera) talked about their passion for bench science, which brought them to their current positions as research scientists at two local companies that have made a global impact in multiple fields, including regenerative medicine and therapeutic antibodies. They have played roles in developing and commercializing medicines for sepsis, COVID-19, and other diseases. Dr. Mirza Saquib us Sarwar shared his journey of becoming an electrical engineer to merging machine learning with sensors for a company known for its yoga pants (Lululemon). His story of creating an opportunity for himself to work on innovative projects in a new setting was inspiring. Finally, Dr. Azadeh Goudarzi gave her perspective of having worked across different industries over the past 14 years. Her diverse background in pharmaceutical science and business led her to become an instructor for SFU’s Invention to Innovation (i2I) program for which she has mentored many scientist entrepreneurs. She is now the Director of Business Development for Integrated Nanotherapeutics and is leading business and innovation strategy for mRNA-based therapeutics.

TAHLI invited these four industry professionals by working with a local non-profit organization (HirePhD), which helps talents with advanced degrees navigate career paths outside of academia. Firoozeh Gerayeli, TAHLI Chair, and Tong Li, Director of Talent Management, People & Culture at HirePhD, introduced how the organizations have complementary interests and are now partnering to co-host professional development events. Also in attendance were Associate Professor Dr. Denise Daley and VP, Research and Academic Affairs at PHC, Dr. Darryl Knight.

After learning about the speakers’ career paths, the attendees had the opportunity to network with the guests to ask more specific questions about their roles and to gain advice about career development. From conversations with the speakers, trainees learned, for example, that volunteer experience and people they meet in extracurricular settings can have a huge impact on their career paths. The trainees loved this event as it gave them an in-person networking opportunity, the first for some. Josie Tuong, a Master’s student who attended, said “The speakers are inspirational. Listening to their experiences, what happened that lead them to who they are now, not only reassures me that everything will turn out fine, but also makes me feel more confident that I have just what it takes to be successful and fulfilled in science.”

It was an absolute privilege having these professionals who work across many areas of biotechnology, research and development, and business development share their insights and help trainees as they look to begin their own careers in STEM. The attendees and organizers are grateful for the financial support provided by HLI and the Centre for Advancing Health Outcomes to make this event possible. TAHLI is now coordinating with SFU’s i2I office to introduce potential resources available for future scientist entrepreneurs interested in commercializing their research.

In the third quarter of 2023, HLI member Principal Investigators (PIs) authored 89 peer-reviewed articles:

HLI member PIs were first or senior authors on 13 original research articles and 8 meta-analyses or reviews.

See full list below. Here we highlight 8 of these publications:

Publication list:

  1. Alqarawi W, Tadros R, Roberts JD, Cheung CC, Green MS, Burwash IG, Steinberg C, Healey JS, Khan H, McIntyre C, Cadrin-Touringy J, Laksman ZWM, Simpson CS, Sanatani S, Gardner M, Angaran P, Ilhan E, Talajic M, Arbour L, Leather R, Seifer C, Joza J, Lee F, Lau L, Nair G, Wells G, Krahn AD. The Prevalence and Characteristics of Arrhythmic Mitral Valve Prolapse in Patients With Unexplained Cardiac Arrest. JACC Clin Electrophysiol. 2023 Sep 6:S2405-500X(23)00630-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jacep.2023.08.017.
  2. Bahreyni A, Mohamud Y, Zhang J, Luo H. Engineering a facile and versatile nanoplatform to facilitate the delivery of multiple agents for targeted breast cancer chemo-immunotherapy. Biomed Pharmacother. 2023 Jul;163:114789. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2023.114789.
  3. Booth S, Hsieh A, Mostaco-Guidolin L, Koo HK, Wu K, Aminazadeh F, Yang CX, Quail D, Wei Y, Cooper JD, Paré PD, Hogg JC, Vasilescu DM, Hackett TL. A Single-Cell Atlas of Small Airway Disease in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Cross-Sectional Study. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2023 Aug 15;208(4):472-486. doi: 10.1164/rccm.202303-0534oc
  4. Forgrave LM, Moon KM, Hamden JE, Li Y, Lu P, Foster LJ, Mackenzie IRA, DeMarco ML. Truncated TDP-43 proteoforms diagnostic of frontotemporal dementia with TDP-43 pathology. Alzheimers Dement. 2023 Jul 17. doi: 10.1002/alz.13368.
  5. Guinto E, Gerayeli FV, Eddy RL, Lee H, Milne S, Sin DD. Post-COVID-19 dyspnoea and pulmonary imaging: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur Respir Rev. 2023 Aug 9;32(169):220253. doi: 10.1183/16000617.0253-2022.
  6. Guo TJF, Singhera GK, Leung JM, Dorscheid DR. Airway Epithelial-Derived Immune Mediators in COVID-19. Viruses. 2023 Jul 29;15(8):1655. doi: 10.3390/v15081655.
  7. Heffernan A, Shafiee A, Chan T, Sparanese S, Thamboo A. Non-Type 2 and Mixed Inflammation in Chronic Rhinosinusitis and Lower Airway Disease. Laryngoscope. 2023 Aug 24. doi: 10.1002/lary.30992.
  8. Hsieh A, Yang CX, Al-Fouadi M, Nwozor KO, Osei ET, Hackett TL. The contribution of reticular basement membrane proteins to basal airway epithelial attachment, spreading and barrier formation: implications for airway remodeling in asthma. Front Med (Lausanne). 2023 Sep 12;10:1214130. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2023.1214130.
  9. Jan-Abu SC, Kabil A, McNagny KM. Parallel origins and functions of T cells and ILCs. Clin Exp Immunol. 2023 Jul 5;213(1):76-86. doi: 10.1093/cei/uxad056.
  10. Khor YH, Cottin V, Holland AE, Inoue Y, McDonald VM, Oldham J, Renzoni EA, Russell AM, Strek ME, Ryerson CJ. Treatable traits: a comprehensive precision medicine approach in interstitial lung disease. Eur Respir J. 2023 Jul 27;62(1):2300404. doi: 10.1183/13993003.00404-2023.
  11. Kim JV, Assadian S, Hollander Z, Burns P, Shannon CP, Lam K, Toma M, Ignaszewski A, Davies RA, Delgado D, Haddad H, Isaac D, Kim D, Mui A, Rajda M, West L, White M, Zieroth S, Keown PA, McMaster WR, Ng RT, McManus BM, Levings MK, Tebbutt SJ. Regulatory T Cell Biomarkers Identify Patients at Risk of Developing Acute Cellular Rejection in the First Year Following Heart Transplantation. Transplantation. 2023 Aug 1;107(8):1810-1819. doi: 10.1097/TP.0000000000004607.
  12. Lee T, Cheng MP, Vinh DC, Lee TC, Tran KC, Winston BW, Sweet D, Boyd JH, Walley KR, Haljan G, McGeer A, Lamontagne F, Fowler R, Maslove DM, Singer J, Patrick DM, Marshall JC, Burns KD, Murthy S, Mann PK, Hernandez G, Donohoe K, Russell JA; for ARBs CORONA I. Outcomes and characteristics of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec during the Omicron wave. CMAJ Open. 2023 Aug 1;11(4):E672-E683. doi: 10.9778/cmajo.20220194.
  13. Marinescu DC, Hague CJ, Muller NL, Murphy D, Churg A, Wright JL, Al-Arnawoot A, Bilawich AM, Bourgouin P, Cox G, Durand C, Elliot T, Ellis J, Fisher JH, Fladeland D, Grant-Orser A, Goobie GC, Guenther Z, Haider E, Hambly N, Huynh J, Johannson KA, Karjala G, Khalil N, Kolb M, Leipsic J, Lok S, MacIsaac S, McInnis M, Manganas H, Marcoux V, Mayo J, Morisset J, Scallan C, Sedlic T, Shapera S, Sun K, Tan V, Wong AW, Zheng B, Ryerson CJ. Integration and Application of Radiologic Patterns From Clinical Practice Guidelines on Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and Fibrotic Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis. Chest. 2023 Aug 2:S0012-3692(23)01106-6. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2023.07.068.
  14. Randhawa GK, Orach J, Black A, Chan V, Potter N, Brinkman J, Côté H, Worfolk L, Knight D, Leversage I, Tebbutt SJ. Design, delivery, and evaluation of a knowledge translation intervention for multi-stakeholders. Implement Sci Commun. 2023 Jul 24;4(1):85. doi: 10.1186/s43058-023-00465-9.
  15. Robinson A, Huff RD, Ryu MH, Carlsten C. Variants in transient receptor potential channels and toll-like receptors modify airway responses to allergen and air pollution: a randomized controlled response human exposure study. Respir Res. 2023 Sep 7;24(1):218. doi: 10.1186/s12931-023-02518-y.
  16. Sin DD. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and the Airway Microbiome: What Respirologists Need to Know. Tuberc Respir Dis (Seoul). 2023 Jul;86(3):166-175. doi: 10.4046/trd.2023.0015.
  17. Steinberg C, Roston TM, van der Werf C, Sanatani S, Chen SRW, Wilde AAM, Krahn AD. RYR2-ryanodinopathies: from calcium overload to calcium deficiency. Europace. 2023 Jun 2;25(6):euad156. doi: 10.1093/europace/euad156.
  18. Tajima Y, Seow CY, Dong SJ, Tsutsui M, Cheung CY, Welch I, Mowbray L, Imlach B, Hildebrandt R, Apperloo K, Ryomoto B, Goodacre E, Myrdal C, Machan L, Wolff K, Elizur E, Vasilescu DM, Sin DD. Development of a unilateral porcine emphysema model induced by porcine pancreatic elastase. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2023 Nov 1;135(5):1001-1011. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00801.2022.
  19. Turner CT, Zeglinski MR, Boivin W, Zhao H, Pawluk MA, Richardson KC, Chandrabalan A, Bird P, Ramachandran R, Sehmi R, Lima H, Gauvreau G, Granville DJ. Granzyme K contributes to endothelial microvascular damage and leakage during skin inflammation. Br J Dermatol. 2023 Aug 24;189(3):279-291. doi: 10.1093/bjd/ljac017.
  20. Tzimas G, Gulsin GS, Everett RJ, Akodad M, Meier D, Sewnarain K, Ally Z, Alnamasy R, Ng N, Mullen S, Rotzinger D, Sathananthan J, Sellers SL, Blanke P, Leipsic JA. Age- and Sex-Specific Nomographic CT Quantitative Plaque Data From a Large International Cohort. JACC Cardiovasc Imaging. 2023 Jul 5:S1936-878X(23)00234-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jcmg.2023.05.011.
  21. Vasileva D, Greenwood CMT, Daley D. A Review of the Epigenetic Clock: Emerging Biomarkers for Asthma and Allergic Disease. Genes (Basel). 2023 Aug 29;14(9):1724. doi: 10.3390/genes14091724.

Each summer, HLI welcomes undergraduate, co-op, and high school students to explore cardiovascular and pulmonary research. For many students, this program provides an invaluable first-time opportunity to learn practical laboratory techniques and to take a first step toward a career as a scientist. Towards the end of the summer period, students are given an opportunity to showcase their novel research in front of a scientific and general audience. For many undergraduate and young trainees, this summer experience is their first time attending and presenting at a public research conference.

In 2020 and 2021, the centre used Zoom and Gather to allow both summer students and graduate and postdoctoral trainees to present their research. Over the course of 5 days, attendees watched oral and poster presentations, and research awards were handed out for a wide array of research topics: the microbiome and asthma, lipid nanoparticles for atherosclerosis therapy, gene expression analysis in lung fibrosis, COVID-associated cardiac injury, and modeling arrhythmias with stem cells. In 2022, the centre returned to hosting a one-day, fully in-person Research Day. Timothy Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, delivered the Bruce McManus Lecture: “Battle Bunk: It works! It’s needed.” His interest in research ethics, public health, and science, and straightforward style have made him well known in popular media. The #ScienceUpFirst social media initiative, which he co-founded, formed the crux of his talk on the importance of debunking misinformation. Later in the day, attendees learned about knowledge translation and science communication from a panel of experts from Michael Smith Health Research BC (Kevin Sauvé and Dr. Stirling Bryan, Ph.D.), SFU (Dr. Tania Bubela, Ph.D.), and UBC (Dr. Jillianne Code, Ph.D.). The panelists discussed the imperatives of mobilizing new knowledge gained from research and building patient-oriented learning health systems, and the impact of social media on student success and well-being. Oral presentation awards were given to the following trainees: Michelle Fan, Phoebe Lu, Hattie Luo, Meng Wang, and Keith Wu. Poster presentation awards were given to: Joshua Matsui, Nicole Coxson, Tony Guo, Cara Kovacs, Jinelle Panton, Kauna Usman, Morgan Flynn, Harjot Bhandol, and Estefanía Espín.

Timothy Caulfield
Knowledge Translation and Science Communications Panel (2022)

This year, the Trainee Association at the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation (TAHLI) again hosted the annual Research Day on August 19th at the Cullen Theatre in St. Paul’s Hospital. With over 100 people in attendance, 12 students presented their project in oral format and 36 showed their project in poster format. Ten students also took on the novel challenge of giving knowledge translation rapid fire talks, which involved condensing their research project into a one-minute oral presentation. There was a wide range of research topics ranging from cardiovascular health, exercise and sepsis, and mechanisms of viral myocarditis to lung fibrosis treatments and better understanding lung disease.

Research Day 2023

Throughout the day, trainees and attendees had the opportunity to hear from three speakers who shared career advice and insights from their outstanding research. Dr. David Granville, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, gave the opening remarks and shared his knowledge of the job opportunities in BC’s life sciences sector. Since 2003, Dr. Granville has not only been an investigator at HLI, VCHRI and ICORD, but he has also served in executive roles at VCHRI and UBC. The perspective he shared on scientific careers in BC was not purely from the standpoint of an academic. Dr. Granville’s own career has been shaped by his experiences in local industry (1994-2001 at QLT) and as co-Founder and CSO of viDA Therapeutics. His message to attendees was that BC’s life sciences sector is at a very exciting moment in time. The sector is growing but the biggest challenge (and imperative) is to foster and retain local talent. In essence, universities, industry, government, and the nonprofit sector have vital roles to play in ensuring that talent, discoveries, and research and development in BC spur the growth and success of the local life sciences sector.

Next, Dr. Jennifer Gardy, Ph.D., Deputy Director, Surveillance, Data, and Epidemiology, presented the Bruce McManus Lecture: “What can BUGS in BUGS teach us about career paths?”. First, Dr. Bruce McManus (Professor Emeritus) forcing himself to stick to a single PowerPoint slide regaled the audience with stories about HLI and of course one of his “scikus”. Dr. Gardy is a well-known name in the STEM and science communications communities. She was the Canada Research Chair in Public Health Genomics at the BC Centre for Disease Control before becoming the Deputy Director, Surveillance, Data, and Epidemiology at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Hosting CBC’s The Nature of Things and Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet, Dr. Gardy has become most well-known for talking about her passion for science, epidemiology, and infectious disease. In her talk, she gave an overview of malaria around the world and how she is tasked with funding the promising science and technology that can track and prevent the disease. She discussed the incredible research that is being funded and highlighted her own research experience in genomics, disease modeling, and social sciences. Dr. Gardy showed how careers are shaped by twists and turns. Her own multifaceted career in academia, journalism, philanthropy, and global health has allowed her to interact with public health agencies, academics, and the biotech professionals. Through all these experiences that are clearly rooted in a love of science, she has been a champion for science literacy and knowledge.

After oral presentations and lunch, Dr. Karen Cheung, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UBC, gave the Peter Paré Lecture on “Organ-On-Chip for Physiology and Development of New Therapies.” Dr. Cheung is a Professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering (SBME) and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UBC. She is also the Director of the SBME Graduate Program, a new and growing program at UBC, and an associate member at HLI. Dr. Cheung’s group (the Bio-Medical Micro Devices Laboratory) has been pursuing cutting-edge research in the field of organs-on-chip. The concept behind these engineered tissues is that specific cells and the surrounding matrix assemble in such a way that they mimic the architecture of the native tissue. Relevant to the research in lung disease at HLI is her group’s development of microfluidic airways-on-chip. With the use of very small channels, their system exposes lung airway-specific cells to environmental factors. Through collaboration with HLI researchers (Drs. Sin and Hackett and Dr. Carlsten), Dr. Cheung gave an overview of the design of this system and preliminary experiments and results applying it to study lung disease. The development of microtissues to model a disease is just one step though. The engineering and research presented by Dr. Cheung all point to the exciting future potential for therapeutic testing in several biomedical applications.

HLI Research Day presenters (from left to right: Dr. Don Sin, Katrina Besler, Dr. Bruce McManus, Dr. Jennifer Gardy, Naomi Potter, Dr. David Granville)

In the afternoon, there were more oral presentations by trainees, and at the end of the day the following trainees were recognized for their outstanding presentations:

The Peter D. Paré High School Student Award was given to Anna Kovtunenko to recognize her outstanding talents as a future scientist. Anna was awarded $2000 to support her research in the Hackett Lab.

Poster Presentation Winners:

1st place poster presentation – Christopher Yuen – Early Endothelial Function Activation by Losartan Prevents Aortic Stiffness in a Model of Type 1 Diabetes

2nd place (tie) poster presentation – Tucker Reed – Impact of Bioprosthetic Surgical Valve Degeneration on True Internal Diameter

2nd place (tie) poster presentation – Fatemeh Aminazadeh – Investigating the Contribution of Sex Differences to Small Airways Disease in COPD Using Ultrahigh Resolution Imaging

3rd place poster presentation – Sarah Bradwell Peak ICU Performance Status and Long-Term Outcomes in Critical Care Survivors

Rookie poster presentation – Janette Chen – CanCOLD Re-Visit: Changes In Protocol To Address New Questions

Oral Presentation Winners:

1st place oral presentation – Zeren Sun – Of Mice and Men: Tweaking Rodent Lipoprotein and Cholesterol Metabolism to Better Mimic Human Muscular Dystrophy

2nd place oral presentation – Aileen Hsieh – Mucus Plugged Airways in Asthma are Marked by Prominent Airway Remodeling

3rd place oral presentation – Maria Elishaev – Using a Novel Multiplex Imaging Platform to Visualize Inflammation and Cell Death in Human Atherosclerotic Lesions

Rookie oral presentation – Samuel Leung – Spatial Gene Expression Methods for Cross-sample Analysis and Quality Control

Knowledge Translation Rapid Fire Presentation:

People’s Choice Award – Wendy Hwang – Understanding the Role of Complement Regulator Proteins in CVB3 Induced Myocarditis

“This is the best Research Day I have attended,” commented Dr. Don Sin, the director of HLI, at the end of the day. On behalf of the Research Day Organizing Committee, we would also like to thank the St. Paul’s Foundation and Providence Health Care for their generous funding to support our Research Day event. We hope all the attendees enjoyed the day and we look forward to welcoming everyone again next year.

Research Day would not be possible without the hard work of TAHLI, which includes undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows at HLI. TAHLI aims to enhance the academic experience of all trainees by providing an environment to foster enhanced collaboration, education, professional growth, and career success. Currently, it is working on hosting professional development, wellness, and technical training workshops to support trainees throughout their academic careers.

The TAHLI Research Day Organizing Committee. (pictured left to right: Hattie Luo, Debora Petry-Moecke, Maria Elishaev, Denitsa Vasileva, Rishika Daswani, Sunaina Chopra, Firoozeh Gerayeli, Ivan Leversage, Cassie Gilchrist, Katrina Besler, and Naomi Potter)

TAHLI regularly seeks student input on ongoing projects at HLI and welcomes HLI trainees at all levels to join. TAHLI is currently led by co-Chairs Katrina Besler, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate studying atherosclerosis in the Francis lab, and Naomi Potter, a Ph.D. candidate studying cystic fibrosis in the Quon lab. Whether you are interested in a big or small role, feel free to email Katrina (Katrina.Besler@hli.ubc.ca) or Naomi (Naomi.Potter@hli.ubc.ca).

In 2021, the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation (HLI) and its partners from Providence Health Care (PHC) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) created a new training initiative for graduate students and postdocs in health research. Supported by UBC funding, the program aimed to equip students with the basic tools and skills to engage and communicate with anyone who could benefit from knowledge of their research. This would allow students to properly design, implement, and translate their research into real-world practices.

Workshop speakers and panelists for the KTM program.

Throughout 2022, this new Knowledge Translation and Mobilization (KTM) Training program consisted of webinars and workshops, a Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition in the Health category, a Patient & Public Forum, and presentation coaching sessions. Trainees developed the know-how to describe their work in lay terms, engage and partner with stakeholders, interact with patient and public groups to solicit feedback on their research projects, and create a knowledge translation and mobilization plan to publicize their findings for non-scientific audiences.

It has been an incredible journey collaborating with trainees, faculty, patients, health system partners, HLI, and UBC to co-design, deliver, and evaluate this unique KTM program. The training has underscored the importance and value of engaging patients and other partners, as well as creating opportunities to foster a KTM culture in trainee environments. This initiative has shown great potential for building KTM capacity at HLI and beyond.” – Gurprit Randhawa, KTM Program Coordinator 

“The KTM training program was a remarkable opportunity to expound the vital role of engaging patients and other non-academic stakeholders through all parts of the research process. It was incredible to not only deliver seminars, coaching and a three-minute thesis competition, but also to evaluate the program and demonstrate its utility. This program was an important step towards incorporating KTM into research practice and training.” 
— Juma Orach, PhD Student and KTM Program Assistant

To understand the impact of this initiative, Gurprit Randhawa, KTM Program Coordinator, and the project team conducted a study on this KTM “intervention”, gathering feedback from attendees, patients and the public, as well as workshop facilitators. Through a combination of surveys and focus group interviews, trainee and faculty participants reported high satisfaction with the training sessions, noting in particular the benefits of featuring a panel of experts on a specific topic. The project team included research assistants Juma Orach and Naomi Potter, patient partner Larry Worfolk, principal investigator Scott Tebbutt, and interdisciplinary steering committee members from PHC, HLI, and UBC (Aggie Black, Vivienne Chan, Jacqui Brinkman, Hélène Côté, Darryl Knight, and Ivan Leversage).

The Patient & Public Forum turned out to be mutually beneficial for both patients and trainees.

Wow, I’ve been waiting for this day for years, right? To, to talk to people who are actually doing heart research about prevention of heart disease. And it’s like, whoa this is about time, this is excellent… I was very happy and I felt heard.” – Patient Participant
The Patient Public Forum was my favorite thing ever… the questions coming from the patients were like, not what I expected. The things that they cared about were not what I expected. And I think it just means like ‘Okay, you got to have those conversations’ and I really appreciated the experience with being able to do that.” – Trainee Participant

Based on the feedback, this KTM intervention was shown to be effective in improving KTM competencies in trainees, and allowed researchers to foster important partnerships with patients and the general public, who were interested in research and new developments in heart and lung health. This program can be easily adopted by other post-secondary institutions to train students in KTM, empowering them to succeed after graduate school and become the next generation of scientific experts.

This study was published in Implementation Science Communications.

Previous research conducted at St. Paul’s by Dr. Tillie Hackett and her team found that by the time people are diagnosed with mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), more than 40 per cent of the smallest airways in the lungs are already destroyed.

Today, they published new research which now identifies the cells responsible for this small airway destruction in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

COPD is the third leading cause of death worldwide. About 380 million people globally live with it and each day, they struggle simply to breathe. The disease is commonly associated with risk factors, such as smoking, exposure to air pollution, and genetic predisposition.

Understanding the cells involved in small airway loss can lead to more effective treatments for COPD patients, says Dr. Tillie Hackett, Professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Centre for Heart Lung Innovation at St. Paul’s Hospital. “This is the closest we have come to finding a way to potentially prevent COPD,” says Dr. Hackett, who is also a Tier I Canada Research Chair in asthma and COPD.

Using lung tissue samples donated by 40 COPD patients to the lung biobank at St. Paul’s Hospital, Dr. Hackett and her team performed high-resolution imaging studies to investigate small airway disease at the single-cell level.

The authors found that in patients with COPD, there is a progressive loss of alveolar attachments that normally hold the small airways open. “Airways are like flexible pipes that bring air in out of the lung, and the alveolar attachments are like cables that attach to the airway wall and hold it open,” says Dr Hackett.  Without these attachments, the airways collapse and airflow is obstructed. This makes breathing difficult.

“By using these imaging techniques, we have been able to identify the specific cell types involved in the inflammatory response that destroys the small airways,” says Dr. Steven Booth, first author of today’s publication and PhD student in Dr. Hackett’s lab.

For the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine study, the authors created a single-cell “atlas” of COPD small airways using imaging mass spectrometry. This technology is the first of its kind on the West Coast of Canada and is funded in part through the St. Paul’s Foundation. Using the equipment, every cell within a disease lesion can be studied, where as previously researchers could only look at one cell at a time. Dr. Booth says this technology now enables us to create a map of a disease lesion to understand which cells are causing the damage.

Dr. Hackett’s groundbreaking research into COPD was supported by the St. Paul’s Foundation and the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Find out how you can support COPD research here.

COPD by the numbers

COPD is the third leading cause of death worldwide, responsible for 3.23 million deaths globally in 2019.

Tobacco smoking and air pollution are the most common causes of COPD.

COPD costs the healthcare system $1.5 billion annually in Canada.

This article was first published in The Daily Scan.