Elina has a passion for discovery, and this led her to enter the MD/PhD program at Queen’s University. Her goals are to build on her grounding in biomedical research and to strive to advance medicine throughout her medical training. These are important to her future career aspirations as a physician-scientist. In her MSc, Elina researched a therapeutic to reduce the toxicities that arise during aggressive radiotherapy treatment in cancer. This interest led her to pursue a PhD project into the origins of leukemia, and also into reasons for poor treatment responses. In collaboration with several world-class research groups, she is looking into specific mutations and inflammatory cues that may underlie such pathogenesis. Elina’s research is supported by a CIHR Vanier Award.
Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. It is the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes, costing Canadians $20.9 billion each year. Laura’s research at the Cardiovascular Imaging Network at Queen’s (CINQ) involves the use of contrast-enhanced ultrasound to link carotid plaque neovascularization with the severity of coronary artery disease and future cardiovascular events. This novel approach to plaque assessment has the potential to become an important tool for the early detection and risk-stratification of patients with heart disease. Laura’s research is supported by a Frederick Banting and Charles Best CGS Doctoral Award.
Allen is a former Tar Heel from UNC Chapel Hill where he played football as a full back and defensive lineman. His research focuses on studying the effects of sport-related concussion and repeated sub-concussive impacts on cerebrovascular physiology. Allen also has a special interest for the relationship between impact biomechanics and sport-specific mechanisms of injury in athletes. His project integrates neuroimaging, helmet accelerometers, film analysis and motion capture to characterize the effects of head trauma in football, with hopes to develop proper biomarkers for head injuries, and design evidence-based behavior modification interventions that will promote safer playing fields.
Stroke is a leading cause of death worldwide, and stroke survivors are frequently left with long-term disabilities that significantly diminish their autonomy and quality of life. Currently, there are an estimated 426,000 Canadians living with stroke disabilities, which costs the Canadian economy more than $3.6 billion a year. As such, there is an urgent need for therapies that improve stroke recovery to lessen both the staggering socioeconomic burden of stroke disability and the emotional and physical strain to patients and their families. Nancy’s research under Dr. DJ Cook involves studying the mechanisms of recovery following stroke in a non-human primate model of chronic stroke in hopes of improving recovery in humans. Using behavioural robotic assessment tools and immunohistochemistry, she is investigating the ways in which motor function of the upper limbs recover and engage in compensatory movements following an ischemic stroke and the morphological changes at the level of individual neurons. Nancy’s research is supported by a Frederick Banting and Charles Best CGS Doctoral Award.
Death is not simply a biological fact, but a social phenomenon. Thus the very act of dying is not only physical but social; through the process of dying, individuals influence their social spheres through more than just the changing of their bodies. Medical assistance in dying (MAID) has recently been legalized in Canada. Christine’s dissertation research will explore experiences of racialized Canadians with MAID. Her proposed doctoral work will help us understand what assisted dying means to racialized Canadians, who are often left out of local and national discourses. It will provide a previously unexplored, qualitative and in-depth look at how assisted dying plays out in everyday lives of people who are thinking about, requesting, or receiving assisted dying. Christine’s research will comprise the first ethnographic analysis of assisted dying in Canada. By studying MAID she will not only study the direct phenomena of assisted dying, but also the social processes of death in general. It is her intent that my research will contribute both to Canadian public policy and everyday lived experiences of Canadians.
Delirium is a acute disturbance in cognitive function that frequently affects the critically ill, with up to 80% of patients developing delirium in the ICU. Delirium commonly affects those without neurological trauma or impairments and is associated with long-term cognitive dysfunction. Jasmine will be leading a multi-centre clinical trial using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to investigate the role of cerebral oxygenation in the development of delirium and long-term cognitive impairment. Jasmine’s goal is to determine whether low cerebral oxygenation is a significant risk factor and whether cerebral perfusion can be clinically targeted to treat and prevent delirium and long-term cognitive impairment in ICU survivors. Her research is supported by a CIHR Vanier Award.
Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada at ~30%. Approximately 90% of these deaths are due to the spread of cancer throughout the body, known as metastasis. Two drivers of metastases are the tyrosine kinases FES and FER. Brian will lead a project to elucidate and validate the metastasis-promoting mechanisms of these two tyrosine kinases using knockout in-vitro and in-vivo Triple Negative Breast Cancer models. In addition, Brian will conduct high throughput screening of large small-molecule-inhibitor libraries to not only find effective inhibitors of FES/FER and thus metastases, but also to find drugs that are synthetically lethal with FES/FER inhibition for pre-clinical testing and to hopefully set the stage for future clinical trials.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small RNA molecules that negatively regulate gene expression. Due to their abundance, stability and cell-type and disease-stage specificity, miRNAs are excellent biomarkers and important functional regulators of gene expression. Using machine learning methods, Jina and colleagues have identified miRNAs as useful biomarkers for diagnosis and clinical classification of neuroendocrine neoplasms. In particular, miR-375 is a promising marker of neuroendocrine differentiation. Further studies have found that miR-375 inhibits a transcriptional co-factor, YAP, and the miR-375/YAP axis controls neuroendocrine differentiation and tumorigenesis in neoplastic neuroendocrine cells of the lung. Jina continues to study the role of miR-375/YAP in neuroendocrine neoplasms and hopes to pursue further training in medical genetics.
Combining diagnostics and therapy (theranostics) in a single step approach is at the forefront of cancer research. Metal nanoclusters are an emerging class of optically active nanomaterials that are being investigated as promising theranostic candidates, due to their highly tunable optical and electronic properties. Hannah’s PhD work involvesinvestigating the properties of silver nanoclusters (AgNCs), which have become of interest due to their strong fluorescence, potent antibacterial activity and broad chemical diversity. Using photochemistry, she has successfully tuned a complex synthesis to specifically produce and isolate a pure eighteen-atom silver cluster capped by fourteen captopril ligands, Ag18(Capt)14. By identifying this and other atomically precise AgNCs through these studies and characterizing their exciting optical properties, new classes of silver clusters will be able to be purposefully explored for biological use with an idea of their structure-function relationship. Hannah’s research is supported by the Alexander Graham Bell CGS Doctoral Award.
Of all psychiatric diagnoses, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate and while 2.7% of adolescents meet eating disorder diagnostic criteria, up to 30% of adolescents fully or partially relapse following treatment. However, accurate and reliable treatment response predictors remain to be determined. Saccadic eye movements are rapid eye movements that are under voluntary and automatic control and have been used to investigate various psychiatric groups including schizophrenia, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Ryan’s doctoral studies aim to increase knowledge of cognitive control of saccadic eye movements in adolescents with eating disorders by combining clinical information gained through medical charts and psychological questionnaires with measures from eye movement tasks. The end goal of Ryan’s projects is to identify objective, rather than subjective, measures of eating disorders and treatment response in adolescents. Ryan's research is supported by a CIHR Canada Vanier Graduate Scholarship.
Stroke carries the greatest socioeconomic burden of disease in North America. In Canada, approximately 70 000 people have a new stroke each year. Presently, 426,000 Canadians living stroke related disabilities, which costs about $3.6 billion dollars. Stroke survivors are often left with long-lasting problems that alters their societal role and diminishes their quality of life. This places a huge burden on the survivor, their family and society. Thus, therapies that offer even small improvements in outcomes and/or increased independence could have a massive impact. Unfortunately, we have a poor understanding of how individuals recover following a stroke. With this in mind, my research under the supervision of Dr. D.J. Cook has two objectives: The first objective is to identify how changes in the brain relate to recovery of function. I make use of state-of-the-art imaging techniques and cutting-edge robotics to understand how specific brain areas are associated with recovery in a monkey model of stroke. The second objective of my research is to try and improve recovery. Using various molecular techniques we hope to enhance recovery in key brain areas.
Initiation of acute kidney replacement therapy (KRT) is common in critically ill adults admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU), and presents important consequences for overall morbidity and mortality. Long-term KRT and critical illness are independently associated with long-term memory and attention problems, and reduced quality of life. Adults undergoing short-term KRT in the ICU may therefore be particularly at risk for superimposed cognitive impairments. Regional cerebral oxygen saturation (rSO2) may provide a critical early marker of long-term neurocognitive impairment in patients admitted to ICU initiated on KRT. Tasha’s doctoral research aims to understand the relationship between cerebral oxygenation in patients undergoing KRT in the ICU, and short- and long-term neurocognitive impairment and structural brain pathology. Tasha's research is supported by a Frederick Banting & Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship and a PSI Foundation Research Trainee Fellowship Award.
The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the severe health threat posed by emerging coronaviruses, and the diversity of coronaviruses in bats highlights the likelihood of future spillover. Even with accelerated timelines, vaccine development for an emerging virus requires 12-18 months. Complementary strategies, such as the development of broad-spectrum antivirals, are needed to prepare for future emerging coronaviruses. Like other respiratory viruses, coronaviruses initiate attachment to the surface of human cells by interacting with complex carbohydrates called glycans. Emma’s research aims to identify which subtypes of glycans are used by coronaviruses for entry and infection of human airway cells. Through collaboration with an expert carbohydrate chemist in the department, Dr. Chantelle Capicciotti, Emma aims to identify and optimize glycan-mimicking antiviral molecules that block the interaction between coronaviruses and these glycans to prevent viral infection. The goal is to guide the design of pan-coronavirus entry inhibitors.
Cell-surface carbohydrate structures, called glycans, are central to the coordination of normal physiological processes. Through highly specific recognition by glycan-binding proteins, glycans mediate vital biological functions including cell-cell communication and immune recognition; dysregulation of glycan-based signaling is involved in every major disease, such as cancer and viral infection. However, there is little known about the specific glycans involved in these processes owing to a current lack of methods to study glycan-mediated signaling. Jack’s research focuses on developing and applying novel chemical biology tools to identify the glycans and glycoproteins involved in important biological interactions, which have great potential as therapeutic targets and biomarkers. Specifically, Jack aims to characterize which distinct glycans are involved in modulation of the immune response, and how this is altered in cancer to repress recognition by immune cells.
Co-design is an approach to engineering design in which stakeholders are actively involved throughout the entire process. Checkpoints for user feedback occur from problem identification and solution ideation, through prototype verification and validation to ensure the solution is addressing the true needs of the end-user. The goal of Mackenzie’s research is to follow a co-design process in exploring the potential use of affordable eye-tracking technologies for identifying emotion in children with various communication needs. As a clinician-scientist, she hopes to directly connect the fields of clinical practice and engineering innovation. Mackenzie is a 2016 National Schulich Leader Scholarship recipient at the University of Waterloo, and in joining Queen’s University in Fall 2021, she received the Seanix Graduate Award to assist in the funding of her doctoral studies.
Erynn is passionate about improving accessibility of health care services in rural communities worldwide. She conducts her research in the global health field with a focus on understanding cultural determinants of health in rural Canada and Central America. Drawing on anthropological and community-based participatory methods, Erynn’s research aims to identify unique cultural particularities that exist in rural communities and to integrate them into local health service planning. Her PhD work focuses on identifying social and cultural capital in small communities and how these resources can be mobilized to create culturally relevant and accessible palliative care programs in under-resourced rural settings.
Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common and most lethal brain tumour in adults. One of the most aggressive forms of cancer, it has a 5-year survival rate of 5%. Although great strides have been made in the understanding of the cause of these tumours, the current survival rate, and standard of care remain largely unchanged. The biggest challenge that exists in treating these diseases is how biologically variable this disease is within a patient and even between patients. In order to have develop more targeted therapies, we need accurate markers, which assist with treatment planning and prognosis. An additional challenge is the degree of difficulty in surgically removing these tumours, which plays a crucial role in survival, as better surgical resection leads to longer survival times. Our current study aims to improve the molecular diagnosis and improve surgical accuracy using machine learning and artificial intelligence. The iKnife is a technology that can use smoke from cauterized tissue to generate a chemical profile. This approach has been validated in other forms of cancer such as cervical cancer, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer, and has tremendous promise in brain tumour therapy. By utilizing patient tumour samples to develop a machine learning model to distinguish between normal brain and GBM, we can not only improve the ability for surgeons to remove GBM but also develop markers to inform treatment plans and targeted therapy intraoperatively. Once validated in GBM, we believe this methodology is scalable and applicable to other cancers of the central nervous system, particularly those found in eloquent brain or spine regions.
Unlike other areas of cardiovascular health such as myocardial infarction, heart failure, and stroke, which have seen decreases in acute mortality over the past few decades, the improvement in outcome after life-threatening conditions that are treated with time-sensitive interventions such as out-of-hospital cardiac arrest has remained modest over the last 30 years. While the lack of progress is potentially attributable to the known lethality of the diseases, the variation in community response, sporadic presentation, and regionalization of care likely contributes to the high rate of adverse outcomes. In light of this, Dakota’s research focuses on the epidemiology of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, with a goal of better understanding how disparities in geographical presentation and care protocols contribute to adverse outcomes.
Early adulthood is an important neurodevelopmental period and coincides with major life changes, including the transition to higher education for millions of young Canadians. This period involves new stressors and challenges to mental, physical, and social health, while also being the peak period for psychiatric disorder onset. While some young people adjust and cope well, others struggle and would benefit from proactive or early support. Daniel’s research aims to both identify modifiable risk and protective factors for poor mental health outcomes in post-secondary students and develop novel digital tools for student mental health. In partnership with several Canadian and UK universities, two novel digital tools that address a spectrum of student mental health needs, from education to facilitated transitions to specialized care, will be developed and evaluated for their ability to improve student mental health outcomes.
To prepare physicians in-training to operate under the stressful conditions of a hospital environment, medical education incorporates the use of simulation to recreate clinical scenarios in a safe setting, using manikins or augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) instead of live patients. Despite its low-stakes nature, simulations are designed to replicate the stress and uncertainty that physicians face in the real world. Although effective in assimilating trainees to the chaos of critical care, when not managed properly, these distractions impose a burden on working memory, ultimately leading to a hindered ability to learn new information. In order to optimize learning outcomes and decrease time to clinical competency, simulations may be tailored to match the cognitive load of a student. With the aid of multimodal machine learning techniques, Erika’s research investigates the physiologic manifestations of cognitive load using wearable technologies. By monitoring cognitive load in real-time, this work seeks to innovate the future of simulation-based medical education through the delivery of AR/VR teaching modules that can be dynamically adapted to best fit the needs of individual learners. Erika’s research is supported by an NSERC Postgraduate Doctoral Scholarship.