Celebrating excellence in our talented research community 2019 Award Recipients
Wednesday, October 2
Chan Centre for Family Health Education 3:00 - 4:45 p.m Awards Ceremony
Join us in celebrating the accomplishments of our colleagues and the positive impact of research taking place on the Oak Street campus The award ceremony will feature the trainee recipients of the 2019: • Outstanding Achievement Awards • Canadian Child Health Clinician Scientist Program • Studentships & Fellowships The ceremony will also feature a talk by Dr. Megan Levings, Geoffrey L. Hammond Lectureship recipient, on her career and research highlights
Town Hall & Reception
Join Dr. Wyeth Wasserman, Vice President, Research, for a big-picture look at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute
Geoffrey L. Hammond Lectureship 2019 Recipient The Geoffrey L. Hammond Lectureship recognizes investigators on the Oak Street Campus who have made a significant impact on improving the health and well-being of children and/or families, served as a role model and mentor to junior researchers, trainees and students over the last 10 years, and provided leadership to the community on the Oak Street Campus.
Dr. Megan Levings Investigator, BC Children’s Hospital Lead, Childhood Diseases Research Theme Professor, UBC Department of Surgery and School of Biomedical Engineering
is a world leader in the field of immunology and a trusted mentor and visionary on the BC Children’s campus. Since moving to BC Children’s from the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute in 2011, she has trained more than 50 students, published more than 100 scientific papers and cemented her status as an international expert on the therapeutic potential of regulatory T cells. Beyond her own direct impact in the research world, Dr. Levings has also trained successful scientists and doctors who have since gone on to be leaders in universities, hospitals and industries all over the world. Dr. Levings developed a passion for immunology during her graduate training in genetics with Dr. John Schrader at UBC. Then, as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Maria Grazia Roncarolo’s lab in Italy from 1999-2002, Dr. Levings made critical discoveries about the function of regulatory T cells (Tregs) – a type of white blood cell that helps regulate the body’s immune responses. In 2001, Dr. Levings was one of the first to show that human Tregs could be isolated from blood and expanded in the laboratory. Importantly, Dr. Levings’ work showed that the regulatory power of these cells could potentially be harnessed to treat or even prevent immune-mediated diseases. This discovery laid the foundation for Dr. Levings’ future work which has expanded our knowledge of the cellular and molecular mechanisms that dictate Treg function and guided their testing as a therapy that could replace conventional immunosuppressive drugs. In 2018 her pioneering work on engineering Tregs with chimeric antigen receptors was highlighted by Nature in their Future of Medicine series and licensed by Sangamo Therapeutics for first-in-human testing.
In 2003, Dr. Levings returned to Canada, joined the UBC Department of Surgery and was appointed to the Tier II Canada Research Chair in Transplantation. In 2011, she became an Investigator at BC Children’s Hospital and in 2013 she was promoted to full Professor, just 10 years after joining the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. She is currently the lead for the Childhood Diseases Research Theme at BC Children’s, which includes more than 90 scientists studying various aspects of childhood diseases and disorders. She also has a leadership role in the TRACE program (TRAnsplantation and CEll Therapy) which is implementing cell therapy at BC Children’s and establishing the infrastructure needed to realize the vision of harnessing the natural properties of the immune system to replace conventional immunosuppression. In addition to her impressive research accomplishments, Dr. Levings has also been an outstanding mentor for the next generation of scientists. She has trained three high school students, 24 undergraduate students, two Masters students, 15 Doctoral students, two clinical trainees and 12 Postdoctoral fellows. Her mentees have held many prestigious scholarships, for example from the European Marie Curie program, the JDRF and CIHR. The lab’s alumni can be found all over the world as scientists in industry and academia or, as one example, the Chief-Scientific-Officer of JDRF Canada. As the head of the Childhood Diseases Research Theme at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, Dr. Levings has shown incredible commitment and support for all those around her. Her consultative approach to leadership and efforts to enhance research translation for all childhood disease-related research at the institute have earned the respect and admiration of her peers and colleagues. Dr. Levings’ passion and excellence as a researcher, colleague, mentor and leader have made her a true role model and inspiration to everyone here on the BC Children’s campus. Each and every day her commitment to improving the health and well-being of children has led to tremendous advances in our knowledge and understanding of immune cells and how they can be used to a patient’s advantage.
Outstanding Achievement Awards: Undergraduate or Medical Student recently completed a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in food, nutrition and health at UBC. During his degree, Jeff worked with Dr. Crystal Karakochuk to assess oral iron supplementation and itâ€™s interaction with micronutrients in Cambodian women. As part of this work, Jeff conducted a literature review, and contributed to the statistical analysis and writing of the project. Even after the completion of his directed studies course, Jeff continued to work on the project and presented the findings in a poster at the Annual Canadian Nutrition Society Meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He also presented this work at the Multidisciplinary Undergraduate Research Conference at UBC.
Jeff Holmes Karakochuk Research Team This award recognizes the outstanding achievement of an undergraduate or medical student whose research curiosity and engagement clearly demonstrate the individualâ€™s potential as a valuable member of the scientific community
Jeff helped draft a manuscript for publication and is first author on a paper accepted by The Journal of Nutrition â€” the leading journal in the field of nutrition. His impressive undergraduate accomplishments were recognized with an Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism (APNM) Undergraduate Research Excellence Award. This award is provided to only one student from each university across Canada working in food science or nutrition. Other awards Jeff has received include the Leonard Foundation Award, Irving K Barber Transfer Scholarship, Biely Memorial Scholarship, and Jacob Biely and Blythe A Eagles Prize. Jeff has also been involved in an impressive list of extracurricular activities including the launch of a local farms delivery company in 2010 and an e-commerce company in 2017. He also worked in a HIV clinic in Uganda, participated in a two year mission in Australia and volunteered with the Nutrikids Educator program at a Vancouver elementary school. As well as being an accomplished undergraduate student, Jeff has demonstrated impressive integrity and spirit along with a genuine eagerness to do good for his community.
Outstanding Achievement Awards: Masters Student recently completed her Masters of Science degree under the co-supervision of Dr. Sarka Lisonkova and Dr. Joseph Ting in the Healthy Starts and Evidence to Innovation research themes. She distinguished herself as an outstanding academic and researcher in her studies of preterm birth and perinatal epidemiology and earned an outstanding grade on her thesis describing newborn health outcomes and the increasing number of clinician-initiated preterm births in North America.
Lindsay Richter Lisonkova and Ting Research Teams This award recognizes the outstanding achievement of a masters student whose research skills and analytical capacity clearly demonstrate the individual’s potential as a productive member of the scientific community
Lindsay was very productive during her Masters studies having published two first author papers in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada and BMJ Open. She was also the second author on a publication in Pediatrics, one of the leading and most cited journals in pediatric research, and is co-author on several other papers. Lindsay presented her work in over 25 local seminars, national meetings and international conferences such as the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting. Lindsay and her work on neonatal abstinence syndrome and opioid use during pregnancy were featured in UBC’s National Brand Campaign: “The potential is yours” which was used to promote innovative research and highlight outstanding students across Canada. In addition to her research, Lindsay held positions on two Faculty of Medicine Committees and co-founded a new student organization within the Reproductive and Developmental Sciences program to better connect students within the graduate program community. Lindsay was the only student at the master’s level to be awarded the prestigious Friedman Award for Scholars in Health competition against PhD students and medical residents. During her studies, Lindsay received intensive knowledge translation training to bring evidence-based medicine to pediatricians and families. As a Friedman Scholar, she worked to establish a nation-wide knowledge mobilization network for pediatric pain research. Lindsay hopes to pursue a combined MD/PhD to become a pediatrician and continue her outstanding research to improve the health of newborns and children.
Outstanding Achievement Awards: Doctoral Student will be finishing her PhD studies on improving reproductive and infant mental health within the year. Working in Dr. Jehannine Austin’s team in the Brain, Behaviour and Development research theme, Catriona has proven to be an excellent academic and highly motivated and capable young researcher. Catriona joined the team as a practicing genetic counsellor, already having come up with a fully formed idea for her PhD work. Her doctoral research focused on decision making regarding perinatal antidepressant use. By investigating how pregnant mothers and clinicians decide on treatment options for depression, as well as how pharmacogenomic testing might be used to guide antidepressant use in this context, Catriona aims to better support maternal and infant mental health.
Catriona Hippman Austin Research Team This award recognizes the outstanding achievement of a doctoral student whose originality, research ability and capacity for critical thinking identifes them as being a contributing member in the scientific community
During her studies, Catriona was awarded a prestigious Killam Doctoral Scholarship, and a CIHR Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship. This latter scholarship was particularly impressive as her application was ranked 1st out of 471 with a score of 4.9/5. She also won an institutional 4-year fellowship and has published 25 peer reviewed publications, including 11 on which she is either first or last author. As a contributing member of the scientific community, Catriona was elected and served as president of the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors – Canada’s national genetic counselling organization. While President, she revitalized the organization’s communications and governance structure and established a research committee. She was also awarded the prestigious 2012 New Leader Award by the USA-based National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) where she volunteered in numerous capacities, and founded the grant award competitions for the NSGC Psychiatric and Research special interest groups. Her accomplishments led her to be selected as a member of the international Committee for Advanced Training for Certified Genetic Counselors, on which she continues to serve.
Outstanding Achievement Awards: Postdoctoral Fellow is a superb scholar and outstanding postdoctoral fellow on Dr. Anton Millerâ€™s research team. Dr. Gardiner has a distinguished and prolific academic record in the areas of autism spectrum disorder and neurodevelopmental disabilities and is a recognized leader in the field of childhood neurodisability. Her work involves profiling the functional characteristics of children with various developmental disorders and disabilities, identifying which of these present the greatest challenge for families, and improving access to support and services.
Dr. Emily Gardiner A. Miller Research Team
Dr. Gardiner has designed a unique and innovative approach for examining functioning across conditions using a method that is both practice changing and has important implications for policy. Currently, she is working with partners in Alberta and the Yukon to examine barriers that prevent families of children with disabilities from connecting to the support and services they need. Dr. Gardinerâ€™s hard work has led to 20 peer-reviewed publications, 14 as a first author, in high impact academic journals and books. Fourteen of these articles have been accepted and published since the start of her postdoctoral fellowship in 2014. She has also delivered 46 conference presentations to academic, community, and trainee audiences, including 14 invited talks.
This award recognizes the outstanding achievement of a postdoctoral fellow whose high academic achievements, personal leadership qualities and research ability show promise of the individual These presentations have led to two awards including Best Fellow becoming a future leader in Research Paper at the 2017 UBC Department of Pediatrics Celebrate health research Research Day and the Outstanding Clinical Sciences Poster award at the 2016 NeuroDevNet Brain Development Conference. She also received the Research Scholar Award from the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Dr. Gardiner has also been successful in obtaining three grants, including: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Partnership Engage Grant (co-applicant), Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Convening and Collaborating Award (trainee), and Laurel Foundation Grant (co-applicant) for work related to addressing health disparities facing rural and remote Aboriginal families supporting children with autism spectrum disorder.
Outstanding Achievement Awards: Resident is in the process of completing a 5-year Medical Genetics residency program and is currently under the research mentorship of Drs. Anna Lehman (Medical Genetics) and Zachary Laksman (Cardiology). Prior to beginning his residency training, Dr. Chalazan completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he combined tools from the fields of Genetics, Pharmacology and Electrophysiology to study the underlying genetic mechanisms of inherited arrhythmias. His vision was to use this genetic knowledge to provide a personalized treatment approach for individuals and families suffering from these cardiac conditions. During this time, Dr. Chalazan was successfully awarded with a prestigious early career principal investigator award by the American Heart Association for this work, despite only being in the junior stages of his career.
Dr. Brandon Chalazan Lehman Research Team This award recognizes the outstanding achievement of a resident whose scholarly activity, industry and commitment to the research endeavour are an example to other trainees and who has contributed to advances in child, youth or women’s health
Dr. Chalazan has won multiple academic awards since joining the Medical Genetics team at BC Children’s and Women’s Hospital in July 2017. In the last year alone, he was awarded with the Flaherty Research Scholarship, that supports emerging scholars in Canada to collaborate abroad with likeminded clinician-scientists. He has also received the Friedman Award for Scholars in Health, which is a local award that selects a handful of exceptional Friedman Scholars across all UBC graduate programs and health related disciplines to support learning in a highly focused area. Dr. Chalazan will be travelling to Boston this year to develop expertise in computational biology at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. He hopes to bring these skill sets back to Vancouver and apply this knowledge to the scientific and clinical fields in cardiovascular genetics. Dr. Chalazan has been consistently invited to present his research at some of the largest international conferences. Recently, he has been awarded with the American Heart Association International Travel Grant and the Canadian Heart Rhythm Society Travel Grant to present his scholarly work in Philadelphia at the American Heart Association conference. He has also been recently awarded with the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute Travel Award and another Canadian Heart Rhythm Society Travel Grant for his oral presentation at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Paris this past summer. He has published first author papers in Am J Cardiol and PLoS ONE as well as co-authors in Stem Cell Reports and JAMA Netw Open and has several under review at high impact journals. We would like to commend Dr. Chalazan for all his hard work and dedication to this exciting field and wish him all the best in the future. We look forward to following his progress in the scientific as well as the clinical community!
Canadian Child Health Clinician Scientist Program Between eight and 12 per cent of the general population has chronic unexplained physical health issues, known as somatic symptom disorders. These disorders can be a significant burden, particularly for young people. Frequent and distressing medical visits can take time away from school and social activities and lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Previous work in this area has been limited by studies collecting data from single time points and small sample sizes, often through the use of self-reported questionnaires. This makes it difficult to understand how some of these symptoms have evolved over time.
Dr. Katelynn Boerner Oberlander & Dhariwal Research Teams The Canadian Child Health Clinician Scientist Program (CCHCSP) is a transdisciplinary training program for the next generation of clinicianscientists in child and youth health research in Canada. CCHCSP provides support for these highly qualified child health clinician candidates to develop their requisite knowledge and skills for a career as an independent scientist in child health research
Under the supervision of Dr. Tim Oberlander and Dr. Amrit Dhariwal, Dr. Katelynn Boerner will be studying how somatic symptom disorders develop over time. Using population level hospital data linked with clinical cohort data, Dr. Boerner will determine what clinical characteristics, such as gender or childhood mood disorders are risk factors for somatic symptom disorders later in life. She will also investigate whether these risk factors for somatic symptom disorder differ from those linked with mood or anxiety disorders. This information could help clinicians intervene earlier and arrive at more effective solutions. Dr. Boernerâ€™s doctoral research examined the impact of sex and gender on the experience of pain in both children and their parents and has become an expert on the influence of sex and gender on pediatric pain. She will work with supervisors Dr. Oberlander, a developmental pediatrician, and Dr. Dhariwal, a registered psychologist, and a strong network of mentors and collaborators across BC Childrenâ€™s campus to champion a pioneering program of research examining how chronic physical symptoms develop in children, how this differs between boys and girls, and how this work can enhance treatment.
Postdoctoral Fellowships Dr. Amirah Aly, Hayden Research Team Antisense oligonucleotide (ASOs) drugs are a group of medications that show promise for treating devastating inherited brain disorders, particularly in children. To be effective, ASOs must be surgically injected into a patient’s brain; a highly invasive procedure that carries the risk of serious complications. Dr. Amirah Aly will work with Dr. Michael Hayden’s research team to study a new strategy for delivering ASOs through a child’s nose using nanoparticles. These are extremely small particles that are able to penetrate the barrier that separates the brain from the rest of the bloodstream.
Dr. Alejandra Wiedeman, Devlin Research Team As part of Dr. Angela Devlin’s research team, Dr. Alejandra Wiedeman will investigate why children treated with antipsychotic medication develop side effects such as excessive weight gain and other risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Antipsychotic drugs are used to treat a number of serious mental health conditions and can be life-saving. The aim of this work is to find new ways to identify which children are at risk for metabolic complications from second generation antipsychotics. This valuable information could help clinicians work with families to develop a treatment plan that gives each child the best chance of long-term physical and mental health.
Dr. Dahai Zhang, Lynn Research Team Family history is known to be a strong risk factor for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in children, however, the precise genes involved in the development of diabetes is still not well understood. As a member of Dr. Francis Lynn’s research team, Dr. Dahai Zhang will use leading-edge technology to grow insulin producing-beta cells with rare genetic mutations that would encourage the development of diabetes in a patient. This will allow Dr. Zhang to study how these genetic changes can result in the failure of beta cells, and the onset of diabetes. This work could help scientists develop new therapies that target these genes to either prevent or treat diabetes in children.
Graduate Studentships Deema Alhusari, Taubert Research Team Cells or tissues can activate specific stress-response genes to deal with stress, such as when cells are starved of nutrients or subject to low oxygen levels. Understanding these genetic and molecular changes that occur in these situations are important because they can also play a key role in some pediatric diseases. For example, low levels of oxygen in the bone marrow of children with leukemia can induce changes in the cancer cells that help them survive and resist chemotherapy. Deema Alhusari is working in Dr. Stefan Taubert’s lab to better understand these stress response genes in different types of tissue using the nematode worm C. elegans as a model. This data could help determine whether drugs that target these stress response genes behave differently in different tissues, leading to possible side effects.
Tanmaya Atre, Reid Research Team Retargeting a child’s immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells has emerged as a powerful new tool for treating childhood blood cancers. Unfortunately, around half of kids treated with this technique will relapse. New approaches are urgently needed to refine this new type of immunotherapy. Working in Dr. Gregor Reid’s research team, Tanmaya Atre will be studying how to improve the effectiveness of this treatment. This could involve providing these re-engineered immune cells with additional molecular targets or recruiting other types of immune cells to help engage the cancer.
Samantha Dziurdzik, Conibear Research Team Childhood-onset spastic ataxia is a rare inherited disorder that involves the progressive weakness and stiffness of the limbs. The mutations responsible for this rare condition are also involved in the early onset of Parkinson’s disease. As part of the Conibear research team, Samantha Dziurdzik will be investigating how these proteins, known as VPS13C and VPS13D, are involved in neurological disorders. It is thought that they act as tethers within the cell, grouping different compartments together and facilitating the transport of nutrients, fats and proteins. Understanding how these molecules bind together could be the key to unlocking how the disruption of this process leads to disease and to developing new therapies.
Graduate Studentships Hailey Findlay Black, Hayden Research Team Working with Dr. Michael Hayden’s Research Team, Hailey Findlay Black is aiming to find better ways to deliver drugs for children with genetic brain diseases such as Huntington’s disease. The human brain is protected by a structure called the blood-brain barrier which prevents molecules in the blood from crossing into the brain. Hailey will be testing whether certain “Trojan Horse” molecules could be used to shuttle potential drugs across this barrier, improving treatment and reducing the need for riskier procedures
Caroline Illmann, Harris Research Team Around one in 100 children are born with a heart defect, such as abnormalities in the main blood vessels coming out of the heart. While historically these defects would have been treated with surgery, in recent years cardiologists have instead used cardiac catheterization, where they thread long narrow tubes through a patient’s blood vessels to reach the heart. Cardiac catheterization is both effective and less invasive. However, it utilizes radiation in order to see the heart and catheter. Working with Dr. Kevin Harris’ research team, Caroline Illmann will be testing whether using a 3D model of a patient’s heart to practice before the actual procedure will help improve this technique by reducing radiation exposure.
Rana Minab, van den Elzen Research Team With Dr. Peter van den Elzen’s research team, Rana Minab will study the role the Epstein Barr virus (EBV) plays in the development of multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a potentially disabling central nervous system disorder that occurs when the immune system attacks myelin, the protective coating around nerves. Virtually everyone who has multiple sclerosis is also infected with EBV, suggesting this virus may play a key role in the immune system overreaction that leads to MS. Understanding more about how EBV triggers these immune processes could lead to new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent this currently incurable condition.
BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute training awards are funded by the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation
Graduate Studentships Lauren St-Germain, Beristain Research Team During pregnancy, bacterial infections can lead to serious health consequences for the developing fetus. As part of Dr. Alexander Beristain’s research team, Lauren St-Germain will study the most common immune cell in the uterus – the uterine natural killer cell (uNK) – to understand its role during uterine inflammation. By mimicking bacterial infections in the lab, Lauren will investigate how uNKs respond to these infections and whether this in turn changes the biology of the placenta and uterus. Understanding how to reduce inflammation and uNK activity could lead to new strategies to prevent infections before birth, better pregnancy outcomes and healthier babies.
Ji Soo (Samantha) Yoon, Lynn Research Team Childhood obesity affects around one in three Canadian children and is a risk factor for other chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. As part of Dr. Francis Lynn’s research team, Ji Soo Yoon will be studying the genetic changes that occur in neurons of mice as they develop obesity. Specifically, Ji Soo will investigate a gene called Neuronal PAS domain protein 4 (NPAS4) which has been shown to regulate body weight and eating patterns. It has also shown reduced activity in the pancreatic cells of patients with type 2 diabetes. Understanding how this gene may impact weight gain could lead to new ways to tackle obesity and prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. Congratulations to the Clinical & Translational Research Seed Grant recipients. This program supports well-defined interdisciplinary research projects, as well as fostering new areas of research, enhancing partnerships, and building leadership capacity for both research and clinical trainees/health professionals. Dr. Sally Hynes, New Investigator, BC Children’s Hospital & Dr. Ali Farrokhi, Postdoctoral Fellow, Reid Research Team Dr. Catherine Biggs, New Investigator, BC Children’s Hospital & Dr. Bhavi Modi, Postdoctoral Fellow, Wasserman Research Team Dr. Brandon Chalazan, Resident, BC Children’s Hospital & Dr. Mohamed Elgendi, Postdoctoral Fellow, K. Lim Research Team Dr. Eric Cattoni, Clinical Partner, BC Women’s Hospital & Dr. Sarah Moore, Postdoctoral Fellow, Kobor Research Team