Tell us about your training at MIRC?

I have been a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Kjetil Ask since May 2018. Our lab studies fibrotic lung disease and its driving factors, such as the involvement of macrophages, endoplasmic reticulum stress, and the unfolded protein response. My project specifically looks at the role of circulating monocytes in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and methods for target identification in IPF lung tissue. Overall, we believe that monocytes leave the circulation and enter the lung tissue, where they differentiate into profibrotic macrophages and contribute to fibrosis. To study these monocytes, we collect whole blood from IPF patients, isolating monocytes from the blood, and then analyzing their characteristics. We also look at formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) lung biopsies from IPF patients, to study this disease at the tissue level.

What kind of impact do you hope your research will have?

I hope to gain a better understanding into the mechanisms that cause IPF, since it is currently a disease of unknown cause. This way, we can gain better insight into treatment avenues for patients that may help increase quality of life. The more we understand about the disease and its underlying processes, the more we can do to disrupt its pathogenesis.

Why did you choose to do your graduate studies at MIRC?

I completed my undergraduate studies at McMaster, where I also gained some exposure to research. From this, I become aware of the high-calibre research conducted at McMaster, and the rigorous scientific environment. I was always awestruck by the advanced and stunning research spaces in MDCL. Therefore, selecting MIRC for my graduate studies was a no-brainer!

What is your favourite thing about completing your graduate studies at MIRC?

There is so much opportunity that comes with each and every day in grad studies at MIRC. Whether it be conducting interesting experiments at the lab bench, presenting your research locally, networking with fellow students, or travelling to conferences, MIRC offers an excellent training environment with endless possibilities. This past summer I had the opportunity to travel to China as part of a collaboration with the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Health. Here, I worked with colleagues to establish a validation cohort for our study here. Specifically, we collected whole blood from GIRH patients, and isolated monocytes using the same protocols we have at McMaster. The results between the two sites will be compared, and we hope to gain some understanding into the differences in monocytes in IPF compared to healthy controls, and what causes them to contribute to this disease.

What advice would you give to aspiring graduate students?

If you are interested in research, try to get your foot in the door before grad school! Volunteering in a lab, a summer project, or a senior year thesis are all great options. It’s a great way to gain some experience, get an early start in training, and figure out what your research interests are!

Where do you see yourself after your time at MIRC?

Somewhere in the realm of the scientific/research field… I feel that my time here has well-equipped me for anything that I may face down the road! I am thankful for the unique training that MIRC has provided me with.