ROP299 2017-2018: A Medical Imaging Journey from a Humanities Perspective

My name is Samantha Santoro, and I am completing my second year in the English and Biology majors at the University of Toronto, St. George. A rather unconventional combination, when reviewing past students of Dr. Tyrrell’s lab. I was a 2017-2018 Research Opportunity Program (ROP) student in Dr. Pascal Tyrrell’s lab, and my work chiefly consisted of evaluating the internal vessel wall volumes of carotid arteries in a particular cohort of patients provided by the ongoing prospective CAIN study. My ROP was in the field of Medical Imaging. I am the co-president of the student club known as Watsi, with the main chapter based in San Francisco. I am also a special contributor to the Rare Disease Review, along with volunteering at an amalgamation of charity walks and fundraisers.

My ROP project was a turbulent experience – although that word is typically associated with a negative connotation, I regard my ROP299Y1 as one of the most humbling, interesting, and educative experiences that I have had thus far – most definitely not negative. However, to say everything went smoothly would be discrediting the lessons I learned from when things were not idyllic and smooth. My project, as aforementioned, statistically analyzed data provided by patients part of the CAIN study (an analysis that could not have existed without Dr. Tyrrell’s generous and unwavering support). My study determined that patients who were found to have IPH, or what is known as intraplaque hemorrhage, when I analyzed their MRIs, were also found to have increased vessel wall volume. This conclusion is incredibly significant, as IPH is a surrogate marker for atherosclerosis and could potentially be an indicator for patients at risk of future cerebrovascular events (namely, ischemic stroke). As strokes are currently the number three killer in the U.S and Canada alone, and heart disease number one, having a potential indicator for patients at risk of stroke would greatly benefit clinicians in their practice, as well as patients themselves.

As aforementioned, studies similar to my own are currently underway by the Canadian Atherosclerosis Imaging Network, furthering the important research in this field. The VBIRG (Vascular Biology Imaging Research Group) was the lab in which I primarily worked throughout the course of my ROP, at Sunnybrook Hospital. Moreover, I also worked on systematic reviews and reports outside of the focus of my project, in the fields of medical ethics and AI in the radiology workplace – both of which were opportunities provided to me by Dr. Tyrrell, and both of which were incredibly valuable experiences, allowing for me to broaden my knowledge of certain areas of medicine and science that are developing and expanding.

Although my project was littered with its own respective difficulties – a substantial number of drafts throughout each step of the program (more than I had ever made, even being an English student); a reluctant, but later fulfilling, acquaintanceship with the post-processing software VesselMass; and several late nights learning about the field of statistics – it is in light of these difficulties, and at present having overcome them throughout my ROP, that I remember Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s words in his memoir When Breath Becomes Air: “It occurred to me that my relationship with statistics changed as soon as I became one”. He, too, had studied Biology and English. I may not have played a lead role in the statistics I had been working with, but I can now say that understanding what they meant and how they were formulated has generated a deep respect in me for the field of statistics.

My poster was on display at the 2018 Research Opportunity Undergraduate Fair. Special thanks to Mariam Afshin, my supervisor at Sunnybrook Hospital; Bowen Zhang, for answering each question I had while at Sunnybrook; John, and the rest of the lab team; and Dr. Pascal Tyrrell, for answering my email last February and holding my interview on the same day as my Chemistry exam. Never before had I met such an – in a word – outstanding professor, and I dare say that I will never meet one like him throughout the rest of my academic journey.

Samantha Santoro

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *