Hey everyone, it’s been a while since I posted here. In case you don’t remember me – my name is Helena Lan, and I started in Professor Pascal Tyrrell’s group as a ROP299 student. Fast forward to the present, I have finished my specialist program in pharmacology, and will be graduating with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree later this month! But if you think that I am finally leaving U of T – nope, my journey is not over yet. This August, I will be living my dream of many years as I start my MD training at U of T! As I prepare to begin the next chapter of my life, I wanted to share with you how my involvement in Prof. Tyrrell’s group paved the way for me achieving my goal today.
Afterwards, I continued on as a research assistant, where I explored the need for statistics and research methodology training in the medical imaging department. My early research endeavours showed me that research was not just pipetting; there is a diversity of research that can drive innovations and improve patient care.
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.
review articles – all until I was confident enough to evaluate articles on my own. For me, the key to learning a complex subject was to build on foundational concepts and keep things as clear as possible. As Einstein once said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.
Fund grant. The lessons for me here? The importance of seeking expert help where appropriate, and that being resourceful can pay off (literally)! Finally, I valued our strong team culture, without which none of this would have been possible.
Afsaneh Amirabadi & Team
|Jayun Bae – ROP299Y 2016-17|
uncovered throughout the project. It quickly became clear that the answers could not be found through an examination of precedence or legal documents, because many of the research actions that would take place (specifically involving private organizations) fell in the grey area between what was legal and what was ethical. For example, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) are two guidelines for organizations to follow when handling patient data – but neither are able to clearly and positively dictate how this partnership should operate.
Dr. Tyrrell for the guidance and mentorship. The project is not yet completed, so I am looking forward to continuing the study beyond the scope of the ROP. Please have a look at my poster from the 2017 ROP Research Day below:
|GeorgeWang – ROP299Y 2016-17|
Clare Sheen is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, in process of completing her Bachelor of Sciences in Genomics and Microbiology/Molecular Genetics. She was a 2015-6 Research Opportunity Program (ROP) student working on designing the Medical Image Network Enterprise (MiNE) interface for Dr. Pascal Tyrrell from U of T’s Department of Medical Imaging. She is currently a social director on the Life Science Student Network exec team and a volunteer at U of T’s Agrawal Lab where she helps with Drosophila experiments. She continues to seasonally work as a student camp teacher in the summer.
At the Research Opportunity Program (ROP) fair on March 3rd, U of T ROP students from different departments came together to share their research. A mock-up of the MiNE interface was presented in PowerPoint with the goal of increasing user engagement and encouraging the development of a medical imaging research community. Some features of the interface are presented below.
Through the ‘Research Opportunity Program‘ (ROP) for second year students at U of T, I have been working on a project about physicians’ willingness to use MRI as the front-line diagnostic imaging technology for carotid stenosis patients. For a description see here.
After a recent discussion with Dr. Tyrrell (my supervisor), and as I approach the midpoint of my ROP project, I thought it would be a good idea to review some of my background knowledge of carotid stenosis from my work in the Fall term. Having a certain amount of independence while working on this project has been a great experience, but it also means I am responsible for keeping track of my own learning.
Begrudgingly, I’ll admit that this ‘self-directed’ review process has shed new light on the usefulness of midterms in other courses. However, I still prefer this project-based review format. It has allowed me to review necessary information to make sure that it is fresh in my mind. Now I feel more prepared to begin the second half of the project. I’m looking forward to a major meeting this month and all the other exciting parts of the project to come.
Today, it may seem obvious that the first step of any research project should be to complete a proposal for ethics review. But why do we need ethical standards? While helping to complete an ethics form for a project I’m working on, I wondered if scientists perhaps made more ‘progress’ before ethical considerations became commonplace. Even if this was the case, research is certainly better now, when institutions and procedures protect patients’ and research subjects’ rights.
It also seems that scientific research in the 18th and 19th centuries tended to be somewhat more haphazard than it is now, and almost certainly less ethical. For example, Dr. Edward Jenner tested his smallpox inoculation hypothesis for the first time on an eight-year-old
boy in 1796, with little preliminary understanding and no certainty that the patient would not be severely harmed.
Scientists were often fairly independent, acting based on their own curiosity to advance knowledge. Fortunately, research standards have evolved significantly since then. Ethics have been a major part of the transition, as ethical standards help to ensure that scientific research does not cause harm to researchers or subjects. The shocking Stanford Prison Experiment, just one example, shows that physical and psychological damage can occur if study participants’ rights are not upheld through ethics. College students with no criminal record were asked to play the role of prisoners and prison guards, the ‘guards’ became brutal and cruel, while the ‘prisoners’ became stressed and depressed. The experiment was terminated early, after only six days.
Fortunately, much has changed since the emergence of modern science in the 20th century. The current structure of research, including working in teams and undergoing peer review, helps to ensure a high standard of practice. Nevertheless, ethical issues in science remain. Researchers who work with human participants can become quite focused on the minutiae of their work, so Research Ethics Boards have an important mediating role. They provide an experienced, unbiased viewpoint that weighs the potential benefits of the research against any harm that may come to participants. Even if an ethical review sometimes slows the pace of scientific progress, it provides an essential foundation and structure for research, to the benefit of participants and researchers alike.
2nd year student at U of T