Dianna McAllister’s ROP Adventures in the Tyrrell Lab!

My name is Dianna McAllister and I am approaching the finish of my second year at University of Toronto, pursuing a bioinformatics specialist and computer science major. This year I was given the incredible opportunity to work in Dr. Tyrrell’s lab for the ROP299 course.
I have just handed in my first ever formal research paper for my work in Dr. Tyrrell’s lab. My project observed the effectiveness of using grad-CAM visualizations on different layers in a convolutional neural network. Though the end results of my project were colourful heat maps placed on top of images, the process to get there was not nearly as colourful or as effortless as the results may seem. There was lots of self-teaching, debugging, decision-making and collaboration that went on behind the scenes that made this project difficult, but much more rewarding when complete.
My journey in Dr. Tyrrell’s lab began when I first started researching ROP projects. I can still remember scrolling through the various projects, trying to find something that I thought I would be really passionate about. Once I happen upon Dr. Tyrrell’s ROP299, I could feel my heart skip a beat- it was exactly the research project that I was looking for. It explained the use of machine learning in medicine, specifically medical imaging. Being in bioinformatics, this project was exactly what I was looking for; it integrated biology and medicine with computer science and statistics. Once I saw this unique combination, I knew that I needed to apply.
After I applied, I was overjoyed that I had received an interview. When I attended the interview, I was very excited to show Dr. Tyrrell my interest in his research and explain how my past research would help me with this new project. But once I walked into his office, it was unlike any other interview I had ever had; he was able to point out things about myself that I had barely even realized and asked me many questions that I had no answer to. I remember walking out of that interview feeling disappointed as I thought that there was no way I would get a position in his lab, but a few weeks later heard back that I had gotten the position! I was delighted to have the opportunity to prove to Dr. Tyrrell that he made a good choice in choosing me for the position and that I would work hard in his lab and on my project.
The night before my first lab meeting, I researched tons of information on machine learning, making sure to have- what I thought- an in-depth understand of machine learning. But after less than five minutes into the lab meeting, I quickly realized that I was completely wrong. Terms like regression, weights, backpropagation were being thrown around so naturally, and I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. I walked out of the meeting determined to really begin understanding what machine learning was all about!
Thus began my journey to begin my project. When I decided on my project, it seemed fun and not too difficult- all I have to do is slap on some heat maps to images, right? Well as much as I felt it wouldn’t be too difficult, I was not going to be deceived just as I had before attending our first meeting; and after completion I can definitely say it was not easy! The first problem that I encountered immediately was where to start. Sure, I understood the basic concepts associated with machine learning, but I had no experience or understanding of how to code anything related to creating and using a convolutional neural network. I was fortunate enough to be able to use Ariana’s CNN model. Her model used x-rays of teeth to classify if dental plates were damaged and therefore adding damage (artifacts) to the x-rays of teeth or if the plates were functional. It took me quite some time to understand what each line of code did within the program- the code was incredible, and I could not imagine having to write it from scratch! I then began the code to map the grad-CAM visualizations (resembling heat maps) onto the images that Ariana’s model took as input. I was again fortunate enough to find code online that was similar to what I needed for my project. I made very minor tweaks until the code was functional and worked how I needed it to. Throughout this process of trying to debug my own code or figure out why it wouldn’t even begin running, Mauro was always there to help, always being enthusiastic even when my problem was as silly as accidentally adding an extra period to a word.
Throughout the process, Dr. Tyrrell was always there as well- he always helped me to remember the big picture of what my project was about and what I was trying to accomplish during my time in his lab. This was extremely valuable, as it kept me from accidentally veering off-course and focusing on something that wasn’t important to my project. Without his guidance, I would have never been able to finish and execute the project in the way that I did and am proud of.
Everything that I learned, not only about machine learning, but about how to write a research paper, how to collaborate with others, how to learn from other’s and your own mistakes and how to keep trying new ideas and approaches when it seems like nothing is working, I will always carry with me throughout the rest of my undergraduate experience and the rest of my professional future. Thank you, Dr. Tyrrell, for this experience and every opportunity I was given in your lab.
Dianna McAllister

Wendi in ROP399: Learning How the Machine Learns…and Improve It!

 

       
Hi everyone! My name is Wendi Qu and I’m finishing my third year in U of T, majoring in Statistics and Molecular Genetics. I did a ROP399 research project with Dr. Pascal Tyrrell from September 2018 – April 2019 and I would love to share it with you!
 
Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a rapidly emerging field becoming ever so popular nowadays, with exponentially increasing research published and companies established. Applications of AI in numerous fields has greatly improved efficacy and convenience, including facial recognition, natural language processing, medical diagnosis, fraud detection, just to name a few. In Dr. Tyrrell’s lab in the Department of Medical Imaging, the gears have been gradually switched from statistics to AI in the past two years for research students. With a Life Science and Statistics background, I’ve always been keen on learning the applications of statistics/data science in various medical fields to benefit both doctors and patients. Having done my ROP299 in Toronto General Hospital, I realized how rewarding it was to use real patient data to study disease epidemiology and how my research can help inform and improve future surgical and clinical practices. Therefore, I was extremely excited when I found out Dr. Tyrrell’s lab and really grateful for this amazing opportunity, where I can go one step further and do AI projects in the field of medical imaging.
 
Specifically, my projects focused on how to mitigate the effect of one of the common problems in machine learning – class imbalance. So, what is machine learning? Simply put, we feed lots of data to a computer, which has algorithms that find patterns in those data and use such patterns to perform different tasks. Classification is one of the common machine learning tasks, where the machine categorizes data to different classes (eg. categorizes an image to “cat” when shown a cat image). A common problem in medical imaging and diagnosis is that there’s way more “normal” data than “abnormal” ones. A machine learning model predicts more accurately when trained on more data, and the shortage of “abnormal” data, which are the most important ones, can impair the model’s performance in practice. Hence, finding methods to address this issue is of great importance. My motivation for doing this project largely comes from how my findings can offer insights on how different methods behave when training sets have different conditions, such as the severity of imbalance and sample size, which can be potentially generalized and help better implement machine learning in practice.
 
However, as with any research project, the journey was rarely smooth and beautiful, especially when I started with almost zero knowledge in machine learning and Python (us undergraduate statisticians only use R…). Starting off by doing a literature search, I realized many methods have been suggested to rectify class imbalance, with two main approaches being re-sampling (i.e. modify the training set) and modifying the cost function of the model. Despite many research done on this topic, I found that such methods were almost never studied systematically to assess their effect on training sets of different natures. The predecessor of this project, Indranil Balki, studied the effect of the class imbalance systematically by varying the class imbalance severity in a training set and see how model performance can be affected. Building on this, I decided to apply different methods to such already established imbalanced datasets and test for model improvement. Because more data lead to better performance, I was also curious if there’s a difference in how much different methods can improve the model in smaller and larger training sets.
 
One of the hardest parts of the project was making sure I was implementing the methods appropriately, and simply writing the code to do exactly what I want it to do. The latter part sounds simple but becomes really tricky when dealing with images in a machine learning context, and is again, even more challenging if you know nothing about Python… ! After digging into more literature, consulting “machine learning people” in the lab (a big shoutout to Mauro, Ahmed, Ariana, and of course, Dr. Tyrrell), I was able to develop a concrete plan, where I implement oversampling methods via image augmentation only when the imbalanced class has fewer images than other classes, and apply under sampling only when imbalanced class has more images; class weights in the cost function will also be adjusted as another method.
 
However, implementing them was a huge challenge. I self-learned Python by taking courses in Python, machine learning, image modification, random forest model, and anything that’s relevant to my project on Datacamp, a really useful website offering courses in different coding languages. Through this process and using Indranil’s code as a skeleton, I was finally able to implement all my methods and output the model’s prediction accuracy! It was a long, painful process which involved constant debugging, but it was never more rewarding to see the code finally run smoothly and beautifully!
 
This wonderful journey has taught me many things – not only have I taken my first step in machine learning, it again reminded me of the most valuable part of doing research, which combines independence, creativity, self-drive, and collaboration. Deciding on a topic, finding a gap, developing your own creative solutions, being motivated to learn new things and conquer challenges, and collaborating with intelligent people surrounding you, are the most invaluable experiences for me this year. Finally, I would love to thank all the amazing people in the lab, especially Mauro, whose machine learning knowledge, coding skills and humour were always there with me, and Dr. Pascal Tyrrell, with more questions back to us when we come with a question, enlightening advice, and a great personality. I appreciate
his amazing experience, and it has inspired me to delve deeper into machine learning and healthcare!
 
Wendi Qu

 

Rachael Jaffe’s ROP Journey… From the Pool to the Lab!

https://thevarsity.ca/2019/03/10/what-does-a-scientist-look-like/
My name is Rachael Jaffe and I am completing my third year in Global Health, Economics and Statistics. I had no clue what I was getting myself into this year during my ROP (399) with Dr. Tyrrell. I initially applied because the project description had to do with statistics,
and I was inclined to put my minor to the test! Little did I know that I was about to embark on a machine learning adventure.
My adventure started with the initial interview: after a quite a disheartening tale of Dr. Tyrrell telling me that my grades weren’t high enough and me trying to convince him that I would be a good addition to the lab because “I am funny”, I was almost 100% certain that I
wasn’t going to be a part of the lab for 2018-2019 year. If my background in statistics has taught me anything, nothing truly has a 100% probability. And yet, last April I found myself sitting in the department of medical imaging at my first lab meeting.
Fast forward to September of 2018. I was knee deep (well, more accurately, drowning) in machine learning jargon; from learning about the basics of a CNN to segmentation to what a GPU is. From there, I chose a project. Initially, I was just going to explore the relationship between sample size and model accuracy, but then it expanded to include an investigation in k-fold cross validation.
I started my project with the help of Ariana, a student from a lab in Costa Rica. She built a CNN that classifies dentistry PSP’s for damage. I modified it to include a part that allowed the total sample size to be reduced. The relationship between sample size and model accuracy is very well known in the machine learning world, so Dr. Tyrrell decided that I
should add an investigation of k-fold cross validation because the majority of models use this to validate their estimate of model accuracy. With further help from Ariana’s colleague, Mauro, I was able to gather a ton of data so that I could analyze my results statistically.
It was more of a “academic” project as Dr. Tyrrell noted. However, that came with its own trials and tribulations. I was totally unprepared for the amount of statistical interpretation that was required, and it took a little bit of time to wrap my head around the intersection of statistics and machine learning. I am grateful for my statistics minor during this ROP because without it I would’ve definitely been lost. I came in with a knowledge of python so writing and modifying code wasn’t the hardest part.
I learned a lot about the scientific process during my ROP. First, it is incredibly important to pick a project with a clear purpose and objectives. This will help with designing your project and what analyses are needed.  Also, writing the report is most definitely a process. The first draft is going to be the worst, but hang on because it will get better from there. Lastly, I learned to learn from my experience. The most important thing as a budding scientist is to learn from your mistakes so that your next opportunity will be that much better.
I’d like to thank Dr. Tyrrell for giving me this experience and explaining all the stats to me. Also, Ariana and Mauro were invaluable during this experience and I wish them both the best in their future endeavors!

Rachael Jaffe

Adam Adli’s ROP399 Journey in Machine Learning and Medical Imaging

My name is Adam Adli and I am finishing the third year of my undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto specializing in Computer Science. I’m going to start this blog post by talking a little bit about myself. I am a software engineer, an amateur musician, and beyond all, someone who loves to solve problems and treats every creation as art. I have a rather tangled background; I entered university as a life science student, but I have been a programmer since my pre-teen years. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I would flourish most in my computer science courses and so I switched programs in at the beginning of my third year.
 
While entering this new and uncertain phase in my life and career, I had the opportunity of meeting Dr. Pascal Tyrrell and gaining admission to his research opportunity program (ROP399) course that focused on the application of Machine Learning to Medical Imaging under the Data Science unit of the Department of Medical Imaging.
 
Working in Dr. Tyrrell’s lab was one of the most unique experiences I have had thus far in university, allowing me to bridge both my interest in medicine and computer science in order to gain valuable research experience. When I first began my journey, despite having a strong practical background in software development I had absolutely no previous exposure to machine learning nor high-performance computing.
 
As expected, beginning a research project in a field that you have no experience in is frankly not easy. I spent the first few months of the course trying to learn as much about machine learning algorithms and convolutional neural networks as I could; it was like learning to swim in an ocean. Thankfully, I had the support and guidance of my colleagues in the lab and my professor Dr. Tyrrell throughout the way. With their help, I pushed my boundaries and learned the core concepts of machine learning models and their development with solutions to real-world problems in mind. I finally had a thesis for my research.
 
My research thesis was to experimentally show a relationship that was expected in theory: smaller training sets tend to result in over-fitting of a model and regularization helps prevent over-fitting so regularization should be more beneficial for models trained on smaller training sets in comparison to those trained on larger ones. Through late nights of coding and experimentation, I used many repeated long-running computations on a binary classification model for dental x-ray images in order to show that employing L2 regularization is more beneficial for models training on smaller training samples than models training on larger training samples. This is an important finding as often times in the field of medical imaging, it may be difficult to come across large datasets—either due to the bureaucratic processes or financial costs of developing them.
 
I managed to show that in real-world applications, there is an important trade-off between two resources: computation time and training data. L2 regularization requires hyperparameter tuning which may require repeated model training which may often be very computationally expensive—especially in complex convolutional neural networks trained on large amounts of data. So, due to the diminishing returns of regularization and the increased computational
costs of its employment, I showed that L2 regularization is a feasible procedure to help prevent over-fitting and improve testing accuracy when developing a machine learning model with limited training data.
 
Due to the long-running nature of the experiment, I tackled my research project as not only a machine learning project but also a high-performance computing project as well. I so happened to be taking some systems courses like CSC367: Parallel Programming and CSC369: Operating Systems at the same time as my ROP399, which allowed me to better appreciate the underlying technical considerations in the development of my experimental
machine learning model. I harnessed powerful technologies like Intel AVX2 vectorization instruction set for things like image pre-processing on the CPU and the Nvidia CUDA runtime environment through PyTorch to accelerate tensor operations using multiple GPUs. Overall, the final run of my experiment took about 25 hours to run even with all the high-level optimizations I considered—even on an insane lab machine with an Intel i7-8700 CPU and an Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan X!
 
Overall, my ROP not only opened a door to the world of machine learning and high-performance computing for me but in doing so, it taught me so much more. It strengthened my independent learning, project management, and software development skills. It taught me more about myself. I feel that I never experienced so much growth as an academic, problem-solver, and software engineer in such a condensed period of time.
 
I am proud of all the skills I’ve gained in Dr. Tyrrell’s lab and I am extremely thankful for having received the privilege of working in his lab. He is one of the most supportive professors I have had the pleasure of meeting.
 
Now that I have completed my third year of school, I’m off to begin my year-long software engineering internship at Intel and continue my journey.
 
Signing out,

Adam
Adli

Summer 2018 ROP: Wenda’s in the house!

Hello everyone, my name is Wenda Zhao. I’m starting my fourth year in September majoring in neuroscience and pathobiology. I did a research opportunity project (ROP) 399 course with Dr. Tyrrell this summer. And I’m here to share some of my experiences with you.
Today is a hot and humid Friday in southeast China, where I’m back home from school for the rare luxury of a short break before everything gets busy again. Summer is coming to an end, so is my time with Dr. Tyrrell and his incredible team, some of whom I have got to know, spent most of the summer working with and befriend. I have just handed in my report for the project I did over the past three months on the segmentation, characterization and superimposition of dental
X-ray artifacts.
And now, looking back, it was one of the best learning experiences I have ever had, through an enormous amount of self-teaching, practicing, troubleshooting, discussing and debating. As with all learning experiences, the process can be long and bewildering, sometimes even tedious; yet rewarding in the end.
 
It all began on a cold April morning, with me sitting nervously in Dr. Tyrrell’s
office, waiting for him to print out my ROP application and start off the interview. At that point, I just ended my one-year research at a plant lab and was clueless of what I was going to do for the following summer. Coming from a life science background, I went into this interview for a machine learning project in medical imaging knowing that I wasn’t the most competitive candidate nor the most suitable person to do the job. Although I tried presenting myself as someone who had had some experience dealing with statistics by showing Dr. Tyrrell some clumsy work I did for my previous lab, the flaws were immediately noticed by him. I then found myself facing a series of questions which I had no answers to and the interview quickly turned into what I thought to be a disaster for me. I was therefore very shocked when I received an email a week later from Dr. Tyrrell informing me that I had been accepted. I happily went onboard, but joys aside, part of me also had this big uncertainty and doubt that later followed me even to my first few weeks at the lab.
 
At the beginning, everything was new. I started off learning the software KNIME, an open-source data analytics platform that is capable of doing myriads of machine learning tasks. I had my first taste doing a classification problem, where we trained a decision tree model to identify a given X-ray to either be of a hand or a chest. It was a good introductory task to illustrate all the basic concepts in machine learning such as “training set”, “test set”, “input” and “output/label”. We ended up obtaining an accuracy of around 90% on the test set. That was the first time I witnessed the power of machine learning and I was totally amazed by it. I spent the next week or so watching more videos on the topic including state of the art algorithms such as convolutional neural network (CNN). While absorbing knowledge everyday was fun, I was at the same time a little lost about the future of my project. I began to realize that this experience is going to be very different from my past ones in wet labs, where a lot of the times you were already told what to do and all you need is to conduct the experiments and get the results. Here the amount of freedom that I have on my schedule, task and even the project itself was refreshing but at the same time terrifying. On retrospect, I considered myself lucky for that it was around that time of lost when the Faculty of Dentistry proposed a collaboration with us, which ended up being my project for the summer.
 
The dentistry project, as we so called, concerns a type of dental X-ray sensor called Phosphor Storage Plates (PSPs) which are very commonly used because of its easy placement in the oral cavity and the resulting minimum discomfort. The sensors, however, can accumulate damages over time, which would show up in the final image as artifacts with various appearances. Such artifacts could get in the way of diagnosis; thus, the plates need to be discarded before it’s too damaged. But how damaged is too damaged? For the moment, nobody has answers to that. Our goal is to use machine learning to learn the relationship between artifacts and whether they would affect diagnosis. Eventually, we can use that model to make predictions for a given plate and offer dentists advice as in when to discard it. The entire project is huge and the part we played in this summer mainly contributes as preparatory work. We segmented the artifacts from the image and clustered them into five groups based on 9 hand-engineered features. This characterization of the single artifacts can serve as the input for the model. We also created a library of superimposed images of artifact masks and real teeth backgrounds to mimic images taken with damaged sensors in real clinical settings. We did this so that dentists can take a look at these images and give a diagnosis. Comparing that with the true diagnosis, we can obtain the labels for whether a given artifact will affect diagnosis or not. And this will be the output of the model. The testing of these images is currently underway, and the results will be available in early September for further analysis.
 
With the project established and concrete goals ahead, the feeling of uncertainty
gradually went away. But it was never going to be easy. There were times when
we hit the bottleneck; when our attempts have failed miserably; when we had to give up on a brilliant idea because it didn’t go our ways. But
after stumbling through all the challenges and pitfalls, we found ourselves new. I was a bit lost at the beginning of this summer. But over the summer I learned
a lot about the very cool and growingly crucial field of machine learning; I grew a newfound appreciation for statistics and methodology; I picked up the programming language python, which I had been wanting to do for years and, most importantly, I did more thinking than I ever would if I were to just follow instructions blindly. And in the end, I believe that science is all about thinking. So for you guys out there reading the blog, if you’re coming to this lab from a totally different background and not entirely sure about the future, don’t be afraid. And I hope you find what you come here looking for, just like I did.
 
Finally, I want to thank the people who’s helped me along the way and who’s made the lab such an enjoyable place: Hershel, Henry, Rashmi, John and Trevor; and last but not least, Dr. Tyrrell, without whose kindly offer and guidance I would never have had such an amazing experience. Here’s to an unforgettable summer and a strong start of the new school year. Cheers!
 
Wenda Zhao

From YSP to Hanging Out at Stanford: Michelle Cheung

Hello! My name is Michelle Cheung and I am a rising 2nd year student at the University of Toronto. I was one of the Youth Summer Program (YSP) students in Dr. Pascal Tyrrell’s lab in the summer of 2016. During the program, I helped with the Medical Imaging Network Enterprise Project by surveying patients at Sunnybrooks hospital for their perspectives on sharing medical images for research.
Before entering Pascal’s lab in 2016, I took part in YSP the summer before in 2015. It was my two years in the summer program that made me aware of U of T. Being able to live in the dorms, attend classes and labs, and explore the city made me fall in love with the campus, especially the fast-paced metropolitan city life in contrast to the suburban life back home in California. More importantly, through the program, I was exposed to the lab environment. Of course, it was more than the allure of lab coats and micropipettes, but my time in the labs sparked my interest in research, hence am now pursuing genomics and hoping to learn more about hereditary diseases. Thus, when it came down to deciding which college to attend, all these factors placed U of T high up on the list.
Near the beginning of second semester of my first year, I started thinking about what to do over the summer. I couldn’t waste the 4 months and knew I needed the exposure and experience in professional labs if I plan on becoming a genetics researcher, hence started looking for research internships.
I was offered an internship position at the biopharmaceutical company, AbbVie, back in California, and it was quite an interesting experience applying for the position. I thought the first phone interview went decent but I was aware that I didn’t express enough interest in a particular aspect of research associated with the position. A month later, I interviewed a second time. It went really well until the interviewer said, “Let me ask you a challenging question.” I was expecting a deep theoretical question, and it ended up being, “Introduce yourself and your career goals in Cantonese.” In all fairness, my auditory skills are on point and I can understand conversational Cantonese, however, truthfully, my speaking skills had grown too rusty after not speaking it at home anymore. Hence, in my response, I managed to fluently get out my name, age, and school. I tried talking about my hobbies; trying to say “hiking with friends” turned out in me saying “taking walks with friends”, and “baking” turned out to me saying “cooking”. I was stumped when trying to describe my career goals as I blanked on how to say genetics and research and complicated bio words. Least to say, the awkward silence as I tried to come up with the right thing to say was mortifying. Little did I know that the interviewer would become my current manager (great guy), but hey, he hasn’t brought up the mortifying experience and I now have an embarrassing interview story to tell and a lesson learned.
Meanwhile, my parents connected with a family friend who was a scientist at Stanford. She was looking for a student research trainee to help her with her research project studying pulmonary disease, working with mice, and it was a fitting role for me.
I found out I was accepted to the research internship at AbbVie and luckily, the timing works out with my shadowing at Stanford. One internship would give me more practical lab experience while the other would give me a taste of the bio corporate industry. Hence, it’s the best of both worlds this summer – getting to experience both academic and industry research.
All in all, I am here today, about 1.5 months into the research internships, and having a blast. I had a wonderful first year of undergrad, and as I reflect, am very grateful for my time in YSP for bringing me to U of T and exposing me to the medical research world.     
 
-Michelle Cheung

My Past and Future at U of T: Helena Lan’s Perspective

 



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.

At the end of my first year of undergrad, I connected with Prof. Tyrrell and took on a project investigating how the choice of non-invasive imaging modality for diagnosing carotid stenosis impacts patient care (check out my experience here http://www.tyrrell4innovation.ca/2014/08/helena-lan-summer-2014-rop.html).
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. 
That being said, I also wanted to experience working in a wet lab setting. So upon completing my second year of undergrad, I ventured to the Karolinska Institute in Sweden to investigate the tumour killing mechanism of Natural Killer cells (find out more about my project here http://www.tyrrell4innovation.ca/2015/02/who-is-going-to-karolinska-institute.html). After a summer in basic science research, I decided to switch gears into translational research, where I worked on strategies to augment the therapeutic utility of stem cells and enhance the drug delivery platforms at Prof. Jeff Karp’s lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School. After I returned from Boston, my passion for discovering ways to improve existing treatments for diseases led me to my current work at Dr. Albert Wong’s lab at CAMH, where I am assisting with the characterization of a novel animal model for schizophrenia with the ultimate goal of using it as a screening platform for new anti-psychotics.
In my experiences as a researcher, I’ve always been very excited at the prospect that what I am working on right now may be brought into the clinic sometime down the road and offer benefits to patients. Then one day, I thought to myself, “How rewarding would it be if I can get involved in patient care, where I can directly impact the life of the person sitting in front of me?” With this idea planted in my mind, I decided to shadow a physician. As I observed how a doctor applies their scientific knowledge and the findings from medical research to figure out ways to best help their patients, my attraction to medicine gradually evolved. For a long time, my goal in life has been to make a positive impact on other people’s lives. But after that shadowing experience, I realized that I wanted to do so through taking on the role of a clinician.
I am incredibly grateful to the U of T medical school for giving me the opportunity to pursue my dream, as well as the pharmacology department and New College for their recognition of my undergrad academic achievements with the Dr. Walter Roschlau Memorial award and the Tricia L. Carroll Memorial Prize in the Life Sciences. But more importantly, thank you to U of T for the unforgettable undergrad experience. Not only was I able to immerse myself in fascinating science and interesting research, I was also connected with mentors who provided unconditional support to me along my journey. Even though the ROP project I worked on under the supervision of Prof. Pascal Tyrrell and Dr. Eli Lechtman ended years ago, the two of them have provided invaluable mentoring to me even to this day.
University can seem arduous at times, and it is almost inevitable that we run into obstacles here and there. But no matter how difficult the circumstances may be, never, ever, lose sight of your goal. Surround yourself with people who cheer you on, and invest the work that is necessary to reach your ambition. And one day, your dream will come true!  
All the best,
Helena Lan

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

Lessons Along the Way

https://betakit.com/startupcfo-explains-the-long-windy-road-to-a-closed-funding-round/
 
 
With summer almost here, it’s a good time to reflect on lessons learned from the academic year gone by. Since September, I’ve been working under Dr. Pascal Tyrrell’s supervision on a systematic review (SR) project investigating sample size determination methods (SSDMs) in machine learning (ML) applied to medical imaging. Shout out to the Department of Statistical Sciences where I completed my independent studies course! Here, I share important lessons I learned in the hopes that they may resonate with you.
 
Despite being a stats student (as you know from my previous posts!), I was initially new to ML and confronted with the task of critically reviewing theoretically-dense primary articles. I came to appreciate the first step was to develop a solid background – starting from high-level YouTube videos and lessons on DataCamp, to reading ML blogs and
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”.
 
Next, it was time to conduct a systematic search. The University of Toronto library staff were especially helpful at guiding me in use of OVID Medline and Embase, databases with methodical search procedures and a careful search syntax relying on various operators. To be thorough, we also sent a request out to the rest of our research team, who hand-searched through their own stash of literature. Along the way, we garnered support from the university, successfully receiving the Undergraduate Research
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.
 
While working on the SR, I also conducted a subsampling experiment using a medical imaging dataset, testing the effect of class imbalance on a classifier’s performance. Hands-on/practical experiences are critical in developing a more nuanced understanding of subject material – in my case, an understanding that translated to my SR.
 
So now you are probably wondering about the results! The subsampling experiment helped us develop a model for the deleterious effect of class imbalance on classification accuracy and demonstrated that this effect was sensitive to total sample size. Meanwhile in our SR, we observed great variability in SSDMs and model assessment measures, calling for the need to standardize reporting practices.
 
That was a whirlwind recap of the year and I hope some of the lessons I learned resonate with you!
 
See you in the
blogosphere,
 
Indranil Balki
 
A special thanks to Dr. Pascal Tyrrell, as well as Dr.
Afsaneh Amirabadi & Team

A Medical Ethics ROP Journey with Jayun Bae

Jayun Bae – ROP299Y 2016-17
My name is Jayun Bae and I am completing my second year in the Neuroscience and Bioethics majors at the University of Toronto, St. George. I was a 2016-2017 Research Opportunity Program (ROP) student in Dr. Pascal Tyrrell’s lab, working on a study that investigated the ethics of sharing patient data with private organizations (see my timeline above). I am a member of the Hart House Debating Club and an events associate for the Life Science Student Network. 
                                                               
My ROP project was necessitated by the partnership proposed by the Medical image Networking Enterprise (MiNE) that would establish a data-sharing relationship between public and private sector organizations. The ethical concerns with the partnership involved patient consent, privacy, and financial gain – but there were also issues that I
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.
Therefore, I developed a study that would seek expert opinions through the administration of a survey. I conducted interviews at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the University of Toronto and performed qualitative data analysis. My ROP project was presented at the ROP Poster Fair and the Victoria College Research Day events. The ROP was an extremely valuable experience in gaining research skills, and I’m grateful to
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: