I am currently a postdoctoral fellow in the College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy & Nutrition at the University of Saskatchewan. I pursued graduate school because, during my years teaching high school (2014-2016), students often asked me questions about the pathogenesis of human diseases, which led me to research answers for these questions. Often, there were no answers to the questions my students asked. So, I decided to move to Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada to research neurodegenerative diseases in the Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology (University of British Columbia) with the hope of contributing to the knowledge base related to human health that I wished I could draw on when I was a teacher. Finishing my graduate program in 2020, I am more enthusiastic than ever to conduct novel research that has the potential to improve human lives, especially those with incurable diseases in which I have experience, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease. Recently, I became particularly interested in studying the effects of maternal medications on fetal development because pregnant women are often excluded from clinical trials (this is an attempt to prevent undue harm to the baby). Therefore, there exists limited information about the effects of maternal medications on fetal development. New science technologies have recently been invented that allow the creation of rudimentary human organs (organoids) in a Petri dish. These organoids grow remarkably similar to the organs in a developing human, and thus give scientists a tool particularly suited to study the effects of medications (new and old!) on fetal development.
Improving maternal and children's health
I am interested in characterizing the effects of maternal medications on fetal brain development. In particular, I am curious how medications (e.g. antidepressants) commonly prescribed to pregnant women, as well as their bioactive metabolites, affect the developing human brain (e.g. cell physiology, cell populations, synapse formation). I study human fetal brain development with an experimental approach using stem cell technology and three-dimensional organoid cultures. In addition, I am motivated to characterize the involvement of microglia in the fetal brain development in response to maternally-prescribed medications.
Characterizing molecular mechanisms underlying neurological disorders
Many neurological disorders are incurable, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, and have ineffective disease-modifying therapies. Therefore, any therapeutic agent that can slow the progression of neurological disorders, or cure them entirely, would greatly enhance the quality of life of many humans worldwide. Recent evidence demonstrates that many functions of glia (non-neuronal cells) become dysregulated in these neurological disorders, such as the secretion of signaling molecules. Therapeutic agents that regulate and maintain the functions of glia may reduce the onset of symptoms for patients with brain diseases. I am interested in characterizing the effects of endogenous molecules that regulate functions of glia that become dysregulated in neurological disorders, and uncovering the mechanisms engaged by these molecules. Discovering mechanisms engaged by endogenous molecules that regulate the functions of glia will enable the new avenues of development for therapeutic agents designed to maintain brain homeostasis and prevent the progression of neurological disorders. I study the effects of endogenous molecules using primary human tissues, stem cell technologies, three-dimensional organoid cultures, and cell lines.
Generating human tissues in a dish without animal-derived products
Data derived from animals do not commonly translate to the human context. For example, only 37% of therapies that were beneficial in animals improved human health. More strikingly, in the context of cancer therapies, only 8% of animal-derived data could be replicated in humans. The exact underlying reason for the poor translation of animal data to the human context is unknown, but the interspecies differences in receptor-ligand interactions and downstream mechanisms as well as poor replication of disease etiology in animal models likely contribute. Thus, I strive to engineer the first chemically-defined, xeno (animal)-free platform to propogate human tissues in a Petri dish, with a primary focus on brain and intestinal cultures. A chemically-defined platform will improve the reproducibility of protocols, as it will remove the batch variability that arises from using undefined components (e.g. fetal bovine serum, albumin, serum-replacement cocktails, heparin) and as an added benefit reduce the need for animals to derive reagents.
Creating stories and memories with photos and videos
Videography and photography have been my primary hobbies for over a decade. Prior to pursuing a career in science, I produced many videos for musicians at various stages in their career (e.g. Juno award winners, internationally-renowned acts, and independent artists). These days, I enjoy exploring new cities and trails (usually by foot) in hopes to capture images that I find interesting, and subsequently want to hang on my walls at home. Thus, I often excitedly accept any opportunity that allows me to explore places I have not been before. I am always looking for people who want to collaborate on any projects involving videos or photos - feel free to send me a message on social media if this is you!
Producing and recording live events
My most unique skill set is my decade of experience producing live videos with broadcast-quality audio. During 2009 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, I soldered together copper wires and microphone capsules to create hand-built microphones that could be used to record in high decibel environments (e.g. concerts). Very quickly, independent musicians recognized the quality of the multi-track recordings I could produce, and frequently asked me to come to their shows to record their live performances. In 2011, these skills were recognized by British Columbian musical instrument retailer Tom Lee Music. I was approached by Tom Lee Music to co-produce a monthly concert series for Vancouver youths that showcased Canadian musicians. Still to this day, there are not many quality concert venues in Vancouver that people under the legal drinking age can attend. This collaborative concert series not only gave Vancouver youths a monthly event they could look forward to attending, but also gave many independent Canadian artists the opportunity to have their live shows recorded in a desirable venue. Later that same year, I was invited by the Vans Warped Tour (yearly US music festival) to create media for the northwestern leg of their tour. This relationship continued until I made the decision to pursue a career in science. In 2015, with the development of new technologies, I enhanced my workflow to enable the broadcast-quality videos to be streamed live over the internet. Currently, I use my production skills to host and manage my own science podcast!