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Trainee Communications Committee

The purpose of SCN’s Trainee Communications Committee (TCC) is to contribute to the development and delivery of SCN’s training program for trainees in the stem cell and regenerative medicine community.

Members

PRIYE IWORIMA, CHAIR, PhD candidate, University of British Columbia
Priye is a Nigerian-Canadian Biomedical engineering student whose research focuses on developing a differentiation protocol to generate stem cell-derived insulin-producing cells that may be used as a potential therapy for type 1 diabetes. She is also interested in the optimizing process parameters for large scale manufacturing of stem cell-derived products. In her free time, she loves travelling to explore new places and cultures, music, eating and socializing with friends and family.

KEVIN ROBB, VICE-CHAIR, PhD candidate, University of Toronto
I am a PhD student in the Biomedical Engineering program at the University of Toronto working under the supervision of Dr. Sowmya Viswanathan and Dr. Rajiv Gandhi at University Health Network. My project focus is on strategies to enhance mesenchymal stromal cell potency for treatment of osteoarthritis. I’ve attended TMM annually and am excited to be part of the TCC!

RASHA AL-ATTAR, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the McEwen Stem Cell Institute – University Health Network
I am pursuing my postdoctoral training at the laboratory of Dr. Michael Laflamme. My research focuses on using human pluripotent stem cell derived cardiomyocytes (hPSC-CMs) to re-muscularize the scar tissue post myocardial infarction. Specifically, I am using genome engineering to enhance the host-graft electrical coupling and cell to cell communication in efforts to reduce the risk of ventricular tachyarrhythmia post hPSC-CM transplantation. I am passionate about teaching and helping other trainees gain the necessary skills needed to secure their dream job.

JULES GRANET, PhD Student, McGill University
Jules is a PhD student in Natasha Chang’s Lab at McGill University. His project aims to understand how autophagy contributes to muscle stem cell fate determination regenerative functions in healthy conditions and in the context of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Outside the lab, he loves travelling to discover new places, eating, watch movies and spending time with friends.

KABITA BARAL, PhD student at the University of Calgary
I am a PhD student in the Biernaskie lab at the University of Calgary, where I work with neural stem cells and Schwann cells leveraging single-cell mRNA-sequencing technology. I also have a MS in Bioinformatics and BSc in Pharmaceutical Sciences. Besides school, I am co-director of StemCellTalks Calgary chapter and enjoy science communication, baking, hiking and watching anime/superhero movies with my partner and our sheepdog.

ALEX KOZLOV, PhD candidate, Western University
Alex is a senior PhD candidate at Western University studying the impact of metabolites on pluripotency. Alex has been a Stem Cell Network trainee since 2016 and is passionate about science outreach, as she is currently a Co-Chair of the StemCellTalks National Advisory Committee and StemCellTalks London. In her free time, Alex enjoys backcountry camping and baking.

KIERAN MAHEDEN, MASc student, University of British Columbia
Kieran is a second year MASc student in the lab of Nika Shakiba at UBC’s School of Biomedical Engineering. His work aims to understand the social life of pluripotent stem cells by characterizing cell competition, a process where these precious cells fight to the death. When not wrestling with pipettes, you can usually find him wrestling holds while bouldering.

MORTEN RITSO, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of British Columbia
Morten is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Fabio Rossi’s lab at the University of British Columbia. He is investigating how immune, stromal, stem and progenitor cell populations communicate with each other to coordinate cardiac and skeletal muscle repair and regeneration. Morten has been an active member of public engagement teams and student committees, participated in StemCellTalks events and science commercialization competitions. He enjoys live music, skiing, hiking, and cycling.

FERESHTEH SADAT, PhD Student, University of Toronto
I am a PhD student in biomedical sciences at faculty of dentistry at University of Toronto. I am working under supervision of an amazing scientific leader, Dr. Boris Hinz at St. Michael hospital. My research focuses on developing the strategies to boost (maintain) the regenerative potential of Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) through manipulation of MSc mechanical response and memory. Particularly, I am studying how epigenetic patterns change the behaviour of MSCs in response to plastic-stiff environment which is widely used for pivotal expansion of MSCs after isolation from donors. Outside the lab, I enjoy thinking about scientific challenges, exploring new places, hiking, listening to Persian music and reading Persian poetry. Recently, I have challenged myself to learn musical instruments, called Setar.
I am excited to be part of TCC and to help graduate students to improve their skills for their career goals while I am learning new skills.

LAURA STANKIEWICZ, PhD candidate, University of British Columbia
I am a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering at the University of British Columbia. My research focuses on learning how T cells are developed within the human thymus and how we can use this information to make T cells in the lab that can be engineered to kill cancer cells. I joined the TCC because I’m passionate about creating a common language between scientists and engineers to facilitate sharing of diverse skills and expertise. I believe training young researchers on how to effectively communicate their work is integral to the translation of cell therapies to the clinic, and I’m excited to implement workshops for trainees that address these skill sets.

COULTER MONTAGUE SZAKALY, MSc Student, University Health Network
I am a second year MSc student in Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at the University of Toronto, studying under the supervision of Dr. Michael Laflamme at the University Health Network. In my research I aim to establish a novel bioreactor architecture for the large-scale production and maturation of human pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. Outside of the lab I love reading, scuba diving, snowboarding, playing hockey, and am always looking for new ways to promote scientific communication to researchers at every level.

TYLER WENZEL, Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Saskatoon
I am a postdoctoral fellow setting up a stem cell and regenerative medicine facility for the University of Saskatchewan. My research, which is overseen by Drs. Darrell Mousseau and Jane Alcorn, is very multidisciplinary, covering topics such as brain homeostasis, central nervous system tissue regeneration, brain and intestinal disease etiology, pharmacokinetics and the gut-brain axis. The ultimate goal of my research is to create better treatments for neurodegenerative and inflammatory bowel diseases. I am particularly passionate about developing better models of these human diseases and unlocking the therapeutic and pharmacological potential of organoids as well as the stem cells they are derived from. Prior to my career as a scientist, I was a high school science and mathematics teacher, and I am excited to bring my experience and passion for teaching to the Trainee Communications Committee. I strongly believe stem cells are key to improving the quality of life for many people around the world, and I am thrilled to be part of developing this technology. In my spare time, you can find me hiking, downhill skiing, going to concerts, taking photographs, podcasting, or making sci-comm videos.

Training & Education Committee

The purpose of the Training & Education Committee (TEC) is to support SCN in the development and implementation of a regenerative medicine training program that ensures highly qualified personnel (HQP) are well-placed to compete in Canada’s knowledge-based economy and equipped with the skills to work in the regenerative medicine labs and biotech companies of today and tomorrow.

Members

NIKA SHAKIBA, Chair, Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia
Dr. Nika Shakiba is an Assistant Professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering (SBME) at UBC and an Allen Distinguished Investigator. Her research program (https://shakiba.bme.ubc.ca) seeks to apply a combined systems and synthetic biology approach to reverse- and forward-engineer the role of cell competition in developmental and stem cell systems. Prior to joining SBME, Nika was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and completed her PhD in Stem Cell Engineering under the supervision of Dr. Peter Zandstra at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering (University of Toronto). Nika is a big believer in outreach and mentorship. Beyond her research and teaching, she is passionate about providing equity in mentorship resources and advice access through her latest project, Advice to a Scientist (https://advicetoascientist.com/).

HAROLD ATKINS MD, Physician, The Ottawa Hospital Transplant and Cell Therapy Program; Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Ottawa; Scientist in the Center for Innovative Cancer Research
He received his Bachelor of Medical Science degree and Medical Degree from the University of Ottawa followed by a rotating internship year at the Victoria General Hospital in Victoria BC.  Specialty training in Internal Medicine was done at the University of Ottawa.   Clinical and research fellowships in Hematology, Stem Cell Transplantation and Experimental Hematology followed at the University of Washington and at the Ontario Cancer Institute.
He specializes in hematopoietic stem cell transplantation and has spearheaded the use of stem cell transplantation for immune repair to treat patients with severe autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, scleroderma, myasthenia gravis and others.  The outcome of a trial using autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation to treat multiple sclerosis was published in the Lancet in 2016.  He ran a clinical trial exploring the role of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation in preventing organ transplant rejection.  He is a member of a BiocanRx funded, pan-Canadian consortium to develop and improve the accessibility of new chimeric antigen receptor T lymphocytes for the treatment of hematological cancers.   He was awarded the OHRI’s Dr. Michel Chretien Researcher of the Year in 2016, the Till and McCulloch Award from the Stem Cell Network in 2017 and was the co-recipient of the Canadian Blood Services Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

JESSICA ESSELTINE, Assistant Professor, Memorial University of Newfoundland
I grew up in a small town in southwestern Ontario made famous for killing Jumbo the Elephant. I completed most of my training at Western University. I discovered pluripotent stem cells quite late in my training and I am so grateful that I found my scientific passion. Since moving to beautiful Newfoundland I am tackling how cells communicate with each other during cell fate specification. With the support of the Stem Cell Network, I am using patient-derived iPSCs to understand hereditary heart disease in Newfoundland. My team uses cutting-edge techniques in cell and molecular biology including CRISPR-Cas9 genetic engineering of pluripotent and multipotent stem cells, high-resolution imaging, stem cell and 3D organoid culture.

MAY GRIFFITH, Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Montreal, Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Research Centre
May holds the Canada Research Chair in Biomaterials and Stem Cells in Ophthalmology and Caroline Durand Foundation Research Chair in Cellular Therapy of the Eye. She is currently Director of the Cornea and Anterior Segment Axis of the Quebec Vision Health Research Network. MG is known for her bench-to-bedside pioneering work in translational regenerative medicine and in situ tissue regeneration. She led a multi-national, interdisciplinary team through the development and successful clinical testing of the world’s first biosynthetic corneal implants that promoted human corneal tissue and nerve regeneration in a clinical trial in Sweden. The cell-free implants stimulated the patients’ own cells to migrate into the matrix, proliferate and differentiate into neo-corneas. The team subsequently completed a second clinical trial with biosynthetic corneal implants containing an inflammation-suppressing polymer network on high-risk patients. Most recently, MG and her team developed a synthetic, biocompatible and adhesive liquid hydrogel (LiQD Cornea) for repairing corneal perforations in place of toxic cyanoacrylate glue. LiQD Cornea is applied as a liquid, but quickly adheres and gels within corneal tissue defects. Then its similarity at a molecular level to a natural tissue framework promotes tissue regeneration, treating corneal perforations effectively without the need for transplantation. MG continues her biomaterials-based research for cornea and retina regeneration, and angiogenesis in collaboration with other researchers.

MATTHEW HILDEBRANDT, Product Manager, STEMCELL Technologies
Matthew Hildebrandt is a Product Manager at STEMCELL Technologies in Vancouver for products that support human pluripotent stem cell research. Following his PhD in Experimental Oncology from the University of Alberta in 2014 he joined the lab of Dr. James Ellis at SickKids in Toronto as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow where he started working with pluripotent stem cells. During his time in Toronto he participated in several SCN workshops held during the Till & McCulloch meetings that helped support his transition to an industry position. He now volunteers time back to SCN to support the next generation of trainees.

SAMER HUSSEIN, Assistant Professor, Université Laval; Researcher, Oncology Division, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire (CHU) de Québec-Université Laval Research Center
Dr. Samer Hussein is an associate professor and researcher at Université Laval and its affiliated Cancer Research Center. Dr. Hussein completed his Ph.D. in Neurological Sciences at McGill University, Montréal, Canada, and his post-doctoral training at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and later at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto, Canada. He has published seminal work in the field of reprogramming demonstrating several key findings on how reprogramming to induced pluripotent stem cells affects the chromatin state, genetic stability, and gene expression of cells undergoing this process of induced cell fate change. His team now focuses on understanding the molecular underpinnings governing stem cell fate decision during development and in cancer. They use several bioinformatics and sequencing approaches, such as long read RNA sequencing, and stem cell differentiation models, such as human cerebral organoids and glioma stem cell invasion models, to understand the molecular mechanisms and functional interactions of long non-coding RNAs during development and cancer.

ANDREW PEPPER, Assistant Professor, University of Alberta
In 2018, Dr. Pepper was recruited to the Department of Surgery, in the Division of Surgical Research at the University of Alberta as an Assistant Professor. His laboratory in the Alberta Diabetes Institute, examines the underlying mechanisms that govern pancreatic beta cell survival and function, with the ultimate goal of developing and refining cell-based therapies that could become a universal treatment for a broader range of people living with type 1 diabetes. Dr. Pepper has published >40 manuscripts and 4 book chapters related to islet biology, immunology and beta cell transplantation. He is currently a Canadian Research Chair in Cell Therapies for Diabetes and has received funding from the Stem Cell Network, JDRF, MITACS, CIHR, CFI-JELF, Alberta Innovates, New Frontiers in Research Fund, Alberta Diabetes Foundation, University Hospital Foundation and the Canadian National Transplant Research Program.