Early Career Researcher Committee

The purpose of the Early Career Researcher Committee (ECRC) is to support SCN in the development and implementation of activities that profile and support the growth of early career researchers (ECRs) working in the field of stem cell and regenerative medicine research. SCN seeks to provide ECR community members with the skills and support needed to build world-class research programs and jump-start their careers in academia.


Amy Wong, Chair, Scientist, The Hospital for Sick Children; Assistant Professor, University of Toronto

Dr. Amy Wong is a Scientist in the Program of Developmental & Stem Cell Biology at the Hospital for Sick Children and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at the University of Toronto. She completed her undergraduate degree in the Life Sciences at the University of Toronto in 2001 and went on to receive graduate degrees at the University of Toronto: a MSc in Cardiovascular sciences in 2003 and a PhD in lung regeneration in 2008. She then joined the SickKids Research Institute in early 2009 as a post-doctoral fellow where she was the first to develop a method to generate airway epithelia that model airway Cystic Fibrosis (CF) lung disease in-vitro. Today she is internationally recognized as a pioneer in using human stem cells to model lung development and disease. Her lab has three main research focus 1) To identify novel genetic and molecular factors regulating lung development and disease; 2) to develop predictive human lung disease models for precision medicine; 3) To generate improved preclinical physiologically relevant lung mimetics for disease modeling using novel bioprinting and microfluidic platforms.

Natasha Chang, Assistant Professor, McGill University

Dr. Natasha Chang received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from McGill University, and pursued her postdoctoral fellowship at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. Dr. Chang joined McGill as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry in 2019. Research in the Chang laboratory focuses on understanding the molecular signalling mechanisms that regulate muscle stem cell function and how these pathways are altered in the context of muscle degenerative disease and muscle cancer. The ultimate goal for Dr. Chang’s research team is to identify molecular targets to improve endogenous stem cell regenerative capacity as well as strategies to improve stem cell transplantation therapy.

Daniel Coutu, Scientist, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute; Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa

I completed my B.Sc. in Biology at Université de Montréal. I then joined the Division of Experimental Medicine at McGill University for my graduate studies, under the supervision of Dr. Jacques Galipeau (Lady Davis Institute, Jewish General Hospital). My work focused on using bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells for gene and cell therapy, regenerative medicine, and tissue engineering. I then pursued postdoctoral training at the Institute for Stem Cell Research (Helmholtz Center Munich, Germany) under the supervision of Dr. Timm Schroeder. There, I studied skeletal and hematopoietic stem cells using long term, continuous, single cell time-lapse microscopy and quantitative image analysis. The lab relocated to the Department of Biosystems Science & Engineering (ETH Zurich, Switzerland) where I developed highly multiplexed confocal imaging and computational image analysis techniques, specifically designed to study stem cells in whole mouse bones. In 2018, I joined the Regenerative Medicine program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, and the Department of Cellular & Molecular Medicine at University of Ottawa. I am also the inaugural holder of the Research Chair in Regenerative Orthopedic Surgery (The Ottawa Hospital). My lab studies the fundamental biology of skeletal stem cells and their use in regenerative orthopedic surgery.

Janelle Drouin-Ouellet, Assistant Professor, University of Montreal

Dr. Drouin-Ouellet has obtained a PhD in Neurobiology at Laval University (Quebec City, Canada) in 2012. She has completed a first postdoctoral training with Professor Roger Barker at the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, UK), where she combined basic and clinical research to study different aspects of Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases. She did a second postdoc in Professor Malin Parmar’s group at Lund University (Lund, Sweden) where she has worked on developing simple and efficient methods for direct conversion of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and adult human dermal fibroblasts from patients with neurodegenerative diseases. Now an Assistant Professor at the University of Montreal (Montreal, Canada) since August 2018 and a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Direct Neural Reprogramming, she is combining direct neural reprogramming and iPSC work to study the pathophysiology of Parkinson’s Disease, as well as working on developing direct glial reprogramming technologies to complexify patient derived cell-based systems with the aim of studying the age-related pathophysiology of neurodegenerative disorders.

Roman Krawetz, Associate Professor, University of Calgary

I am a member of the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health Research at the University of Calgary. The main pillar of my research program is elucidating the role of tissue resident stem cells within the musculoskeletal tissues and understanding why these stem cells are incapable of contributing injury repair under specific circumstances (e.g. osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, disc degeneration). My lab uses in-depth molecular approaches (in vitro and in vivo) to examine the role of stem cells in pre-clinical transgenic mouse models. My lab has contributed to the understanding of the role of tissue resident stem cells with the normal and arthritic joints and developed novel approaches to induce these cells to contribute to cartilage repair after injury. It is my goal to translate this exciting findings into a novel therapies for difficult to treat chronic injuries in humans.

Ben Lindsey, Assistant Professor, University of Manitoba

Dr. Benjamin Lindsey obtained his PhD at the University of Toronto under the supervision of Dr. Vincent Tropepe in the Department of Cell and Systems Biology. Here, he mapped the ultrastructural composition of adult neurogenic niches of the mature zebrafish brain. During his doctoral thesis, Dr. Lindsey further pioneered methods to study adult neural stem cell plasticity to understanding the relationship between adult neurogenesis and the external sensory environment.

In 2014, Dr. Lindsey joined the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) at Monash University as an NSERC-funded postdoctoral fellow, where he trained with one of the world leaders in zebrafish neural stem cells and regeneration, Dr. Jan Kaslin. During this time, Dr. Lindsey studied the molecular and cellular regulation of active and quiescent neural stem cell populations for brain and spinal cord repair.

In 2017, Dr. Lindsey returned to Canada for his second postdoctoral fellowship with spinal cord and neuroplasticity expert Dr. Tuan Bui, at the University of Ottawa, Brain and Mind Research Institute. During this second, CIHR-funded postdoctoral position, Dr. Lindsey developed larval and adult spinal cord injury models to study the mechanisms regulating spinal cord regeneration.

In February 2019, Dr. Lindsey joined the Department of Human Anatomy and Cell Science at the University of Manitoba as an Assistant Professor, where he has established the first zebrafish facility for neural stem cell research and regenerative medicine. His research program is supported by an NSERC Discovery Grant, NSERC Research Tools and Instruments Grant, Research Manitoba New Investigator Operating Grant, in addition to other institutional funding programs.

Ly Vu, Scientist, BC Cancer; Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia

Dr. Vu is a Scientist at the Terry Fox Laboratory, British Columbia Cancer Center (BC Cancer) and an Assistant Professor at Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of British Columbia (UBC). Dr. Vu is originally from Vietnam with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Vietnam National University. Dr. Vu completed both her PhD and post-doctoral training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, NYC, US, where she uncovered the critical roles of RNA binding proteins and RNA methylation in pathogenesis of myeloid leukemia. At BC Cancer, Dr. Vu’s laboratory aims to understand molecular mechanisms underlying control of stem cells and pathogenesis of hematological malignancies with a focus on post-transcriptional and translational gene regulation pathways. The ultimate goal is to develop innovative therapeutic approaches for treatment of leukemia and other cancers. Dr. Vu is the recipient of numerous awards including the prestigious Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Postdoctoral Fellowship, the Special Fellow award from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the NIH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence, the American Society of Hematology (ASH) Scholar Award and the Terry Fox New Investigator Award.

Ma’n Zawati, Assistant Professor, McGill University; Executive Director, Centre of Genomics and Policy

Ma’n H. Zawati (LL.B., LL.M., Ph.D. (DCL)) is an Assistant Professor at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine and the Executive Director of the Centre of Genomics and Policy in the Department of Human Genetics. He is also an Associate Member of the Department of Equity, Ethics and Policy, the Division of Experimental Medicine and the Faculty of Law at McGill University. His research concentrates on the legal, ethical and policy dimensions of health research and clinical care, with a special focus on biobanking, data sharing, regenerative medicine, professional liability, and the use of novel technologies (e.g. mhealth apps, WGS, WES) in both the clinical and research settings. His work is interdisciplinary, drawing together perspectives from law, ethics, bioinformatics, genomics, and policy. He’s also a frequent presenter on a variety of the most critical and topical issues in healthcare and the biosciences. He has appeared at 150+ international conferences, symposia, meetings, and has shared his expertise with universities, research ethics boards and law firms. Prof. Zawati has published a book (Reciprocity in Population Biobanks – Academic Press 2021), 18 book chapters and over 75+ peer reviewed articles in leading publications such as Nature Reviews Genetics, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Journal of Law and the Biosciences.  In 2015, he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship (stay at Oxford University) and was named a Royal Society of Canada Delegate for the IAP Young Scientists of the Year international symposium. In 2021, Prof. Zawati received his J1 FRQS Career Award.

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.


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, Associate 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.

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.

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 Saskatchewan
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.