Next up in our SFU undergrad researcher series, we have Sandali Chandrarathna!
Name: Sandali Chandrarathna
Faculty: Health Sciences
Year of Study: 5th
Supervisor: Dr. Zabrina Brumme
Q: What is your research about?
A: Our lab researches the genetics and evolution of HIV-1 virus. I was lucky enough to get my own project, which is a cross sectional study of a cohort of early-infected patients from Toronto. I’m characterizing genetic and functional diversity as well as immune-driven evolution within individual infections and within the cohort as a whole. Specifically, I’m looking at an HIV-1 accessory gene called Nef which is known to play an important role in viral pathogenesis and infectivity in vivo.
Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: Funny enough, up until the fourth year of my Life Science degree in FHS, I never felt compelled to get involved in any lab research but, at the end of what I though to be my penultimate semester of undergrad, once the course started focusing more on primary literature, I started craving some practical experience. So I e-mailed a couple researchers at SFU whose research was in line with my interests and ended up applying for a USRA with Dr. Brumme. That was last summer. After that, I stayed on with the lab group as an Honours student, and will be defending my Thesis next month!
Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: *incoming cliché* I’ve always wanted to keep people from getting sick, and that hasn’t changed! The goal is to get an MD and practice in a community clinic. A lot of my experience outside of lab research is in health promotion and out in the community, so I see tremendous value in community-level interventions in improving health and well-being. I’d also really like to be involved at the policy level in some capacity…we’ll see what happens I guess!
Q: Favorite Course?
A: Hmm, I’d say it’s a toss up between Dr. Van Houten’s Seminar in Infectious Disease and the late Dr. Goldner’s course on Mental Illness in Canada. Both of those courses really resonated with and influenced me.
Q: What scares you the most in the lab?
I guess I should be expected to say HIV is the scariest thing in the lab but, because we take the necessary precautions with handling and storing infectious material, that’s not so much of a concern (although I was definitely wary when I started in the lab!). I think what scares me the most is the possibility of contamination. Contaminating your samples with other samples, with bacteria, contaminating your cell lines, your PCR reactions… no fun.