SFU Undergraduate Researcher: Mariam Aziz

Name: Mariam Aziz
Faculty: Biomedical Physiology
Year of Study: Fourth Year
Supervisor: Peter Ruben

Q: What are your career interests?
A: In the future, I would like to pursue a career in medicine.   

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: My friend was working in the Molecular Cardiac Physiology Group (MCPG) with Dr. Ruben and she asked him if he would accept an undergrad. I emailed Dr. Ruben and we had an interview and he was very open and welcoming for me to start volunteering at his lab.

Q: What does your research involve?
A: My project that I am hoping to work on soon is looking at co-localization of NCX (sodium calcium exchanger – it brings in sodium and kicks out Ca, this helps maintain Ca levels in the cell), NHE (sodium hydrogen exchanger – it brings in sodium and kicks out H+ to maintain the cell’s pH) and CaV with NaV in the invadopodia of prostate cancer cells.  I am also working on observing changes in sodium current with different mutations in the channel.  CaV and NaV are voltage gate channels that open and allow the ions in when the cell is depolarized.  It’s theorized that the presence of these channels at the leading edge of cancer cells is what helps them to be invasive; this invasive leading edge is called the invadopodia. 

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: When I get to the lab, the first thing I do is check in with the seniors and see what they have planned for their day.  I ask if there is anything they need help with or anything I can learn from them.  If it’s the beginning of the week I start preparing oocytes or bacterial work for experiments later in the week.  Somedays there is more work than others and I have to stay longer to do upkeep in the lab, like autoclaving tools or making solutions. 

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: By far I can say that BPK 420 and 326 were my favorite courses at SFU,  but they are both upper division classes. If I had to pick a lower division course that I really enjoyed it would be CHEM 286.  These courses were all a lot more hands-on or they explored the “why” in the topics that we studied rather than scratching the surface of the topic. 

Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: Either a microscope lamp – because they are so so small yet very very powerful and if something happens to them, the work actually stops

OR

An automated pipette – just because it makes your life so much easier

Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Victoria Claydon because she is a great mom and an amazing teacher and she does that while maintaining the integrity of her work in the lab. 

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: Not being able to do the things that I have to do because of technical difficulties.  It’s actually scarier than it sounds.  You can have everything ready to go but if a shipment doesn’t come or a machine crashes there isn’t much you can do and everything is postponed for weeks. 

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?
A:

SFU Undergraduate Researcher: Sarosha Ali

Name: Sarosha Ali
Faculty: Science, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (3rd year)
Year of Study: 3rd
Supervisor: Dr. Bingyun Sun

What are your career interests?
I am interested in pursuing medicine either clinical or experimental to support the healthcare industry. I enjoy learning about cardiology, blood circulatory system, hematopoietic system, and the diseases associated with it. Hopefully, I will direct myself to pursue these branches of medicine.

How did you get involved in research?
I received an email about Work-Study program and thought it as a
great opportunity to gain some experience. I applied and got accepted. Soon after I found an interesting project named “Reproduction in Birds”, emailed my resume to the project supervisor, got selected for an interview (it was more like a chat tbh), and started working. I enjoyed assisting Ph.D. candidates in Dr. Tony William’s lab for 8 months. After acquiring experience, I approached Dr. Bingyun Sun to work on mammalian stem cell culture. I was assigned an independent research project and it was a turning point for myself. I gathered a lot of experience doing research in Sun’s lab which helped me acquire a co-op position at STEMCELL Technologies.
Fun Fact: There is an Animal Care Research Facility at SFU (isolated into the
woods). Explore!

What will you be working on this summer?
I will be working as a part of the Contract Assay Services (Pre-clinical trials)
department at STEMCELL Technologies. This means providing toxicity testing and immune services to meet client contractual requirements. As a co-op student, I will learn to perform cell-forming unit (CFU) assays on hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (mainly erythroid, myeloid, and megakaryocyte) and its utility for toxicity screening. As a part of a contract research organization, I will be supporting the department to work with industrial and academic researchers to help answer their drug development and cell biology questions.

What have you been working on in your research so far? (What is your research about?)
I conducted research on the project called “Embryonic stem cell culture,
migration, and proteomics” for 2 years. In which protagonist were the Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cells, they are used in biological and medical research and commercially in the production of therapeutic proteins. I studied the effects of exogenous N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) to CHO cells on their rate of wound closure using the scratch migration assay and on their proliferation. GlcNAc which was the antagonist in the project was found to slow down cell migration and proliferation, accompanied by cell hypertrophy of the CHO cells. It is important to study the effects of different N-glycans and respective N-glycosylation as they play significant roles in stem-cell development. It is now known that its dysregulation leads to several diseases such as diabetes mellitus, oncogenic transformation of animal cells, and metastasis of cancer cells.
Previously, I assisted Ph.D. candidates for 8 months in Dr. Tony William’s Lab for the project called “Reproduction in Birds”. I helped with two sub-projects: 1) Eco-toxicology: Long-term effects of early (in ovo or perinatal) exposure to mercury in birds. 2) Physiological effects of exercise and training for increased foraging effort. This involved performing bird husbandry, setting up breeding boxes, and performing venipuncture on birds to collect blood for hematology assays to determine hemoglobin and hematocrit (red blood cells percentage volume) levels.

What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
It typically involved a combination of cell passaging and cell counting, besides cell microscopy on a daily basis. Once or twice a week it required me to perform protein analysis such as Bradford protein assay and running SDS-PAGE electrophoresis to determine the protein concentrations of microsomal, nuclear, and cytosolic proteins of the cells. Some days are desk work including result analysis and reading articles. As a senior student, I was also responsible for lab management such as maintenance of the biosafety cabinet.

What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
MBB 308-Molecular Biology laboratory: this course is based on modern
recombinant nucleic acid methods. I really enjoyed swapping/modifying bacterial genes which produced fluorescent bacterial colonies (super cool stuff!). Although, it included some of the most crucial steps of DNA and RNA isolation, plasmid preparation, restriction enzyme digestion, DNA cloning, and polymerase chain reaction.

Favourite science joke or meme from your field?

If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
Multi-channel pipette, as I am good at multi-tasking in a lab setting with accuracy and speed.

Who is your biggest science crush?
Sherlock Holmes (Forensic Scientist) because every person working in a lab setting must have his qualities of being observant all the time and being logical without jumping to conclusions.

What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
Weird and scary sound of an unbalanced centrifuge as it might cause damage to the centrifuge or contamination in the cell culture which means starting all over again.

SFU Undergraduate Researcher: Iman Baharmand

Full name: Iman Baharmand
Major: Biological Sciences 
Year: 5th (Honours)
Supervisor: Dr. Carl Lowenberger

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up? 
A: At this moment in time, I am captivated by the idea of being a clinical instructor and physician. It seems like a meaningful way of supporting future generations of health professionals while also staying up-to-date with medical knowledge.

Q: How did you get involved in research? 
A:
 I had some friends who were involved in research at SFU and they broke the news to me that YES, undergrads can actually contribute to research. My first step was taking BISC 298 (intro to undergraduate research) which is a “for credit” research course that you take under the supervision of a faculty member. Three years later and I have the honour of working on my Honours (lol) in the same research lab.

Q: What are you researching? 
A:
 The “leading star” in my project is the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, which is the primary carrier of dengue, zika, and chikungunya viruses. I am investigating new ways of delivering gene silencing and modifying constructs to specific tissue and life-stages of this mosquito. The ultimate goal, however, is to decrease the transmission of these debilitating diseases without wiping out entire species from the ecosystem.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you? 
A:
 My project involves a combination of molecular techniques (gels, sequencing, qPCR), microscopy, and computer work. Some days are unstructured with a lot of reading while other days are tightly scheduled with one protocol after the next.

Q: What are some of your favourite courses that you have taken so far in your degree? 
A: 
My top three in no particular order are: 
BISC 318: Parasitology – Learn about parasites ranging from single-cell protozoa to macroscopic tapeworms. Parasitology features a great mix of ecology, epidemiology, and medical case studies with multiple life-lessons interwoven throughout the course.

BISC 441: Evolution of Health and Disease – Apply the contemporary principles of evolution to topics like reproductive health, senescence, cancer, and infectious diseases. This course offers a new/different lens on many familiar aspects of human life.

SA301: Contemporary Ethnography – As an anthropology minor, my list wouldn’t be complete without this one. An eye-opener about the historical issues with cultural anthropology, as well as, a deep-dive into theoretical and methodological questions of current-day practices. 

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field? 
A:
 Science Twitter at its finest:

Q: Who is your biggest science role-model? 
A: 
Professor Eva Harris (UC Berkeley) – her research group takes a multidisciplinary approach to studying dengue, Zika, and chikungunya. She is also the founder of the Sustainable Sciences Institute which works to improve public health in developing countries through building local capacity for infectious diseases research. Prof. Harris is also a MacArthur Fellow, Global Leader for Tomorrow (World Economic Forum), and Fellow of the American Society of Tropical Medicine.

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xryNPwpi0g

SFU Undergraduate Researcher: Deveshi Deveshi

Introducing Deveshi Deveshi from the Faculty of Health Sciences!

Name: Deveshi Deveshi
Year: 3rd 
Major: Health Sciences, Life Sciences Stream
Supervisor: Dr. Gratien Prefontaine

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A:
I want to work in the healthcare system, preferably in medicine as a physician.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A:
Initially, I became interested in research by learning about the various research projects done in different faculties at SFU, especially in the Faculty of Health Sciences. Getting involved in research seemed as a great learning experience through which I could learn as well as apply my knowledge. So in my second year, I decided to contact various researchers to apply for research positions. However, I had very limited experience in working in a lab setting and most research projects did not have positions open so I didn’t get much response. Thankfully, Dr. Prefontaine invited me to join his Epigenetics Lab and so I got a summer USRA to conduct research in his lab.

Q: What are you researching?
A:
Dr. Prefontaine’s Lab focuses on the role of SmcHD1, an epigenetic chromatin remodeling protein, in gene expression and control. Over the Summer semester, I read various research papers on the topic and worked on creating different BAC plasmids with the SmcHD1 gene insert in order to use the Baculovirus Expression System which is a method used to produce recombinant baculovirus for protein expression.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A:
BISC 202 with Dr. Fitzpatrick! That course really fascinated me. Dr. Fitzpatrick made the course even more engaging.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field? 
A:
We had limited amount of the gene of focus so various procedures and experiments had to be done quite carefully and precisely. Initially, that was a bit scary but you learn as you go!

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A:
Initially, I became interested in research by learning about the various research projects done in different faculties at SFU, especially in the Faculty of Health Sciences. Getting involved in research seemed as a great learning experience through which I could learn as well as apply my knowledge. So in my second year, I decided to contact various researchers to apply for research positions. However, I had very limited experience in working in a lab setting and most research projects did not have positions open so I didn’t get much response. Thankfully, Dr. Prefontaine invited me to join his Epigenetics Lab and so I got a summer USRA to conduct research in his lab.

Q: What are you researching?
A:
Dr. Prefontaine’s Lab focuses on the role of SmcHD1, an epigenetic chromatin remodeling protein, in gene expression and control. Over the Summer semester, I read various research papers on the topic and worked on creating different BAC plasmids with the SmcHD1 gene insert in order to use the Baculovirus Expression System which is a method used to produce recombinant baculovirus for protein expression.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A:
BISC 202 with Dr. Fitzpatrick! That course really fascinated me. Dr. Fitzpatrick made the course even more engaging.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field? 
A:
We had limited amount of the gene of focus so various procedures and experiments had to be done quite carefully and precisely. Initially, that was a bit scary but you learn as you go!

SFU Undergraduate Researcher: Quratulain Qureshi

Introducing Quratulain Qureshi from the department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry!

SFU_SURJ_BLOG_Quratulain_HighResolution

Full name: Quratulain Qureshi
Year: Fourth
Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Supervisor: Dr. Ralph Pantophlet

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I hope to enter the field of medicine, either clinical or experimental. I have always enjoyed learning about pathology and hope to pursue it as part of my career.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: Very early into my degree, I became fascinated by all the scientific research taking place at SFU and availed every opportunity to attend research seminars and thesis defenses to learn more. During my first year, I joined the Injury Prevention and Mobility Lab as a volunteer where we analyzed the biomechanics of fall events in older adults. I then took MBB322 and became exposed to and developed an interest in immunology topics. I did some research on SFU’s Immunology group and was fascinated with the research being done in the Pantophlet Lab. Seeing an opening, I decided to apply, and I was thrilled when I got an interview and a subsequent internship.

Q: What are you researching?
A: Research in our lab involves HIV-1 vaccine immunology and molecular vaccine design. Historically, vaccines modeled after conserved components of an infectious agent have proven to be an effective way of priming the individual’s immune system with the right tools in case of an infection. Finding these components for HIV has been a challenge due to the high mutation rate of the virus. Our lab has identified a sugar molecule (glycan) on the viral surface that exhibits a lower level of variability and is a potential candidate. My project involves probing molecules designed to mimic this glycan for binding affinity using a class of antibodies that elicits a neutralizing effect for the HIV virus. I am also studying the efficacy of these mimetics when model organisms are immunized with them.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: It depends on the day, most days I perform binding assays using ELISAs or Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR). These experiments usually take some time and have long incubations, so I try to keep myself organized and plan my day first thing when I come in (I realized how important this step is the hard way). I also carry out protein purifications using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and perform various recombinant DNA techniques.

Q: What’s your favorite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: My favorite course so far has been MBB309W. It was my first Biochemistry Lab experience. I loved being able to perform the techniques we learned about in textbooks and it was always thrilling to analyze data after lab to see if our hours of work yielded good results.

Q: Favorite science joke or meme from your field?

Meme

 

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: Centrifuges. I still check multiple times to make sure everything is balanced.

SFU Undergraduate Researcher: Aleksandra Dojnov

Introducing Aleksandra Dojnov from the department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology!

Photo_as_participant

Name: Aleksandra Dojnov
Year: 3rd Year
Major:
Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology
Supervisor: Dr. Stephen Robinovitch

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up/ finish undergrad?
A: The human body has always been interesting to me. I swam competitively as a kid and, because of this, spent a lot of time at the physiotherapists. I found these sessions with my physiotherapist interesting so when it came to apply for university, I applied to SFU’s Kinesiology major with the goal of becoming a physiotherapist. As I progressed through my degree, I realized I liked biomechanics and building things a lot, so I searched graduate schools related to my interests. I found a prosthetics program and have wanted to go into prosthetics since then. In the future, I hope to make neuro-prosthetics and wearable sensors.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: Last September I started volunteering in the IPML lab. This opportunity got me more interested in research so, when I started applying for co-op jobs, I decided to apply for an 8-month co-op in the lab. I ended up getting the job and, as part of my co-op, I get the opportunity to work on a research project.

Q: What are you researching?
A: We are looking at the associations between fall characteristics of older adults in long-term care facilities and their injury patterns. Previous research has investigated either the associations between impact and other fall characteristics or between fall characteristics and injury patterns using data collected from the faller, but this has not been very accurate. We’re looking into injury patterns using data collected via video camera footage, so our data should produce new, and more accurate, results.

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?

MEME

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: What both excites and scares me the most in my field is the direction we’re heading towards creating cyborgs. The equipment available to enhance the human body is rapidly improving. With these quick advances in technology, it may become hard to use technology only for good. I think we may be seeing a hopefully benevolent, cyborg in the very near future.

SFU Undergraduate Researcher: Nick Gauthier

Introducing Nick Gauthier from the department of Biology!

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Name: Nick Gauthier
Year: 4th Year
Major:
Biology
Supervisor: Dr. Margo Moore

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up/ finish undergrad?
A: I hope to be accepted into medical school and become a practicing physician after I complete my undergrad. I’m really interested in infectious diseases, which is why I wanted to become involved in the Moore Lab.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I took BISC 303 with Dr. Moore and really enjoyed the course so I decided to email her and ask if there were any positions to volunteer in the lab. She responded and agreed to meet with me. I met with all of the lab members for lunch one day and everyone was extremely friendly! I started volunteering in the lab in January and am currently holding a USRA for the summer semester.

Q: What are you researching?
A: So far, I have worked on several projects, but I am currently attempting to purify a sialidase enzyme in the human pathogenic fungus Aspergillus terreus. Sialidases cleave sialic acid and play a key role in microbial pathogenesis. We believe that the Aspergillus terreus sialidase plays a role in human pathogenesis and are looking to find out more about its’ substrate specificity and how it works.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: Because the project I am working on requires many steps and lengthy procedures, there really isn’t a typical “day in the lab”, which I really enjoy about working in the lab because every day is something new for the most part.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: There have been a few courses that I’ve really enjoyed, but I think my favorite was the course I took at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre last summer; Marine Invertebrate Zoology. The atmosphere in Bamfield is like nowhere else in the world and I met a lot of cool people in my class. In fact, one of my classmates from Bamfield works in the Moore Lab with me now and helped train me!

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?

Nick_meme

Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: Honestly, I think that I would be a centrifuge because my mind is constantly spinning!

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: At first, I was really scared about messing up in the lab and making mistakes, but as a became more familiar with everyone I was more open to asking questions and help. Everyone in the lab has been so awesome and willing to help whenever I ask!