SFU Undergrad Researcher: Andy Zeng

Introducing Andy Zeng of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry!

Name: Andy Zeng
Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Year of Study: Fourth
Supervisors: Angela Brooks Wilson (Genome Sciences Centre, BC Cancer Agency and SFU BPK) and Benjamin Kwok (Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, Université de Montreal)


Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: A clinician-scientist! I would ideally see cancer patients 1-2 days/week and spend the rest of my time running a cancer research lab to improve our standard of care. This fall, I’ll be entering the MD/PhD program at the University of Toronto for my first 8 years of training towards that career!

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: In first year undergrad, I applied to a bunch of profs to do a summer undergraduate student research award (USRA) with them. Most profs didn’t take me seriously as a first year and didn’t respond, but Angie pretty much offered me a pity interview because it would make for a good learning opportunity. It turned out that I was the only applicant to read her papers before the interview and ask her semi-intelligent questions about it, and that’s how I got the USRA! I used that experience to land an internship in Montreal the following summer, and then finished my thesis in third year summer.

Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: I’ll be spending the first half of my summer in Vancouver, brushing up on statistics and bioinformatics and learning the basics of machine learning through online courses (datacamp, coursera, EdX, etc). For the second half of my summer in Toronto, I’ll hopefully be getting involved in research on cancer stem cells and getting started on my PhD research.

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far? (What is your research about?)
A: In Angie’s lab at BC Cancer I analyzed the somatic mutational spectrums in mitochondrial DNA (yes, the powerhouse of the cell) of B-Cell Lymphoma patients. We wanted to see if any of these mutations, which affect cell metabolism, contributed to lymphomagenesis. In Ben’s lab at IRIC I designed and ran cell biology experiments testing chemical inhibitors of a cancer-promoting protein on cancer cells.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: MBB426 & 427- The workload for 426 is soul crushing but you walk out of the courses knowing a mind-blowing amount of immunology! But to be honest, I believe that the most enriching learning experiences during undergrad comes from extracurriculars and research.

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?
A: Haemolytic Memes for Anaemic Teens (Facebook Page) is a lot funnier than it should be. Every time I laugh, I’m reminded that I am a huge nerd who appreciates these memes a little too much. It’s odd – these memes somehow manage to make you both smarter and dumber at the same time.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: Failure and negative results. It happened in my Montréal work term and it’s inevitable. But if you ask the right questions, understand the larger reason for why you are doing the work, and strive to enjoy the process (being open to learn and genuinely curious about what you’ll discover), then it minimizes the blow.

A quick word of advice for those embarking on a research term:
Your research term is not just a 9-5 job, it’s a learning opportunity that can be far more enriching than a semester of classes. Treat it as a learning opportunity: dive into the literature and put in the same amount of effort into your research as you would in a 5-course semester. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll grow, and you might even get some publications out of it!


SFU Undergrad Researcher: Danielle Thompson

Next up in our series of scholarly SFU students, we have Danielle Thompson of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry!

Name: Danielle Thompson
Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Year: Third
Supervisor: Dr. David Schaeffer, Vancouver General Hospital Pathology department

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: This is a question that has had many different answers over the years, but currently my goal is to become a genetic counselor.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: The first research experience I ever had was working in Dr. Barry Honda’s lab at SFU. I knew Dr. Honda from a group he put together in my first year so I emailed him one day asking if he knew of any professors in the MBB department looking for 2nd year volunteers. He ended up offering that I come work in his lab so I spent two semesters there before getting my co-op at VGH.

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far? (What is your research about?)
A: The project I’m currently working on is for a type of pancreatic cancer called pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, or PDAC for short. That’s all I’m allowed to disclose about the project…but if you do a little bit of research into this type of cancer, you will learn that it is pretty aggressive. Less than 10% of all patients diagnosed with PDAC are expected to be alive 5 years after their diagnosis.

Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: It really depends on the day! Some days I am super busy and I feel like I barely have time to eat, and other days I have no lab work to do so I end up researching papers and other supplementary materials that I think would help my understanding of some of the projects going on around me. When I am in the lab, typical work that I do will include DNA/RNA extractions, real-time PCR, cutting pancreas FFPE blocks on the microtome, followed by prepping those sections on PEN slides for dissection by laser-capture microdissection (LCM). A majority of my time right now is spent on the LCM because it can take the entire day to go through 10 slides and dissect the parts that I am interested in.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: That’s easy. MBB 321-Intermediary Metabolism with Dr, Northwood.

Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Dr. Vlachos. Let’s be real- she’s great.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Renato Molina

Next up, we have Renato Molina of the Departments of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and Biomedical PhysiologyRENATO MOLINA-2.jpg

Name: Renato Molina
Faculty: Molecular Biology/Biochemistry and Biomedical Physiology
Year of study: 4th Year
Supervisor: Dr. Shenshen Lai


Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: Honestly, I used to think people in their 20’s were “grown-up,” and now I can see how wrong I was. I am nowhere close to what I want to become, yet I continue to chip away at what I want the sculpture of my future to be. I think that as science students, we are genuinely curious about everything, and that is where I currently am. I have a hard time deciding whether to pursue a future in medicine, or continue advancing further along the research chain. Albeit, thinking about the future really excites me. Whether its research or medicine, curiosity and science will keep me captivated enough to always enjoy what I study.


Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: The drug discovery section of the company I am currently at focuses on targeting signaling proteins involved in many kinds of cancers. Many of these signaling proteins are key regulators of important intracellular events that allow cell survival, programmed cell death, differentiation and proliferation. Most of the drugs being developed at the company are inhibitors of such pathways, and so the research I will be conducting in the summer will involve looking at inhibitors and there anti-oncogenic effects in particular cancer cell-lines.


Q: Favorite course you have taken in your degree so far?
A: I don’t like picking favorites, because I love all the courses I take. If I had to, BPK 305 (Human Physiology I) has been the best course I have taken to date. It is hard, challenging and intense. However, it is the most rewarding. You come out feeling saturated with relevant and useful information. I got to learn about cardiac physiology at the mechanical level and molecular level. I also got to learn about the vascular system and respiratory system in depth, and how it all helps keep you alive.


Q: Who is your science crush?
A: Dr. Amy Mainzer is among the top. She studies space in infrared! And she has had an asteroid named after her, how cool is that!?


Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, what would you be?
A: Most definitely an autoclave. Always eating, and then moody because I didn’t have enough to eat.
***For those who don’t know what an autoclave is, please see wikipedia link here.