SFU Undergraduate Researcher: Aleksandra Dojnov

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


Name: Aleksandra Dojnov
Year: 3rd Year
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?


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 Undergrad Researcher: Tiffany Barszczewski

Introducing Tiffany Barszczewski from the Department of Biomedical Physiology!


Name: Tiffany Barszczewski
Year: 3rd year
Major: Biomedical Physiology
Supervisor: Dr. Glen Tibbits

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: I think, more than anything else, I want to be a mother. A good one. Both of my parents worked really hard to come to Canada and to establish themselves here. Despite their challenges, they raised three healthy, loving children. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I will be able to balance family life with practicing medicine, becoming a professor, or whatever else I might decide to do. It will come with its trials and hurdles, but I believe it is possible to find that balance between what I want at home and what I want as a professional.

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I had recently switched into the Biomedical Physiology program and wanted to be a more involved student. A friend recommended I email some professors in the department to see if they needed help in their labs. I looked up the research profiles of the professors, and I was interested in almost all of them, so I sent quite a few emails asking if anyone needed a volunteer in the lab for the summer. I received a lot of polite no’s, which I totally understood: I had only taken one course in BPK, my GPA wasn’t the most coveted, and I was just at the end of my second year. Did I seem promising over email? Probably not. When I received a reply from Dr. Glen Tibbits to meet and get acquainted with two of his PhD students, I was shocked. The learning experience I had that summer was one that I will never forget. I began to really see the meaningful purpose behind the research going on in the lab, and I even got my name on a poster they presented at a conference in Copenhagen! Currently, I am completing a Directed Studies semester with my mentor (Alison, you’re the best!), and will soon be presenting my own research poster at BPK Research Day.

Q: What have you been working on in your research so far?
A: Cardiac troponin complex plays a significant role in regulating contractile strength of the heart through calcium (Ca)-binding. Some mutations in troponin’s three subunits can alter this property of the cardiomyocytes, leading to arrhythmias and, even more unfortunately, sudden cardiac death. I perform E. coli recombinant methods and purify the troponin subunits with a couple of mutations using various chromatography techniques. I will eventually combine these subunits together to make reconstituted thin filament and examine the changes in Ca binding kinetics of mutations in the thin filament using stopped-flow apparatus. The mutations I am looking at are related to the sudden infant death syndrome research Tibbits Lab has been working on. Going back to wanting to be a good mother one day, some people do not have it as easy. Some only get a few days or months to be parents before their children pass away unexpectedly. Was it something they had done? Could there have been a way to prevent this from happening? Will this happen again the next time they have a baby? The answer is still unknown, and I cannot imagine the pain these people must go through, topped with a lack of closure. I hope to see promise in the future for SIDS research so these parents can get the answers they deserve.

Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: I’ll be studying for the MCAT. I have tried to push the thought of it out of my mind. I hope to pop into the lab a couple times a week too. I love being able to clear my head a bit by doing some pipetting here and there, and I’d probably miss the smell of me killing E. coli with bleach.

Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Marie Curie. Truly a legend. Two Nobels, died by her life’s work, and a woman of science pushing through a time where the world was much less friendly towards women. She’s also Polish, like me. Whenever Marie is mentioned in class or in a textbook, I can’t help but smile.

Q: What scares you the most in the lab or the field?
A: The first thing that came to mind was the Bunsen burner. Fire scares me, but I have to work closely with the flame when I’m working with E. Coli. Honestly though, I am afraid of letting Dr. Tibbits down. I’ve worked really hard to understand the background material related to our research, especially because when I started volunteering, I hadn’t taken his course or any other higher physiology courses. He probably does not have super high expectations for me, but I constantly want to show him my growth, hard work, and passion for learning.

Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: The -80 C fridge? It’s not really a lab instrument, but I guess I can relate to it the most. Pretty cold, keeps things pent up inside for a really long time, and ruins people’s lives when it stops working properly.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Ruvini Amarasekera

Next up in our series of brilliant SFU researchers, we have Ruvini Amarasekera of the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology!

Name: Ruvini Amarasekera
Year of Study: 2nd
Major: Biomedical Physiology
PI: Dr. Maureen Ashe, Center for Hip Health and Mobility

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I wanted to work in a lab that took a new perspective on healthcare; somewhere I could apply both my physiology and psychology background- and this is what I found! Many people have the misconception that research only entails sitting at a bench pipetting all day, but there is also a clinical side where there’s an opportunity to interact directly with subjects. Research is a very broad field of work and there is something for everyone!
Q: What is your research about?
A: Our research focuses on the psychosocial determinants of health; essentially we realize that healthcare goes far beyond hospitals and doctors’ offices, and we are looking into what those factors are. We want to shift healthcare and medicine to a preventative approach; we want to change the way people live so that they don’t get sick in the first place, instead of only treating people once they are already sick!
Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: This summer I’m very excited to be taking on a project where I’ll be exploring the influence of built and social environments on community mobility, specifically for older adults living in rural communities.
Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: Every day varies; there are some days where I am sitting at a computer doing preliminary data research on the communities we will be studying, there are days where I’m working very closely with my professor or grad students, and in the summer I’ll be going out to these rural communities to work directly with our subjects.
Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Currently, Marc Lewis. I’m reading a book authored by him called “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease” where he presents quite a controversial model of addiction. Lewis is a neuroscientist but perhaps more interestingly, a former addict and he asks the tough questions about how we frame mental illnesses (specifically, addiction). He focuses on the intersections of neurophysiology and sociology and really is making me think about the overlap between the two.

SFU Undergrad Researcher: Nancy Lum

For our next entry in our series of intellectual undergrad investigators, we have Nancy Lum of the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology!

Name: Nancy Lum
Department: Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology
Year of Study: 3rd
Supervisor: Dr. Glen Tibbits

Photo (from left to right) : Marvin Gunawan, Sanam Shafaattalab, Nancy Lum, Frederico Lisboa, Sabi Sangha, Alison Li

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: One day I hope to be a pediatrician to support the physical and mental health of children and youth!
Q: What have you been working on in your research so far?
A: The Tibbits lab works with human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. In other words, we can grab a patient’s blood sample, take the T cells, give them a bunch of molecules called the Yamanaka factors, and reprogram them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). This means that they can differentiate into a number of other cells – kidney cells, neurons, and cardiomyocytes. Our lab is currently focusing on differentiating them into cardiomyocytes and using them as a disease model to study inherited arrhythmias. This has been fondly dubbed “disease in a dish.” It is pretty amazing to see the heart cells actually beating in a concerted way in a petri dish at 60-80 bpm, like a regular heart does!How do I fit into this? When we turn our iPSCs into cardiomyocytes, they can turn into ventricular, atrial, and nodal cells. I optimized an quantitative PCR assay that will help determine what the dominant type of cells are in our little petri dishes. After all, if we’re studying an arrhythmia like atrial fibrillation, we need to make sure that the cells are predominantly atrial. The hope is that we can use this technique to optimize our differentiation methods to yield mostly ventricular, mostly atrial, or mostly nodal cells.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: My favourite so far has been BPK 412 – Molecular Cardiac Physiology with Dr. Glen Tibbits. Barring the fact that I’m probably biased because Dr. Tibbits is my PI and because he has a wicked sense of humour, BPK 412 gives you an awesome look into the world of cardiac research, giving a thorough discussion of the current knowledge of cardiac ion channels, which dictate how our hearts beat. Plus, Dr. Tibbits goes in depth about the research done to figure these things out, and it’s just fascinating.

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?
Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: A multichannel pipette!