RIOT is made up of a dedicated group of volunteers who are specialists in the fields of cancer research. Learn more about their work and how they became involved with RIOT by browsing the following pages.

Garrett Bullivant, HBSc, PhD Candidate

garrett_bip_1969-2.jpgGarrett received his BSc from McMaster University with an honours specialization in Molecular Biology and Genetics. There, he began recognizing his keen interest in cancer research through an undergraduate thesis with Dr Jon Draper. His project focused on the canonical and non-canonical roles of TP53 in breast cancer.

Currently, Garrett is pursuing his PhD in Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto, working in the lab of Dr Peter Dirks. His project is focused on glioblastoma, which is the most common primary, malignant brain tumour. Specifically, he looks at how brain cancer cells are able to evade differentiation signals in order to sustain their uncontrolled cell division.

Garrett is passionate about sharing his expertise in cancer biology and mentoring young people interested in science. As such, Garrett has taken on the role of High School Talks lead for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Outside of the lab Garrett enjoys hiking, hockey, and following the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Dr Isabela Gonzaga, PhD.


Isabela received her Doctorate in Oncology from the Brazilian National Cancer Institute in 2018. Her thesis was aimed to characterize and investigate the therapeutic potential of cancer stem cells from esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, the 5th cause of death by cancer in Brazil. In 2017, she lived 6 months in Toronto for a collaboration in Dr Daniel de Carvalho’s Lab to test the efficacy of an epigenetic drug on esophageal cancer stem cells inhibition. After defending her thesis, she moved back to Toronto as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Dr Daniel de Carvalho’s Lab at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, where she is currently working on molecular mechanisms behind the combination of epigenetic and pro-apoptotic drugs in Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

Isabela is engaged in science communication since her time as an undergrad student: organizing conferences, summer-training program, events for High School students and elaborating an online platform to bring awareness about scientific advances. She joined as a RIOT member in 2019, working on website management and social media content.

Julia Jaramillo, BMSc, MSc Candidate

julia_bip_1773-e1551728677403.jpgJulia obtained her Bachelor of Medical Sciences degree from Western University, where she completed an honours specialization in Biochemistry. It was here that she became involved in scientific research, working in Dr Ilka Heinemann’s lab. Here, she investigated the regulation of RNA, an important intermediate between DNA and protein, using fission yeast as a model organism.

Julia is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree in Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto, working in the lab of Dr. Peter Dirks at the Hospital for Sick Children. Her project investigates Glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive primary brain cancer in adults. She is working to understand the functional differences between patients’ tumours to identify sensitivities that can be exploited for therapeutic purposes.

From organizing fundraising events to conducting research, Julia has actively pursued cancer research since she was a high school student. She is passionate about sharing knowledge and mentoring young people interested in science. 

Outside of the lab, Julia enjoys playing volleyball, traveling and spending time with family.

Dr Kinjal Desai, PhD.

desai_photoKinjal received her Bachelor of Science from St. Xavier’s College, India, and her Doctorate of Philosophy from Dartmouth College, USA. Her thesis work uncovered genetic changes that modified a key gene involved in breast cancer, which promotes progression of the disease. This fueled her interest in understanding how signals within a cell dictate how genes can be turned on or off in cancer. She is now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, where she works on medulloblastoma, the most commonly occurring malignant brain tumour in children. Her research goal is to learn more about the reliance of brain cancer cells on these key signals in order to develop potential treatments to treat brain cancer.

Kinjal believes that good research is incomplete without the effective communication of the scientific findings to the community at large and is excited to be an active participant at R.I.O.T.

Outside of research, Kinjal enjoys baking, tennis, and classical concerts.

Dr Patty Sachamitr, PhD.

Patty lab picture

Patty received her Doctorate in Stem Cell Biology and Immunology from the University of Oxford in 2016, where she investigated the differentiation of immune cells from stem cells for Immunotherapy.  She then moved from the UK to Toronto to pursue a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Dr Peter Dirks’ laboratory at the Hospital for Sick Children, where she was engaged in the discovery and validation of drugs for the treatment of  Glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive brain cancer in adults. She currently works as a Scientist in the Translation Immunology group at Bluerock Therapeutics, a Toronto-based cell therapy company.

During her Masters and PhD, Patty was actively involved in organizing conferences, networking events and communicating research. She believes that scientific outreach is key to increasing public awareness of the importance of scientific research and is essential to inspire young students to pursue STEM careers. Patty is currently one of the two coordinators of RIOT Toronto.

Outside the lab, Patty is passionate about yoga, scuba diving, travelling and cooking.

Rochelle McAdam, PhD candidate

bip_1835.jpgRochelle attended Queen’s University for her undergraduate degree and graduated with a Bachelor of Science, Specialization in Life Sciences. Her interest in research started at Queen’s when she undertook a thesis project in the Lab of Dr Michael Rauh where she studied mis-splicing events in Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia.

Rochelle is currently a PhD student in the Molecular Genetics Department at the University of Toronto and is jointly supervised by Drs Peter Dirks and Xi Huang. She uses drosophila, mouse, and cell culture techniques to study the role of membrane potential in the pediatric brain tumour medulloblastoma.

Since getting involved with cancer research, Rochelle has noticed gaps in the general public’s understanding of research initiatives. By working with RIOT, Rochelle hopes to help fill these gaps by engaging with the general public at educational events and writing informational blog posts about current cancer research initiatives.

Zeynep Kahramanoğlu, MSc.

bioriot.jpegZeynep received her BSc (Honours) at the University of Guelph, specializing in Molecular Biology and Genetics. Later, she earned her master’s degree in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine with a collaborative degree in Developmental Biology from Western University. Her master’s thesis focused on the effects of chemotherapy on late-stage ovarian cancer tumour cells and surrounding tumour blood vessels. Her experience as a researcher developed through several institutions including Mt. Sinai Hospital and the Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower, where she studied a variety of cancers such as osteosarcoma, melanoma and breast cancer. She currently works as a research technician in a tumour immunology lab.

Zeynep was also a member of the London RIOT team during her master’s studies. She is a passionate writer and enjoys writing about scientific concepts, research and discoveries. Zeynep is a firm believer in open and accurate communication between researchers and the general public, and as such, greatly values the RIOT initiative for community outreach.

In her spare time, she enjoys kickboxing, windsurfing and reviewing restaurants (as a completely unqualified food expert).

Megan DeWeerd, MSc Candidate

MeganDeWeerd (1)Megan received an Honours Bachelor of Medical Science in Biochemistry and Cancer Biology from Western University in 2019. She is currently a Master of Science candidate in Dr Robert Rottapel’s lab at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. Her research focuses on high-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSOC); almost every patient with this disease has a mutation in the same gene, known as TP53. Using a combination of analyses at the gene, RNA, and protein levels, Megan hopes to uncover cellular pathways that are reprogrammed by these mutations, which may lead to new therapeutic targets for ovarian cancer treatment.

Megan has been involved with the Canadian Cancer Society as an executive member of her high school’s Relay for Life committee, as a member of London’s RIOT team during her undergraduate degree, and finally joined the Toronto RIOT team in September 2019. She is passionate about cancer research and science education.

Outside the lab, Megan enjoys baking, reading, attending concerts, and hiking.

Jenna Park, BHSc, MSc Candidate

jennaJenna received her Bachelor of Health Sciences at the University of Calgary, specializing in Biomedical Sciences. It wasn’t until the summer before her final year where she really began to explore her passion in cancer research. Her Honour’s Thesis project focused on glioblastoma immunology, and she enthusiastically brought her passions in pediatric cancer to her current Master’s work. At SickKids with the University of Toronto, she is currently investigating why neuroblastoma moves to the bone and the brain, making this a deadly cancer for children. 

Jenna is a huge advocate for effective scientific communication, in any medium. She noticed some gaps between active scientific research and the community at large, so through RIOT, she hopes to fill these gaps and de-bunk any myths, provide lots of cool information in a lay language, and help engage everyone through science.

Outside of lab, Jenna loves anything food-related, traveling, spending time with friends and family, and staying active through volleyball and boxing.

Katelyn Kozma, PhD candidate

KatelynKozmaKatelyn Kozma is a PhD student in the department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto. Her research interests lie in the field of cancer and genetics. Katelyn’s thesis project involves using mouse models of breast cancer to identify and characterize mutations which promote disease spread and metastasis. Metastasis is the process whereby cells detach from their primary tumor and take over distant organs (eg. brain, liver, lungs). Since they difficult to harvest substantially less is known about them compared to tumors that grow in the primary tissue (breast). Since metastatic lesions are often genetically dissimilar from their originating mammary tumor, identification of such mutations will potentially enable identification of new therapeutic targets.

Outside of the lab, Katelyn enjoys baking, running and skiing.

Cornelia Redel, PhD candidate

connyCornelia obtained a BSc and MSc in Biochemistry from the Julius-Maximilian University of Würzburg, Germany, where she studied Biochemistry with a focus on molecular and structural biology. During this time, she first encountered and worked on the oncogene MYC, a protein that has functions in tumour development, progression and severity across many human cancer types. Her fascination with this protein continues today, as she is currently pursuing a PhD in the Department of Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto, working on ways to inhibit MYC in cancers.

Cornelia has always been interested in communicating research and inspiring others with the fascinating world of molecular biology. Joining Toronto RIOT in January 2020 helped her to fulfill this passion.

When she is not in the lab, she likes to play volleyball, go hiking, bake goodies for her friends and travel the world.

List of Past Members who contributed for RIOT in Toronto.