Ayah Abdeldayem is a second year undergraduate student at the University of Toronto Mississauga. She is currently a double major in Biology for Health Science and Chemistry. She hopes to pursue a career in cancer research, and is passionate about further developing her knowledge on the biology of cancer as well as the impact of cancer on those affected by this disease. Through the process of volunteering with the RIOT team, she hopes to gain valuable communication skills that will allow her to inform people of the importance of cancer research and its impacts, in hopes to one day become a researcher and make an impact herself.
Steven Choi started volunteering for the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) in June 2014. He has played various roles in a number of CCS events. Steven has become interested in cancer research through volunteer experiences that have led him to become a RIOT member.
Steven is currently enrolled at the University of Toronto, studying biochemistry, chemistry, and psychology. He is a member of the Association of Korean-Canadian Scientists and Engineers (AKCSE) chapter at UofT, as well as a volunteer at CCS and at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Steven has a strong interest in science and medicine, which have motivated him to explore research opportunities to further broaden his knowledge and help the science community.
Douglas is currently a research assistant working in Dr. Pamela Ohashi’s Lab at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. He recently received his Honours Bachelors of Science at McMaster University with a double major in biology and psychology, and minor in biochemistry. Douglas aspires to become a neuro-oncologist and a scientist conducting research in cancer immunotherapy, a type of treatment that uses a person’s immune system to fight cancer. He is currently interested in exploring methods to increase effectiveness of T cell immune therapies against cancer by overcoming the ways that tumours suppress the immune system. Through a collaboration with other scientists, he is also studying the role immune cells play when they are situated within ovarian tumours. Beyond lab work, Douglas also has a passion for community outreach and science communication. Through RIOT, he wishes to increase accessibility of findings from current cancer research to patients, their families, and the community at large. Douglas is also a rock climbing enthusiast, a competitive fencing athlete, and a pilot.
Dan Cojocari, H.BSc. PhD Candidate, Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto
Dan Cojocari received his Honours Bachelor of Science specializing in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from University of Toronto. There he became interested in medical research while working on his senior thesis project in Dr. Henderson’s group at the Faculty of Pharmacy. During this time he appreciated the importance of discovering the next generation of cancer therapeutics.
Dan has been involved in cancer research for the past five years in Dr. Brad Wouters group at Princess Margaret Cancer Center while pursing his doctoral degree from the Faculty of Medicine at University of Toronto. He has been investigating the importance of molecular pathways that help pancreatic cancer cells survive the harsh tumour environment. Specifically, low oxygen niche in tumours is known to promote resistance to radiotherapy, aggressive disease, and poor patient survival. His work helped identify and characterize new therapeutic targets that could lead to the rapid development of drugs through the Toronto Recombinant Antibody Center and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. As part of a team, he has also helped establish a new cancer metabolism service at the Princess Margaret Cancer Center. This service has helped many scientists investigate the metabolism of various cancers, leading to collaborative projects and publication of a number of significant discoveries for cancer types such as breast cancer and leukemia.
While looking for ways to contribute to the cancer research community he recently joined RIOT group. He hopes to make cancer research information more clear and accessible to the public, and would like to promote the health and economic benefits of research funding. You can check out his lab’s website here.
Dr. Kinjal Desai, Ph.D.
Kinjal 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 fuelled her interest in understanding how signals within a cell dictate how genes can 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. Ryan Dowling, PhD.
Dr. Ryan Dowling, a research associate at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, is studying whether metformin, a drug typically used for Type II diabetes, is an effective cancer treatment. His research involves not only basic research, which uses cell culture models, but also breast cancer tissues from human patients who are involved in clinical trials featuring metformin. Ryan’s long-term research goal is to determine which patients would benefit most from metformin treatment.
Ryan received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Guelph and completed his PhD in Biochemistry at McGill University. In 2009, he accepted a post-doctoral position at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, to help coordinate clinical trials assessing the effectiveness of metformin in the treatment of breast cancer. Ryan has over 13 years of research experience, and has published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles in some of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals, including Nature and Science. He has also presented his work at several international scientific conferences. Ryan has been a volunteer with the Canadian Cancer Society since 2010 and has been actively involved in community outreach and Relay for Life.
Mathew Hall, MSc.
Mathew Hall is a researcher currently working in Dr. Brent Derry’s lab at the Hospital for Sick Children. He uses a non-human species, the worm called Caenorhabditis elegans, to understand how cancer genes work. By introducing mutations that cause human cancer in the worms, he is able to study how the genes affected by these mutations alter fundamental biology – turning normal growth into abnormal growth. In doing so, he learns how to suppress these changes and is currently working on a project that shows how this can be applied to human cancers. Mathew received his Master of Science from the University of Toronto in 2014 and his Bachelor of Science in 2010 from Western University.
James SeongJun Han, H.BSc., MSc. Candidate, Department of Immunology, University of Toronto
James completed his undergraduate degree in McMaster’s Integrated Science program, and is currently in his first year of graduate studies at the University of Toronto. He is currently conducting cancer research at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, under the supervision of Dr. P. Ohashi. His research focuses on understanding the ways in which T cells, which are immune cells important in combating against cancer, fight back against immune cells that try to suppress the ability of T cells to fight off cancer. Using the immune system to fight cancer is a promising new line of cancer treatment. James hopes that his research will help to generate T cells that can overcome any resistance signals from other immune cells and the tumour surroundings. This approach would likely enhance the effectiveness of current immunotherapies. James is actively engaged in numerous non-profit organizations and community-based initiatives. One of his focuses involves inspiring and engaging university students and young professionals in science through international leadership conferences, leadership competitions and workshops to generate future leaders of Canada. He is currently serving as the president of the Young Generation National, a national governing body of the Association of Korean-Canadian Scientists & Engineers’ university chapters distributed across Canada. James joined RIOT because he sees significant value in communication between the general public and researchers, and he also finds passion in talking about up-to-date research to the general public. He enjoys traveling in his spare time.
Ashley Hickman, H. BSc, MSc Candidate, Department of Medical Biophysics,University of Toronto.
Ashley received a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Biochemistry from Queen’s University in 2013. She is currently in her second year of her Master’s in Medical Biophysics, and hopes to transition to a PhD soon. Her current research focuses on identifying new ways to inhibit the Myc oncoprotein in cancer. The Myc oncoprotein is a key player in over 50% of all cancers, however it’s very difficult to target directly. By looking for vulnerabilities in how this protein is regulated in cells, it may be possible to find new ways to bring Myc levels in cancer cells back to normal, thereby halting cancer in its tracks. She has just recently become a member of the RIOT team, and looks forward to contributing her knowledge and passion to this cause. When she’s not running between her Sunnybrook Research Institute lab and her Ontario Cancer Institute lab, Ashley enjoys cooking, travelling and knitting.
Kevin Lan, H.BSc, PhD Candidate, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto
Kevin completed a Honour’s Bachelor of Science at the University of Toronto, where he learned about cancer research through a 4th year independent research project under the supervision of Dr. Jason Moffat. During this time he also developed an interest in the intersection of computer science and medicine, and the potential for genomics to further our understanding of basic tumour biology. He is now finishing a PhD degree in the lab of Dr. Peter Dirks at The Hospital for Sick Children. His project is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and is focused on understanding how human glioblastoma tumours escape frontline therapies and develop recurrences which are drug resistant. Kevin is especially excited to work with such a group of bright and motivated individuals as the Research Information Outreach Team, and look forward to discussing cancer research with communities in Toronto.
Joseph Longo, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto
Joseph received his Bachelor of Science degree from the Honours Molecular Biology and Genetics program at McMaster University, and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in the Department of Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto. Under the supervision of Dr. Linda Penn at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Joseph is studying whether statins, a family of drugs commonly prescribed for the management of high cholesterol, can be used to treat cancer. He is using both cell line and patient-derived tissue models to identify the types of cancer that are most sensitive to statins, and how to maximize the anti-cancer potential of statins without harming normal cells.
Joseph joined the Toronto RIOT team because he believes that progress in cancer research should be communicated to the general public in a way that is clear and easy to understand. Through volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and RIOT, Joseph hopes to promote awareness of the cancer research being conducted across Canada and around the world, and effectively communicate the relevance of this research to society.
Outside of the lab, Joseph is an avid swimmer and enjoys reading and traveling.
Sangeetha Paramathas, H.BSc, PhD Candidate, The Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto
Sangeetha completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto in immunology and cell biology. She is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Toronto, in the Department of Medical Biophysics under the supervision of Dr. David Malkin at the Hospital for Sick Children. Her current research work involves identifying and testing the use of liquid biopsies as a way to detect and manage cancer. Liquid biopsies, most notably blood tests, are a promising way to monitor and identify cancers by characterizing free-floating cancer cells and/or tumour DNA in the bloodstream. Sangeetha is testing this technique specifically for the hereditary cancer syndrome, Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (LFS). Through her research, Sangeetha hopes that this highly sensitive and specific way to screen for cancer will enable earlier detection and diagnosis of cancers in patients who have a very high risk of developing cancers.
Sangeetha is actively involved in the non-profit sector through many different initiatives. She is involved with science outreach with the charity S.E.E.D.S., which offers life science education to youth across Ontario to aid in the empowerment and development of health leaders and advocates through social innovation. Funnily, just when she was looking for outreach initiatives related to cancer research, she discovered the RIOT team and jumped at the opportunity. Through RIOT, she is able to share her work as a cancer researcher and speak to cancer research with various members of the community through workshops, presentations and blogs. She hopes to share the notion that cancer research is an ever-changing field with cool science being performed on a daily basis!
Nicole Park, MSc. PhD Candidate, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto.
Nicole Park has researched breast and brain cancer for the past 8 years. She completed her Bachelor of Science at Queen’s University and obtained her master’s degree from Western University where she used computational methods to study genes from hundreds of breast cancer patients. She is currently pursuing her doctorate degree researching cancer stem cells in the most common and aggressive form of adult brain cancer called glioblastoma.
Nicole has been actively engaged in the community and volunteering for events selling 50/50 raffle tickets in support of The Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, speaking at the OneRun School Outreach Program, and teaching local high school students at the TD Discovery Day during Health Sciences events. Through her involvement in RIOT and other volunteer activities, Nicole is pursuing her goal to give back to the community as an ambassador of cancer research. She is excited to be a part of RIOT and has also initiated a new student group at the University of Toronto called “The Cancer Outreach Program” which aims to foster interactions between student cancer researchers and the public.
Michael Pryszlak, H.BSc. PhD Candidate, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto.
Michael received an Honours Bachelor of Science from the University of Toronto in Cell & Molecular Biology and Human Biology in 2013. He is currently in the fourth year of his PhD in Molecular Genetics, also at the University of Toronto. His research focuses on the idea that genes that regulate stem cells are conserved throughout evolution and become dysregulated in cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells are thought to be responsible for initiating tumour growth and causing tumour relapse. Mike is trying to further our understanding of how these genes work to design treatments focused on targeting cancer stem cells. By targeting cancer stem cells, it may be possible to treat cancer more successfully and prevent cancer from returning after treatment.
Mike is of the belief that science should always be presented in a way that anyone can understand it and has always sought out opportunities to lend his expertise to make it so. “If you can’t explain what you’re doing simply, you don’t understand it well enough yourself!” For this reason, Mike decided to volunteer for the Canadian Cancer Society, specifically with the RIOT team.
Outside of the lab, Mike is interested in anything and everything related to Sherlock Holmes, Superman and triathlons.
Nandini Raghuram, H.BSc. PhD Candidate, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto.
Nandini received her Bachelor of Science from the University of British Columbia in Cell and Developmental Biology in 2011. She is currently in the fourth year of her PhD at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on developing mouse models of breast cancers to understand how certain types of breast cancer develop. By doing so, her work will help us understand these different forms of the disease and eventually could lead to better, more effective therapies. Her projects are funded by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society. In the past, Nandini has been invited by the Canadian Cancer Society to speak at fundraising events about her research and thoroughly enjoyed it. Therefore when the opportunity to join RIOT arose she jumped at it. She believes that communication between scientists and the public is essential for increasing awareness and knowledge about cancer. In her spare time, Nandini likes to discover the eclectic cuisines found in Toronto as well as get in a couple of games of tennis each week.
Dr. Katherine Rowland, PhD.
After completing both an Honour’s Bachelor of Science and a PhD degree at the University of Toronto, Katie started a post-doctoral fellowship at the Hospital for Sick Children in 2011, where her interest lies in the field of cancer stem cells, which are the specific cancer cells thought to be responsible for tumour growth, drug resistance and relapse. Katie has been a researcher in the areas of cancer and stem cells for 10 years with a specific focus on the brain and gut. During her graduate studies, she created an animal model through collaboration with scientists at Marie Curie Institute, Paris and Harvard to study how a certain class of drugs specifically work and their effects on intestinal growth. Her current research focuses on discovering new drugs and understanding how a certain type of brain cancer, called glioblastoma, develops. Her projects are funded by Brain Canada, CIBC and the Canadian Cancer Society. As a volunteer with the Society, Katie wishes to educate and speak about cancer research and cancer prevention through community outreach.
Outside of time in the lab, Katie enjoys taking part with Team Fortesque in the annual Terry Fox Run as well as spinning classes at the gym.
Natalia Ruiz, MSc.
Natalia Ruiz recently joined the Canadian Cancer Society’s RIOT program to share her knowledge and expertise in cancer research with a wide audience. Originally from Colombia, she received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Ottawa in Health Sciences and a Master of Science in Genetics from the University of Toronto. In 2010 Natalia became involved in cancer research at Sick Kids Hospital. She studies cooperation between different changes in genes, which give rise to the most aggressive and metastatic forms of breast cancer. This type of work is significant because it informs the development of future therapies. In her spare time Natalia likes to travel and discover new places as well as try different dance styles. She is happy to be part of the RIOT team and excited to bring cancer awareness to the public.
Dr. Patty Sachamitr, PhD
Patty received her Master’s of Science from University of York, UK in 2011 and a Doctorate in Philosophy 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 HIV-1 immunotherapy. She is currently a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow working jointly in Dr. Peter Dirks’ lab at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and at the Structural Genomics Consortium. She is currently engaged in the discovery and validation of drugs for the treatment of Glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive brain cancer in adults.
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.
Outside the lab, Patty is passionate about yoga, scuba diving, travelling and cooking.
Nathan Schachter, H.BSc. PhD Candidate, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto
After completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Western Ontario in 2009, Nathan began studying breast cancer at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. His PhD project, funded by the Terry Fox Research Institute and the Ontario Provincial Government, aims to identify mutations that cause breast tumors to spread to other areas of the body. These findings are expected to aid the development of therapies to treat the most lethal stage of breast cancer— when cancer cells have traveled away from the breast and established themselves in distant organs, such as the lung. Nathan’s scientific expertise is in animal models of cancer and molecular biology.
Outside the lab, Nathan enjoys watching and re-watching episodes of Suits, volunteering, and working off stress at the gym. He’s also a big movie buff. Nathan is very excited to have joined the RIOT team early in November, 2014.
Colin Seepersad, MSc.
Colin Seepersad is a new and enthusiastic member of RIOT. He studied Molecular Biology at the University of Toronto and completed his master’s degree in Cell & Systems Biology in 2011. His research career began in a neuroscience lab investigating the cellular response following a stroke. Moving abroad, Colin spent some time living and working in Oxford at the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Oxford where he studied the proteins bacteria use to cope with stress. Returning home, Colin continued to pursue his interests in research, but also began splitting his focus with a long-time passion for photography and film. Now living in the heart of Toronto, Colin wishes to share his passion for research through RIOT and help promote and educate others about funded research.
Dr. Martin Smith, PhD.
After looking around and realizing that cancer has an impact on so many people across Canada, Dr. Martin Smith took on a PhD at the University of Waterloo, where he studied biochemistry and how proteins can lead to cancer. Then, joining SickKids, Martin worked as a postdoctoral fellow to continue his research and develop his skills in cancer biochemistry and protein structure. As part of this exciting collaboration, Martin studied the structure of the protein called vacA, from the bacteria Helicobacter pylori. Successfully finishing his postdoctoral fellowship, Martin joined The Ontario Brain Institute where he works with researchers to study brain disease. Martin joined the RIOT team because it brings together his passion for science and communication. Outside the RIOT, he puts his biochemistry to work by learning about the culinary arts and fermentation techniques.
Dr. Katie Wright, PhD.
Katie Wright completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Life Sciences at Queen’s University in 2006, where she became interested in molecular biology, leading her to pursue graduate studies at the University of Toronto. She completed her PhD in 2014, during which she developed breast cancer models in mice and identified how certain genes work together to cause the spread of cancer cells leading to what is known as ‘metastasis’. Currently Katie shares her passion for science by working as a teacher, educating undergraduate students in biology and biochemistry.
Katie has been involved in various science outreach initiatives throughout her time at the University of Toronto, including SciHigh, Let’s Talk Science, StemCellTalks, and most notably as the Head program Liaison for Science Rendezvous in 2014. She is excited to bring her cancer research and outreach expertise to RIOT in order to promote public understanding of the importance of research for development of new therapies and improvement of the quality of life of cancer patients. In her spare time, Katie enjoys staying active with long distance running and yoga, and loves to cook and try out new recipes.
Stéfanie Fréel, MGA, H.BSc.
Stéfanie Fréel holds an Honours Bachelor of Science and a Master of Global Affairs from the University of Toronto. During her graduate studies, she focused on global health and international development policy and completed an internship at the German Federal Foreign Ministry in Berlin, Germany. Having worked at the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, Stéfanie has experience in clinical psychiatric research and has held a number of positions in the field of global health with the Centre for Global eHealth Innovation, Dignitas International and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). She has also consulted for the Institute for Conflict Related Trauma (ICRT), a non-governmental organization based in Northern Ireland, and has volunteered with various community-based and government funded healthcare organizations, including the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre and the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. Currently, Stéfanie works as a Senior Advisor for the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, where she leads the implementation of performance measurement frameworks and strategic policy initiatives. As the Chair of RIOT, she looks forward to bringing cancer research closer to the public by enhancing the teams’ profile and showcasing the work of RIOT’s talented cancer researchers.
Dr. Kelly Fathers, PhD.
Dr. Kelly Fathers, Senior Manager, Research Communications, has been with the Canadian Cancer Society since March 2014. Her role is focused on promoting Society-funded research and impact, as well as establishing collaborations between the Society and its funded researchers to support initiatives, such as cancer prevention and advocacy.
Kelly received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Guelph, and completed her PhD in breast cancer research at McGill University. In 2009, she accepted a post-doctoral position at the Hospital for Sick Children, where she studied a rare but deadly form of childhood cancer called neuroblastoma. During her 12 years as a cancer researcher, Kelly studied how cancer spreads from one part of the body to another, a process called metastasis. She published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and presented her work at several international scientific conferences. She also volunteered with the Canadian Cancer Society and the James Fund for Neuroblastoma Research, performing community outreach specifically focused on cancer and its research.
Originally from Windsor, Kelly now lives in Oakville with her husband Ryan, himself a cancer researcher, and their daughter Alyssa.