Student Spotlight on Brent Bates

Student Spotlight on Brent Bates

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By: Sarah Peters

Spotlight: Brent Bates, 2nd year MSc Student, Institute of Medical Science
Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science, St. Michael’s Hospital
Supervisors: Dr. Emil Schemitsch & Dr. Aaron Nauth

If there is anyone who understands the principles of problem solving, it is Brent Bates: a second year Master’s student in the Institute of Medical Science (IMS). As a varsity track coach, Brent’s unique ability to identify problems and implement suggestions for improvement has proved to be greatly beneficial both on the track as well as in his own area of research. Despite having practice-packed evenings, spending long days in the lab, and working on his final thesis, Brent found time to share his insights on academics, athletics, and crossovers between fields.

Brent’s name may sound familiar: he leads the IMS Run Club, an organization often advertised in the IMS Students’ Association’s weekly emails. Believing this position to require a heavy time commitment, I was surprised to find out that in addition to this role, Brent also coaches the University of Toronto (U of T) Varsity track team. He certainly has the qualifications: as an undergraduate athlete at Western University, Brent played an integral role in securing Western’s Men’s Track and Field Team their first national title. Brent also placed 6th in Canada at the 2012 Olympic Track and Field Trials; with a smile, he remarked that his university’s win was more exciting.

With his keen interest in sport and apparent Western pride, I wondered how Brent had found his way into research at U of T.

“About 6 months after the Olympic trials, I injured my knee. Then I started thinking—well, maybe I can’t focus only on athletics.”

In the same breath—and without showing any signs of discouragement—Brent went on to describe his injury as an inspiration to venture in a different direction, and the stellar reputation of graduate research at the IMS attracted him to Toronto. Having completed a 4th year thesis in a neurovascular physiology lab and a summer research project with a sports physician, Brent shifted his passion for biomechanics and kinesiology from the track to the lab, bringing with him important principles gleaned from years of competition.

“People think that track is a very individual sport and all you do is run around in circles, but when you run around in circles five days a week, you get used to…always pushing to go a little faster and a little farther.”

This attitude is especially important when it comes to Brent’s research, which requires intricate manipulations and lots of patience. His lab at St. Michael’s Hospital focuses on developing endothelial progenitor cell (EPC) and mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapies for fracture healing. By treating bone defects with EPCs loaded onto a collagen scaffold, Brent and his colleagues have demonstrated their role in stimulating vasculature replenishment that ultimately aids in bone healing. Although his lab currently works with rodents, Brent’s team is rapidly approaching using larger models to understand how similar therapies can be used clinically to treat large, complex fractures.

Due to the detailed nature of Brent’s research, I wondered about his thoughts on how these findings should be shared with target audiences. Drawing from his experience coaching high caliber athletes, Brent is well acquainted with the importance of effective communication. In orthopaedics specifically, publishing and presenting are great ways to foster collaboration between researchers; he adds that anything that can be applied without expert knowledge should be shared with the general public. However, Brent understands that in many cases it is most effective to communicate directly with clinicians and researchers whose practice could change as a result of scientific findings. Over the next few weeks, Brent will put this opinion into practice by presenting posters at both the Collaborative Program in Musculoskeletal Science Research Day and the Annual Meeting of the Orthopaedic Research Society.

The journey from ethics proposals and study designs to interdisciplinary meetings and poster presentations can be strenuous, and Brent is familiar with certain challenges that can arise in research: he is currently handling a higher than usual number of animals due to a few setbacks faced during his first year in IMS. He expressed an opinion that it can be frustrating if research outcomes do not come to fruition after a first attempt, but these frustrations make research and science unique:

“That’s part of the whole process—trying to get things to work. You have to stay positive, keep trying, and [go] back to the literature a lot.”

Brent’s attitude of persistence and dedication is partially attributed to his years of running and coaching, but also comes from connections he has made during his time at U of T. In niche areas of research, it is critical to forge connections with scientists in different areas who can offer varying perspectives on tough questions:

“IMS is very unique because it [has] such a wide spectrum of researchers, scientists, and students. If you want to branch out to another area or…talk to someone about a different technique, you can.”

With regards to the future, Brent hopes to pursue a career in medicine—but he is absolutely dedicated to continuing his involvement in research along the way. His personal experiences with athletics, injury, and orthopaedics have generated a keen interest in delving further into orthopaedic trauma, surgery, or sports medicine. Brent’s aspirations in research are analogous to his attitude as a track coach: practical and problem-oriented. As a coach, Brent works to identify minute technical details that require adjustment to achieve better results; as a future clinician-scientist, Brent hopes to spend time in clinical practice before delving into a PhD so that he can identify relevant problems to address in his research.

After hearing about Brent’s clinical, academic, and athletic experiences, it is evident that he has the tools and the drive necessary to implement change in his field. He has found a comfortable balance between passion and skill; he strives to use his knowledge to constantly foster positive change in his team, his research techniques, and the medical field. Importantly, IMS has provided Brent with an appreciation for translational research:

“Everything nowadays is multidisciplinary and you need to have connections in multiple areas in order to make a strong impact… Use the tools that IMS gives you to create a network for yourself—not just in your own field, but in other[s] as well.”