Student Spotlight on Li Guo

Student Spotlight on Li Guo

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Li Guo, MD, is a 5th year PhD Student at Institute of Medical ScienceLi Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael’s Hospital

Supervisor: Dr. John Semple

By: Yekta Dowlati

As an only child of a traditional Chinese family, Li Guo was fascinated by the wonders and perils of nature and biology. Living with her grandparents, she witnessed a peril, as her grandfather suffered from diabetes. Li was admitted to the seven-year program in Clinical Medicine in Shandong University. It was during her clinical rotations in the Department of Hematology that she got inspired by Dr. Ming Hou, the director of the department, whom she describes, “was not only a physician, but also a great researcher, especially in the field of immune thrombocytopenia (ITP).” This motivation and enthusiasm led Li to be among the first applicants to the 2010 Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) at the Institute of Medical Science (IMS). She got accepted into the laboratory of Dr. John Semple and started evaluating  platelet transfusion therapy in murine model of ITP which had come out in 2009 and was quite novel. They had a preliminary trial of platelet transfusion therapy in the ITP mouse model, showing its immunomodulatory effect. Her abstract then got accepted for presentation at the American Society of Hematology’s (ASH) annual meeting. Li indicates, “I was super excited. I had a wonderful productive summer here, the project went so well, I learnt a lot and my abstract also got accepted.” Among her 200 medical student peers in China, she was the first one to attend an international conference.

Li received the Chinese Scholarship to pursue her PhD and contacted Dr. Semple to continue her work in ITP mouse model. She was accepted to IMS and started her PhD in 2011, “I struggled a bit leaving my family. My grandfather passed away in 2010. My grandmother was expecting me to graduate and practice in our hometown. I still applied for residency and got a position. But I decided to come here.” She is also the recipient of the prestigious Ontario Trillium Scholarship for four years.

Li is currently a fifth year PhD student. She has on two main projects, both of which are already complete. One evaluated whether allogeneic platelet transfusions may have a differential effect on the two immunopathologic forms of ITP. The results indicated that antibody-mediated ITP is resistant to allogeneic platelet transfusions, while the T-cell–mediated form of the disease is susceptible, suggesting that transfusion therapy may be beneficial in antibody-negative ITP. The results have been published in Blood. The other project evaluated the usage of Rituxan, a chimeric monoclonal antibody against the protein CD20 which destroys B cells, in a murine model of ITP. The results will be published soon.

Li is currently writing her thesis. Upon completing her PhD, she is interested in pursuing a post-doctoral position and returning to residency afterwards. With a medical license in China, she wishes to move back and help her community like Dr. Ming Hou. “I have always dreamed of a career path involving research and evaluating current treatments and investigating the pathogenesis of diseases to help with future guidelines,” Li explains.

Besides working on an ITP mouse model, Li has initiated the Esprit-libre book club. They have monthly gatherings, discussing a wide variety of books.

Li mentions the change in her vision as the most rewarding part of her education so far, “Since my SURP experience here and through my PhD, I am seeing how research happens and how the frontiers of research lead the field, us being among them. Then the vision changes, you don’t follow anymore, you lead. Also, I have personally flourished during my PhD. I have struggled a lot with my project, learnt to deal with failure, learnt to live independently, and proudly I am much stronger now.”