The 2019 IMS Scientific Day

The 2019 IMS Scientific Day

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BY: Shahrzad Firouzian
Photo BY: Nathan Chan


On May 14, 2019, the Institute of Medical Science (IMS) at the University of Toronto (UofT) held another successful scientific day, showcasing student and faculty achievements in research. It was a day of engaging talks, poster presentations, student competitions, and celebrating research achievements.

As usual, the morning was a busy time of poster set-up; many students were at their posters, practicing their presentations for the Alan Wu Poster Competition. This competition awards the two most outstanding posters, as determined by a team of judges who review and rank the presentations. This year’s winners are Lina Elfaki and Sara Mirali—Congratulations!

The first talk of the day was given by the IMS Director, Dr. Mingyao Liu, who spoke of the recent five-year external review of IMS, and the new strategic plan that resulted, whereby a new active strategic planning committee and associated strategic planning working groups will be launched. His talk was a great reflection of the collective effort from students and faculty in enhancing IMS programs.

For this annual event, the keynote lecture was created in honour of Dr. Bernard Langer. Dr. Langer was the Chair of the Department of Surgery at UofT, and during this time, he established the Surgeon-Scientist training program. This year, Dr. Dongeun Dan Huh presented the keynote talk. Dr. Huh is the Assistant Professor and the Wilf Family Term Endowed Chair in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. He is internationally recognized for pioneering “organ-on-a-chip” technology, and his lab develops microfabricated devices to mimic human cells, structures, and environments. His research team developed devices to mimic lungs, in the form of human-breathing lung-on-a-chip, which has allowed them to study lung disease models. Additionally, his cancer immunotherapy project involved mimicking the vasculature necessary to perfuse tumour cells. His lab also engineered human blinking-eye-on-a-chip to study dry eye disease which mimics the blinking behavior of humans. Although the “organ-on-a-chip” requires a lot of data, it can be used to study a multitude of different disease states and paves the way to personalized medicine by using patient cells as part of the bioengineering technology.

In the course of his educational training, Dr. Huh transitioned from mechanical engineering to biomedical engineering, which require different mindsets. The combination of the two however allowed his team to engineer a robotic hole-punching device that assisted their bioengineering goals. His team’s work led him to receiving the Lush Science Prize from the Lush cosmetics company, which acknowledged his work supporting alternatives to animal testing. However, questions may arise on how investigators can determine if testing on chips is biologically valid with respect to the human body.  Nevertheless, his work is clear evidence that Dr. Huh has made a great impact on the scientific community, so much so, that funding from NIH allowed him to launch his organ-on-a-chip devices to the International Space Station! In early May 2019, Dr. Huh was able to watch his chips launch from earth. The purpose of this project is to address infections in space, because immunosuppression in space is a concern for astronauts. The chips are to be infected in space, and then returned to Dr. Huh’s lab for analysis of results.

Following lunch, the Jack Laidlaw Manuscript Competition was held and won by Uswa Shahzad. This competition was created to honour Dr. Jack Laidlaw, who was the first director of IMS. The competition was followed by Data Blitz Talks, which consisted of three concurrent sessions, each consisting of a presentation from an IMS faculty and five short talks from IMS students. The data blitz sessions covered a wide range of insightful topics: neuroscience and brain health chaired by Dr Voineskos; cancer, health services, and education chaired by Dr Zimmermann; and regenerative medicine, cardiovascular, and stem cells by Dr Yau.

The day closed with the presentation of awards for deserving competition finalists who gave excellent presentations. Our own executive editor Jonathon Chio is this year’s winner of the Roncari Book Price, while the Sara Al-Bader Memorial Award goes to Tahani Baakdhah. Dr Liu’s closing remarks were a reflection of yet another successful IMS scientific day filled with science that leaves scientists inspired to continue in their efforts of scientific discovery.