Donnelly Centre 2019 Scientific Retreat Highlights

May 24, 2019
Jovana Drinjakovic

Almost two hundred Donnelly Centre trainees and faculty gathered for the third annual scientific symposium, on May 9, 2019, at the Queen’s Landing conference center in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The symposium took place over two days and included two keynote lectures, delivered by Edward Marcotte, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angela DePace, an associate professor at Harvard University.

Donnelly Centre trainees also gave short talks in the fields of proteomics, bioinformatics, bioengineering and molecular biology, while some 80 trainees presented their research in two poster sessions and pitches.

A career panel composed of representatives from the biotechnology sector and research publishing groups were also present to offer their insight and advice on postgraduate careers outside academia.

Overview of scientific presentations

Edward Marcotte giving a keynote address at the symposiumProfessor Edward Marcotte, of UT Austin, delivering his keynote lecture. First keynote speaker, Edward Marcotte, presented a new method for single-molecule protein sequencing. Termed fluorosequencing, the imaging-based method involves anchoring fluorescently labeled protein molecules onto a glass slide followed by stepwise chemical degradation. Seven years in the making, the platform can process thousands to millions of molecules in parallel and has the potential to elevate proteomics to the level of throughput and sensitivity akin to next generation DNA sequencing.

Angela DePace, the second keynote speaker, discussed how natural sequence variants dispersed across regulatory regions in the genome impact molecular and organismal phenotypes. Using developing Drosophila embryos, DePace showed examples of how regulatory DNA, from single enhancers to entire developmental loci, can drive precise gene expression patterns, despite variants in the underlying sequence.

Donnelly Centre trainees—graduate students (GS), postdoctoral fellows (PDF) and research associates (RA)—delivered short 15-minute talks that were grouped into four themed sessions: Proteomics, Bioinformatics, Bioengineering and Molecular Biology.

The Proteomics session covered a new live-cell platform (MaMTH-DS) for discovery of small molecules capable of inactivating the triple mutant EGFR that is frequently mutated in lung cancer (Punit Saraon, PDF, Stagljar lab); protein interaction map between Hsp70 chaperones, J domain proteins, and their clients (Benjamin Piette, GS, Taipale lab) and how environmental changes impact binary protein interactions in yeast (Dayag Sheykhkarimli, GS, Roth lab).

During the Bioinformatics session, new computational methods were presented for correcting errors introduced by mass spectrometry instruments measuring protein levels (Shubham Gupta, GS, Röst lab); a method for reconstructing tumour phylogeny from multiple tissue samples (Jeff Wintersinger, PDF, Morris lab); an artificial algorithm for designing antibody H3 loops for immunotherapy (David Beccera, PDF, Kim lab) and mathematical modeling of cell differentiation during development based on cell cycle length (Maria Abou Chakra, PDF, Bader lab).

trainee talk 2Graduate student Bella Xu presenting her work at the symposium. The Bioengineering session covered a new tissue culture platform for the discovery of drugs capable of stimulating muscle repair (Bella Xu, GS, Gilbert lab); delivery of hydrogel-encapsulated ChABC enzyme to promote tissue healing following stroke injury (Marian Hettiaratchi, PDF, Shoichet lab) and a novel digital microfluidics platform for single cell analysis (Erica Scott, PDF, and Julian Lamanna, GS, both in Wheeler lab).

Research in Molecular Biology included talks on: the regulation of protein localization during replication stress S. cerevisiae (Brandon Ho, GS, Brown lab); immune T cell engineering for cancer immunotherapy (Karim Shalaby, PDF, Sidhu lab), how exosomes affect neuronal polarity and axon growth (Samar Ahmad, PDF, Attisano lab) and the role of C2H2-Zinc finger proteins in regulating RNA through direct binding (Syed Nabeel-Shah, PDF, Greenblat lab).

This year’s symposium also had two Poster Pitch sessions during which selected trainees had two minutes and a single presentation slide to present their research. They also exhibited posters in the poster sessions. One presenter was Kyle Turner from the Donnelly Sequencing Centre who gave an overview of the ongoing collaborations within Donnelly Centre labs highlighted how new equipment and technology developments at the facility will further aid their research.

poster session photosTrainees discussing their research with faculty and peers during poster sessions.

Career panel and awards

Members of the career panel were science graduates who went on to have diverse careers in the biotechnology sector and research publishing. The panelists were: Myles Axton, Editor-in-Chief of Genetics & Genomics Next at Wiley, Si Lok, Lead of Technology Development at The Centre for Applied Genomics at the Hospital for Sick Children, Tyler Luyben, of Edesa Biotech, business development expert Ella Korets-Smith, of Antibe Therapeutics Inc, TO Health and EKS Business Development, Frederic Sweeney, Chief Business Officer of Northern Biologics and Emily Titus, Director of technology development at the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine.

career panelCareer panellists, from left to right, Frederic Sweeney, Tyler Luyben, Ella Korets-Smith, Emily Titus, Si Lok and Myles Axton.

The panelist offered advice on skills needed to succeed in their respective fields, emphasizing the value of analytical thinking, as one of the most transferrable skill obtained during a PhD which graduates often take for granted.

awardActing director Charlie Boone presenting graduate student Cadia Chan with Cecil Yip Award. At a banquet dinner, Acting Director Charlie Boone congratulated trainees who won awards over the last year and presented them with award certificates for the Cecil Yip Doctoral Award, Jenifer Dorrington Graduate Research Award, Donnelly Centre Research Thesis Prize, Charles H. Best Postdoctoral Fellowship and the inaugural Research Excellence Awards.

The planning of the symposium was once again led by Donnelly Centre investigator Mikko Taipale who was helped by the graduate students Samantha Del Borrello, Jessica Lacoste, Benjamin Piette, Aleksei Shkurin, Tajinder Ubhi, Kevin Wang and Owen Whitley and postdoctoral fellows Punit Saraon and Nick Stepankiw.

Finally, we would like to thank the sponsors who supported this year’s symposium: U of T’s Department of Molecular Genetics, Toronto-based biotech startups Deep Genomics and Phenomic Ai, as well as Illumina and ThermoFisher Scientific.

For more photos from the retreat, visit our photo gallery on Flickr.

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