The SFU Science Undergraduate Blog

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SFU Undergrad Researcher: Ruvini Amarasekera

Next up in our series of brilliant SFU researchers, we have Ruvini Amarasekera of the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology!

Name: Ruvini Amarasekera
Year of Study: 2nd
Major: Biomedical Physiology
PI: Dr. Maureen Ashe, Center for Hip Health and Mobility

Q: How did you get involved in research?
A: I wanted to work in a lab that took a new perspective on healthcare; somewhere I could apply both my physiology and psychology background- and this is what I found! Many people have the misconception that research only entails sitting at a bench pipetting all day, but there is also a clinical side where there’s an opportunity to interact directly with subjects. Research is a very broad field of work and there is something for everyone!
Q: What is your research about?
A: Our research focuses on the psychosocial determinants of health; essentially we realize that healthcare goes far beyond hospitals and doctors’ offices, and we are looking into what those factors are. We want to shift healthcare and medicine to a preventative approach; we want to change the way people live so that they don’t get sick in the first place, instead of only treating people once they are already sick!
Q: What will you be working on this summer?
A: This summer I’m very excited to be taking on a project where I’ll be exploring the influence of built and social environments on community mobility, specifically for older adults living in rural communities.
Q: What is a typical “day in the life” in the lab for you?
A: Every day varies; there are some days where I am sitting at a computer doing preliminary data research on the communities we will be studying, there are days where I’m working very closely with my professor or grad students, and in the summer I’ll be going out to these rural communities to work directly with our subjects.
Q: Who is your biggest science crush?
A: Currently, Marc Lewis. I’m reading a book authored by him called “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease” where he presents quite a controversial model of addiction. Lewis is a neuroscientist but perhaps more interestingly, a former addict and he asks the tough questions about how we frame mental illnesses (specifically, addiction). He focuses on the intersections of neurophysiology and sociology and really is making me think about the overlap between the two.


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SFU Undergrad Researcher: Nancy Lum

For our next entry in our series of intellectual undergrad investigators, we have Nancy Lum of the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology!

Name: Nancy Lum
Department: Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology
Year of Study: 3rd
Supervisor: Dr. Glen Tibbits

Photo (from left to right) : Marvin Gunawan, Sanam Shafaattalab, Nancy Lum, Frederico Lisboa, Sabi Sangha, Alison Li

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: One day I hope to be a pediatrician to support the physical and mental health of children and youth!
Q: What have you been working on in your research so far?
A: The Tibbits lab works with human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes. In other words, we can grab a patient’s blood sample, take the T cells, give them a bunch of molecules called the Yamanaka factors, and reprogram them into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). This means that they can differentiate into a number of other cells – kidney cells, neurons, and cardiomyocytes. Our lab is currently focusing on differentiating them into cardiomyocytes and using them as a disease model to study inherited arrhythmias. This has been fondly dubbed “disease in a dish.” It is pretty amazing to see the heart cells actually beating in a concerted way in a petri dish at 60-80 bpm, like a regular heart does!How do I fit into this? When we turn our iPSCs into cardiomyocytes, they can turn into ventricular, atrial, and nodal cells. I optimized an quantitative PCR assay that will help determine what the dominant type of cells are in our little petri dishes. After all, if we’re studying an arrhythmia like atrial fibrillation, we need to make sure that the cells are predominantly atrial. The hope is that we can use this technique to optimize our differentiation methods to yield mostly ventricular, mostly atrial, or mostly nodal cells.

Q: What’s your favourite course that you have taken so far in your degree?
A: My favourite so far has been BPK 412 – Molecular Cardiac Physiology with Dr. Glen Tibbits. Barring the fact that I’m probably biased because Dr. Tibbits is my PI and because he has a wicked sense of humour, BPK 412 gives you an awesome look into the world of cardiac research, giving a thorough discussion of the current knowledge of cardiac ion channels, which dictate how our hearts beat. Plus, Dr. Tibbits goes in depth about the research done to figure these things out, and it’s just fascinating.

Q: Favourite science joke or meme from your field?
Q: If you were a scientific lab instrument, which one would you be?
A: A multichannel pipette!