Supervisor: David Olson
Project: A diagnostic and therapeutic for preterm birth targeting inflammation
Spruce Grove, AB
Bachelor of Science with Honors in Physiology
What do you get to work on throughout your studentship?
Throughout my studentship I have been lucky enough to work on multiple different methods and techniques such as isolating leukocytes—part of the body's immune system—from whole blood samples, excising fetal membrane tissue explants from placentas, isolating RNA, running cell migration, multiplex and PCR assay. I worked on collecting and analyzing data, preparing specimens, and helping new members of my lab learn the techniques and protocols used. I also had the opportunity to contribute to a literature review that was just accepted for publication in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology.
What's been the best part of your experience so far?
By far, the best part of my experience has been working alongside Kelycia Leimert and the other fellow researchers in the Olson Lab. I am grateful to be surrounded by such an amazing and brilliant group of people that have helped me to expand my knowledge of the field of preterm birth. I have learned so much from everyone in the lab and I have been able to grow both my technical skills and critical thinking abilities.
What interested you in the WCHRI Summer Studentship Program?
I was drawn to the studentship because it focuses on important aspects of healthcare that I feel are overlooked. As an aspiring physician, I am interested in being an advocate for both women's and children's health. My research in the Olson Lab centers around both of these themes and it brings hope that we can eliminate the negative side effects of preterm birth that occur both for the mother and the child. I am extremely grateful to have this opportunity to contribute to the ever-growing knowledge that exists in this field and that such a wonderful organization has contributed to this journey.
What's one piece of advice you received from your supervisor/mentor that resonated with you?
I'd have to say that a piece of advice that was given to me throughout this studentship is to be patient and to quickly adjust when things do not go according to plan. As I have discovered by working with human samples, not all plans are going to go “according to plan” and it is important to be ready to think on your feet and get ready for Plan B, C or maybe even D!
What has the support from WCHRI, the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation and Alberta Women’s Health Foundation meant to you?
I am extremely honoured to be supported by WCHRI, the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation and the Alberta Women's Health Foundation as it means that I get to continue the work I started in September with my mentor, Kelycia Leimert, a WCHRI postdoctoral fellow.
Women's and children's health is something that I am very passionate about and see as a future career path for myself. Getting to work on such an amazing project so early in my professional life is something I am very grateful for.
The immune system functions as a balancing act between pro- and-anti-inflammatory mediators to ensure the formation of the placenta and fetal growth and development are successful. When the balance is tipped so that pro-inflammatory mediators dominate, such as in an infectious or stressful situation, the result can lead to an adverse pregnancy outcome including preterm birth (PTB) leading to lifelong newborn impacts including asthma, vision problems, hearing loss and delays in learning or physical development.
Existing diagnostics for predicting PTB risk are based on poor correlations between blood or tissue biomarkers and not on the biology of PTB; hence they are poor diagnostics. Our approach utilizes the imbalance in the immune system that causes PTB. The imbalance causes white blood cells (WBC) to become activated and migrate out of blood capillaries and into the uterine tissues where they secrete more pro-inflammatory mediators that cause PTB. Our patented PTB diagnostic examines the migration of activated WBC from pregnant women and can predict delivery within seven days with an impressive 96 per cent positive predictive value.
This summer project will explore improvements in the WBC migration assay to be applied to women at risk of PTB. Further, it will explore the ability of a novel drug that blocks the action of the primary pro-inflammatory mediator, interleukin-6, to restore the balance of pro- and anti-inflammatory mediators and thereby decrease the activation and migration of WBCs, block PTB, prolong normal pregnancy and improve fetal/newborn lifelong health. Longer-term, we will commercialize the findings from my study to improve health outcomes for mothers and babies.