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August 2020 Edition

Chair's Message

Dr. Ruth Ross, Chair of Pharmacology & ToxicologyIt’s so encouraging to read this edition of the Pharmer's Almanac.

We are so proud of all our award winners. It’s so inspiring to see the diverse achievements, interests and contributions of our students – from dance to comic illustration; science communication to harm reduction; cancer research to cannabis research. Their enthusiasm and passion are contagious and so heartening. Initiatives like the mentorship program and the PharmaChronicle also illustrate the students’ drive for creating new innovative initiatives.

Likewise, from reading the Research Round-up its clear that our graduate students, post docs and faculty are making a huge impact in many important areas of unmet medical need. Alzheimer’s Disease, Cancer and Bipolar Disorders being some prime examples. Thanks so much to everyone for all your research efforts and to all our graduate faculty who devote so much time and energy to student mentoring.

The last few months has seen a significant disruption to all our activities. Research has been set back and we are just getting started again with a gradual restart. Many have anxieties about thesis completion and the other research impacts, including delayed publications and grant applications. The Department is committed to supporting our research faculty, graduate students, and post docs in any way we can, even in such challenging times. We welcome feedback on how we can build innovative supports as we return to the labs over the coming months.

We’re excited about our brand new JPM courses, which are new collaborative courses delivered jointly with a number of Departments within the Faculty of Medicine. These courses are a new venture for the Department into Research Readiness training (JPM300) and Biomedical Incubator training (JPM400). The inaugural year for these courses has been a huge success. Thanks so much to all the Faculty who have worked so hard to establish these new, innovative courses.

Now we are gearing up for the Fall Semester, which will undoubtedly bring challenges (and perhaps unexpected new opportunities) related delivering all our undergraduate courses during the ongoing pandemic. We’re so grateful to all our faculty for their dedication to undergraduate education, which is greatly appreciated. They are already working over the summer to prepare new materials and exploring new modes of course delivery to ensure that our programs run smoothly in the Fall.

Finally, many thanks to our office staff, Elaine, Jennifer, Diana, Charlotte and Nesma. All of whom have kept everything running extremely smoothly, despite all the challenges of a very rapid transition to working from home. We are very fortunate to have such fantastic admin staff.

Many thanks again,

Meet our 2019-2020 PharmTox Award Recipients!

Kassandra Zachos, Dr. Malle Jurima-Romet Award

Kassandra ZachosKassandra is in her first year of the thesis-based M.Sc. program, but intends to transfer into the Ph.D. stream in the near future.  Her research focuses on better understanding the cross-talk between the mitochondria and the microbiome and how different diets affect mitochondrial disease. While it is not the most traditional project within the department, Kassandra appreciates the diversity of ongoing research within the divison of Pharmacology and Toxicology. She also chose to pursue her graduate studies in PharmTox because of the community and support from many knowledgeable mentors and peers.

Outside of PharmTox, Kassandra is passionate about dance ranging in styles from jazz, tap to hip hop, contemporary and ballet. She has been dancing for over 20 years, 10 of which she performed competitively and she has also completed all examinations with the Royal Academy of Dance . During her undergrad at U of T, she danced with Silhouettes Dance Company, which allows experienced dancers to maintain their abilities with a flexible, student-friendly schedule. Currently, Kassandra is also a member of Duet Dance Company, a charity that provides pro bono entertainment at fundraising events throughout Toronto. The Romet Award will go a long way to help offset the many costs that come with dance, especially company membership fees and costumes for performances. It will also allow Kassandra to build on her skills even further and take more freelance dance classes throughout the city (COVID permitting, of course). In addition to this, some of the proceeds from this Award will be donated on behalf of Duet Dance Company. 

Claire McDonald, Honourable Mention
Dr. Malle Jurima-Romet Award

Claire McDonaldBy day (and night), Claire is a first year PhD student in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, studying the effect of brain metabolism on the neurotoxicology of Methamphetamine. By even-later night, Claire is a comic artist and illustrator that creates stories focusing on personal experience and interpersonal relationships. She is passionate about harm reduction in drug abuse, and pursuing further knowledge in the field of neurotoxicology. In the future, Claire aims to use comics and illustration as an approachable medium to communicate science, and inspire interest in STEM. The Romet award will help support Claire's passion in the arts alongside her academic achievements. You can check out her work at @cmcdonaldart on instagram and twitter.
Myuri Ruthirakuhan, Amar K. Sen Memorial Award

Myuri RuthirakuhanMyuri’s interest in pursuing a PhD in the department of Pharmacology and Toxicology was sparked during her time working with the Neuropsychopharmacology Group at Sunnybrook Research Institute. She witnessed how debilitating severe Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was to its patients, and the burden it posed to its caregivers and healthcare system. Under the supervision of Dr. Krista Lanctot, Myuri was encouraged to pursue her interest in identifying safe and effective treatment options for AD patients, and investigating biomarkers of interest.
Myuri is honored to receive the Amar K. Sen Memorial Award. It is a reminder to her that interdisciplinary and collaborative research is a necessary factor in moving the field forward. She hopes to continue striving to forge new collaborative relationships to further developments in drug and biomarker AD research.

Myuri recently started a post-doctoral fellowship funded by CIHR at Sunnybrook under the mentorship of Dr. Sandra Black. She is excited to be investigating neuropathological markers of behavioural symptoms in AD using the new skills and techniques she will be exposed to.
Rachel Chalkley, Dr. Walter Roschlau Memorial Award in Pharmacology

Rachel ChalkleyRachel hails from the small town of Fergus Ontario and came to the University of Toronto four years ago with the hopes of getting the best education in the sciences and to discover her full potential.

Adjusting to a new city and a new school environment wasn't easy and Rachel struggled with many of the fears faced by first year students, but she was determined to succeed. Her hard work, dedication and perseverance have certainly paid off as Rachel found herself excelling in her courses and thriving in the program.

Rachel credits the University of Toronto with changing her life and the way that she approaches opportunities and challenges. We are certain that Rachel will move on to bigger and better things and can't wait to see what her future holds.

Ximing Li, Dr. Walter Roschlau Memorial Award in Pharmacology

Ximing LiXiming completed the specialist program in Pharmacology and Biomedical Toxicology. During her program, she participated in an exchange to the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden where she studied the molecular alterations of cancer cells in response to drug treatment to understand how the drug works. For her fourth-year thesis, Ximing worked on a project using animal models to understand the pathophysiology of schizophrenia. She credits both experiences for providing her with great opportunities to work with motivated and talented scientists in the field.

Ximing was accepted into the direct-entry Ph.D. program at the Department of Medical Biophysics where she hopes to continue her study and research on cancer progression and drug resistance. She believes that this experience will strengthen her academic background and improve her personal skills for a future career in the pharmaceutical industry.
Linsey Gong, W. Mac Burnham Achievement Award

Linsey GongLinsey recently completed a double major in Pharmacology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto with the aim of understanding the mechanisms behind disease and how they can be targeted in therapeutic development.
Through her studies, Linsey gained a unique pharmacological lens and strived to apply these concepts to her research projects, where she investigated synthetic lethal targets in KRAS-mutant colorectal cancer and participated in the development of novel targeted drug-loaded nanoparticles for the treatment of glioblastomas.
Linsey is grateful to her dedicated mentors who have constantly propelled her learning, and to her fellow peers for their support and encouragement on this journey. Her receipt of the W. Mac Burnham Achievement Award will continue to inspire her as a MSc student in U of T’s Department of Medical Biophysics to improve the diagnosis and prognosis of pancreatic cancer. 
Jay Yuan Paranjpe, Deszo Kadar Student Achievement Award

Jay Yuan ParanjpeJay came to the University of Toronto from San Jose, California to pursue his passion for the life sciences. Like many first-year students, Jay found the adaptation to life away from home challenging and soon felt lost while trying to decide on a program. However, after PCL201 sparked his interest in the subject, Jay was quick to join the Specialist program in Pharmacology. Since enrolling, he has felt right at home combining his love for molecular biology with his desire to help others. Jay is grateful for the encouragement and support he has received from his peers, TAs and professors - especially those in the Undergraduate Laboratory courses whom he credits with sparking his joy for research.
Although he has long been unsure if he was cut out for research, receiving this award has given Jay the confidence and motivation to pursue it as a future career. Jay hopes to bring the same curiosity instilled in him by the laboratory courses to Sanofi Pasteur, where he will be working as a manufacturing technology Co-op student as part of the PEY program this upcoming year. After that, Jay is eager to return to the laboratory to complete his degree and aspires towards a graduate education in drug discovery.

Undergraduate and Graduate News

PTSA LogoUndergraduate Mentorship Program

The Pharmacology and Toxicology Student Association would like to welcome all the incoming second years who have been accepted into the program and returning third and fourth years. As is the same every year, we will be offering our mentorship program again.

The mentorship program pairs an incoming second year student with an upper year student, a third/fourth/fifth year. If you would like to know more about future PharmTox undergraduate courses, research, graduate school, or want to make new friends in the community, this is a great opportunity for you! We hope to produce meaningful connections between students and offer support to improve your academic, mental and personal health.

If you are interested, please fill out the application here

You will be informed of your pairing before the Fall 2020 semester starts. If you have any questions regarding the application or the mentorship program, feel free to email us  or find us on Facebook!
Undergraduate Student Network Blog logo

Undergraduate Student Network Blog

The University of Toronto Undergraduate Medical Student Union Network is a collaboration between the PTSA, MSSU, IMMSA, LMPSU, BUSS, and MGYSU. Check it out here.

We are looking for writers to help us get started! Please fill out this form if interested.

PharmaChronicle Issue 5 cover art

The PharmaChronicle

Issue 5 of the PharmaChronicle is live! We explore a wide variety of topics, including antivirals for COVID-19, nanodelivery of drugs, orphan drugs and policies regarding natural health products. Interviews with graduate students and Dr. Nylen are also featured.
Check it out here!
PTSA Course Commentary 2020-2021 Logo

Undergraduate Course Commentary

If you are having trouble with course selection, a course commentary for 2020-21 has been created based on course evaluations and peer feedback. It provides some insight into study tips for different courses and details on course content.

Save the Date graphic

Virtual Visions in Pharmacology (VIP)

Friday, September 25, 2020, 2-5pm
Stay tuned for more details.

Enter the Virtual VIP Competition (here) by Sunday, August 16!

Introducing the PGSA Executives 2020/2021!

Co-presidents: Alison Jee and Haidy Giratallah
VP Academic: Setayesh Yazdani
VP Finance: Kathy Lee
VP Social: Keyue Chen
Director of Philanthropy: Sasha Marakhovskaia
Director of External: Daniel Lee
Director of Internal: Alaa Alsaafin
GSU Rep: Farhana Islam
GEC Rep: Jonathan Chow
Site Rep: MSB-Alec Langlois
Social Reps: Martino Gabra, Erin Sellars
Connect with us! Email  or Facebook

New courses! JPM300 and JPM400  

JMP course brainstorming sessionWinston Chan, Emily Mathers, Landon Ho, and Brian Chan are undergraduate students entering their fourth year. Brian, Landon, and Winston are in the combined Pharmacology and Toxicology Specialist program, while Emily is in the Pharmacology Specialist program. Below, they share their experiences with JPM300 (Research Readiness and Advancing Biomedical Discoveries) and JPM400 (Biomedical Incubator Capstone Project):
JMP course brainstorming session“The chance to take the brand new JPM300 course, and the follow up JPM400 course, presented us students with a refreshing take over traditional lecture-based education. By following a project-based educational pathway, we were exposed to the many challenges and legal frameworks often faced by innovators in the field as they became relevant to us during the course of our simulated project. Extensive networking opportunities were offered up throughout the course with weekly exposure to industry professionals, professors, and experts in subjects such as intellectual property, ethics, and project management. Ultimately, the course provided a broad spectrum of learning opportunities ranging from industry, project management, commercialization, and communication, all while utilizing a format reliant on group collaboration, and a hands-on learning environment.”

Research Round-up

Fang-Chi Chang, Philip Q. Ding, Stephanie Tam, and Lauren R. XuA step towards exploiting the medicinal properties of cannabis for pain management

Facing the opioid crisis poses an urgent need for alternative pain management solutions. The antinociceptive properties of cannabis remain a growing area of interest in pharmacology. Combinations of CBD and THC may not only elicit stronger analgesic effects than single-compound drugs, but also curb the psychotropic effects commonly associated with THC. This protocol details a novel methodology to find the ideal substance ratio in a CBD-THC mixture, which elicits maximum antinociception with the least psychotropic effect. 

The work was published in the Undergraduate Research in Natural and Clinical Science and Technology (URNCST) Journal by Fang-Chi Chang, Philip Q. Ding, Stephanie Tam, and Lauren R. Xu. The team, led by PharmTox undergraduates, participated in the  SCINAPSE Undergraduate Science Case Competition, and they were invited to present their work in Ottawa at the provincial finalist conference.

Angiogenesis: a new link between endothelial dysfunction and cognitive impairment

Cameron Isaacs-TrepanierThe link between endothelial function, markers of angiogenesis, and cognitive performance in those at risk of vascular cognitive impairment is not well understood. This study investigated markers of angiogenesis, endostatin and vascular endothelial growth factor, as mediators between endothelial function and cognitive performance in those with coronary artery disease. Endostatin, but not vascular endothelial growth factor, mediated the association between endothelial function and cognitive performance. This study demonstrates that endostatin may play a role in the development of vascular cognitive impairment that results from vascular endothelial dysfunction.
The study was led by Cameron Isaacs-Trepanier from the Lanctôt lab who recently received his MSc from PharmTox. It was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Peripheral neutrophil activation in Alzheimer’s disease

Innate immune dysfunction occurs in Alzheimer’s disease, but the role of neutrophils – the most abundant innate immune cells – remains unclear. This meta-analysis shows that 2 fluid markers of neutrophil activity, MPO and NGAL, were consistently higher in the peripheral blood of patients with Alzheimer’s disease compared to controls. NGAL was also elevated in the blood of patients with mild cognitive impairment, an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. These markers were not elevated in the cerebrospinal fluid. The results indicate a peripheral immune pathway involved in Alzheimer’s disease, and they implicate NGAL and MPO as blood-based markers. 
This study was led jointly by Che-Yuan (Joey) Wu and Kritleen Bawa from the Swardfager and Lanctôt labs. The study will be published in Ageing Research Reviews.

Towards a genetic test for bipolar disorder in youth

Mikaela DimickBipolar disorder is a highly heritable psychiatric condition; however, few studies have examined the genetics of early-onset bipolar disorder in adolescents. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) can be used to generate polygenic risk scores but the approach exacts a stringent penalty due to correction for numerous comparisons. Multi-gene risk scores can be generated and studied based on a small number of risk alleles identified in previous studies. ​This study found that four SNPs involved in brain development, neurotransmission, oxidative stress, and inflammation, collectively distinguished between adolescents with bipolar disorder and healthy controls with up to 78% accuracy.

The study was led by Mikaela Dimick from Dr. Goldstein’s lab, and published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Che-Yuan (Joey) WuDPP4 inhibitors may slow memory decline in Alzheimer's disease

Type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and dysregulation of glucose metabolism in the brain is proposed to be an AD-related pathological trait. It has been suggested that anti-diabetic drugs may be of benefit in AD, but clinical evidence has been limited and mixed. In this study, people with AD who used a particular class of anti-diabetic drug, a DPP4 inhibitor, showed a 22% slower rate of memory decline. The study integrated multiple advanced statistical techniques among 807 people with AD who were taking an anti-diabetic medication in the National Alzheimer's Coordinating Center database, consisting of data from 37 sites. The study provides new evidence that a specific anti-diabetic mechanism of action may protect the brain against AD, suggesting new potential to slow AD progression using DPP4 inhibitors.
The paper will be published in Alzheimer's & Dementia, which has a 2019 impact factor of 17.1. The study was led by Che-Yuan (Joey) Wu, a first-year MSc student in the Swardfager lab, who has now transferred into our PhD program. Joey was invited to present his findings in an oral presentation to the prestigious Alzheimer's Association International Conference in July, 2020. This article was recently featured in UofT News.

Arginine methyltransferase PRMT7: from structure to function, inhibitors reveal the role in cell stress response

Dr. Magdalena Szewczyk, Dr. Rachel Harding, and Dr. Dalia Barsyte-LovejoyProtein arginine methyltransferase 7 (PRMT7) is an enigmatic and understudied enzyme that, due to its involvement in stem cell biology, metabolism, cancer, and differentiation, has attracted attention as a possible therapeutic target. Chemical probe, small molecule PRMT7 inhibitor discovered at the Structural Genomics Consortium in collaboration with Takeda involved medicinal chemistry, protein crystallography, enzymology, mass spectrometry, and cell biology; a multidisciplinary effort generating a tool compound for the scientific community. Furthermore, using the compound and genetic tools, fueled the line of scientific inquiry that elucidated the role PRMT7 plays in proteostasis and cell stress response through the methylation of heat shock protein 70.
This article paper was published in Nature Communications by Dr. Magdalena Szewczyk, Dr. Rachel Harding, and Dr. Dalia Barsyte-Lovejoy, and their colleagues. Dr. Barsyte-Lovejoy is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and a Principal Investigator with the  Structural Genomics Consortium

See other recent publications 

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