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September 2021 Edition

Chair's Message

Ruth RossUsually, Fall messages begin with the words ‘Welcome Back’. This year these words have a whole new meaning. In a sense, we are not ‘back’ because so many things are still deeply affected by the pandemic. In some sense, we are ‘back’ in that undergraduate education will begin again on campus, and we will be gradually resuming many in-person activities.  A warm welcome back to new and returning students - we are really looking forward to seeing you again in person!

I am also very aware and appreciative of those of you who have never been away from campus. Our lab-based graduate students and research staff have been working in-person throughout the entire pandemic. It’s been a very challenging time for those who have been in the lab, often being quite isolated and working hard to complete theses, papers, and projects in the complex context of COVID restrictions and protocols.

To our two new Faculty – we can say a resounding ‘WELCOME’ to our Department. We are delighted to welcome Dr Landon Edgar and Dr Basil Hubbard as new Faculty. They have both faced the significant challenge of moving country and province, respectively, and establishing a new lab during the pandemic. If you see Dr Edgar and Dr Hubbard, please welcome them to the Dept!

Another ‘welcome’ is to the incoming PGSA team. We look forward to working with you in this transition year, in which the PGSA will continue to have a pivotal role to play. A huge and special thank you to the outgoing PGSA for everything they have done this past year. They have put in an incredible effort, which is so appreciated by us all. The PGSA endeavours during the pandemic have most definitely been a great example of turning ‘lemons into lemonade’.  Speaking of 'welcome', we are really looking forward to their Orientation Week 2021. There is a wonderful line up of programming, including events and workshops. Thanks so much to all those involved in arranging this event.

Congratulations to all our award winners highlighted in this edition, and to everyone who has defended, graduated, achieved CIHR success and published over the last few months.  Congratulations to everyone for these achievements, great and small. 

Thanks to you all for your ongoing dedication and collegiality.  This is undoubtedly a team sport.  A special shout out goes to Drs Arnot, McPherson and Woodland for safely navigating our undergraduate, graduate and ACP programs. There has been an enormous amount of effort behind the scenes, dealing with the constantly changing landscape of mandates and protocols while compassionately handling the many issues facing our trainees.  As ever, an enormous thank you to our wonderful staff who have done an exceptional job of keeping everything running smoothly, while working remotely. 

Each of us knows the personal challenges, losses, and costs that we have each faced during the last 18 months. Recovery will undoubtedly take time. Please let me know if I can help with any aspect of life in the Department.

Meet Our New Faculty

We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Landon Edgar!

Landon Edgar
Dr. Landon J. Edgar is a newly appointed Assistant Professor in the Department.  Landon is a chemical immunologist with expertise in single cell analysis technologies. As a postdoctoral fellow, he used techniques from organic chemistry and immunology to probe the mechanisms that control antigen-specific immunity. This research resulted in the discovery that specific carbohydrates on the surface of immune cells can control antigen-specific immunity. Now as an independent researcher, Landon’s broad vision is to program synthetic immune responses through cell surface engineering strategies. Ultimately, technologies developed in the Edgar lab will enable next-generation immunotherapeutics for treating diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.
Alma mater(s): University of Toronto (HBSc., Pharmacology and Chemistry), University of Toronto (Ph.D., Chemistry), The Scripps Research Institute, California (NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow, Molecular Medicine & Immunology)
Favourite food: Curry
Favorite sports team: I don’t watch sports but I did see the Toronto Rock play lacrosse once!
Fun fact about Landon: I can’t smell very well due to a high school chemistry experiment gone wrong.
What is Landon most excited about at U of T:  Working with some of the best students in the world.

A special welcome to Dr. Basil Hubbard!

Basil Hubbard
Dr. Basil P. Hubbard is an Associate Professor in the Department.  Basil graduated with an Honors Bachelor’s degree from the University of Ottawa, and then pursued his doctoral and post-doctoral studies at Harvard in the labs of David Sinclair and David Liu, respectively.  Basil started his independent career in 2015 at the University of Alberta, and moved to the University of Toronto this past July. The goal of his lab is to design next-generation therapeutics for a number of age-related (e.g. cancer), genetic, and infectious diseases. To do this, the Hubbard lab will carry out research in three main areas: 1) gene editing (improving the properties of various CRISPR systems), 2) synthetic and xenobiology (using artificial nucleic acids as therapeutics), and 3) molecular pharmacology (small-molecule drug discovery).
Alma mater(s):  University of Ottawa (BSc), Harvard University (PhD) 

Favorite food:  All Italian food (chicken parmesan, pasta, pizza, etc.)

Favorite sports team:  Boston Red Sox  

Fun fact about Basil:  I worked at NASA for a few months as an undergrad.

What is Basil most excited about at U of T:  Being back in a big city and getting to interact with all of the top-notch faculty and students.

Awards and Recognition

Congratulations to Dr. Jeremy Watts!

Jeremy WattsCongratulations to PharmTox Alumnus Dr. Jeremy Watts on the Canadian Association for Neuroscience 2020 Brain Star Award.  This award recognizes his work on identifying the brain’s endocannabinoid system and fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) as a potential biomarker for psychotic symptoms. Jeremy conducted this work during his PhD training in the laboratory of Dr. Romina Mizrahi at CAMH and the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology at the University of Toronto.  Jeremy is currently a postdoctoral fellow at CHU Sainte-Justine and Université de Montréal working in the laboratories of Dr. Patricia Conrod and Dr. Stephane Potvin, where he is extending his doctoral work by studying links between adolescent cannabis exposure, psychosis risk and neurodevelopment.  

Congratulations Dr. Catharine Mielnik!

Catharine MielnikDr. Catharine Mielnik is the recipient of the prestigious 2021 J. Michael Walker ICRS Post-Doctoral Prize for the presentation "Monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL), but not fatty amide acid hydrolase, inhibition exacerbates hyperdopaminergic phenotypes in dopamine transporter-knockout (DATKO) mice”.  This was awarded to the postdoctoral fellow with the best presentation at the 31st Annual International Cannabinoid Research Society Symposium on Cannabinoids, ICRS2021 Jerusalem.  Dr. Mielnik is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Ruth Ross in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology.  Congratulations Dr. Mielnik on this award!

Congratulations Dr. Rachel Tyndale!

Rachel TyndaleCongratulations to Dr. Rachel Tyndale for receiving the 2021 North American Scientific Achievement Award. Dr. Tyndale is recognized for her distinguished scientific career and especially her multiple contributions to our understanding of the important role of drug metabolizing enzymes in the brain—as well their genetic variation.

Congrats, Dr. Justin Matheson!

Justin Matheson

Dr. Justin Matheson is honoured to receive the Amar K. Sen Memorial Award as a recognition of his doctoral work in pharmacology. He is eternally grateful to the Department and the Graduate Education Committee.  Justin has always been interested in understanding how drugs impact brain function, so he came to the University of Toronto to pursue a PhD  under the supervision of Dr. Bruna Brands in the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH. Justin’s research training emphasized human laboratory studies of acute cannabis effects, and he developed a passion for the cannabis and cannabinoid field. His PhD thesis focused on individual factors (such as sex/gender and cannabis product potency) that influence subjective and objective measures of acute cannabis intoxication in the human laboratory. Justin is now a postdoctoral research fellow in the Translational Addiction Research Lab at CAMH, under the supervision of Dr. Bernard Le Foll. 

Congrats, Xinyang Zhou!

Jinyoung Lee

Xinyang Zhou is the recipient of the Dr. Malle Jurima-Romet Award.  Xinyang is a fourth year PhD student whose research in the laboratory of Dr. Ana Andreazza focuses on inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction in adolescent mood disorder patients.Outside of the lab, Xinyang is a pianist who has been playing for more than 15 years. He has completed the Royal Conservatory of Music for piano performance and music theory, and won multiple awards at regional and provincial music festivals. Xinyang continues to engage with theatre, attending and accompanying operas and musicals in the community.  More recently, Xinyang has pivoted towards improvisatory piano and exploring music composition. Using modern software and recording equipment to build a portable music studio, he is leveraging digital media to create and share his performances and compositions. Xinyang is honored and thankful to receive the Romet Award, which will be instrumental for funding equipment costs and enable further expansion of his personal music projects. 

A special  Honourable Mention goes to Claire McDonald, a second year PhD student in Dr. Rachel Tyndale's laboratory.  Claire is studying brain metabolism and neurotoxicology. Outside of school, Claire is a part-time comic artist, and hopes to use comics to educate, communicate science, and inspire interest in STEM. The Romet award will help support Claire’s passion in the arts alongside her academic achievements.

Congrats, Dr. Celina Liu!

Celina Liu

Dr. Celina Liu received her PhD in 2020 from the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology and is the recipient of the Fiona Smillie Memorial Award. Under the supervision of Dr. Krista Lanctôt, her research focused on novel treatments and biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease. During her graduate career, Celina was passionate about extracurricular activities and took pride in being part of the Pharmacology Graduate Student Association. Celina was the External Representative for multiple years, acting as a liaison for students who studied at Sunnybrook Hospital. She was also co-captain of the Pharmacology Graduate Students’ Volleyball Team, The Antagonists. Celina was also an ambassador for both the Wellness and Academic Committees; she helped plan and execute numerous events including past VIP conferences and provided mentorship to junior students. She is honoured to be awarded the Fiona Smillie award at this year’s VIP conference.

Congratulations to Yalin Sun!

Yalin SunYalin Sun is this year's recipient of the Visions in Pharmacology Travel Award for the best presentation "Sex-specific dopamine D1-D2 receptor heteromer-mediated pro-depressive adaptations in nucleus accumbens."  Yalin is a PhD student in Dr. Susan Geoge's laboratory.  Well done Yalin!

Congratulations Hae Jin Kwok and Emily Au!

Congratulations to Hae Jin Kwok and Emily Au, this year's recipients of the Dr. Walter Roschlau Memorial Award for the highest academic standing across their courses in a Specialist program.
Hae Jin Kwak
Throughout her undergraduate studies as a Pharmacology and Biomedical Toxicology Specialist, Hae Jin Kwak has shown a great passion for research. She participated in a Professional Experience Year at the Applied Health Research Centre of Unity Health Toronto, was an NSERC undergraduate research project student in the Guttman Lab of the Cell and Systems Biology Department and completed her thesis project with Dr. Schapira, conducting in silico analysis of a target protein for anticancer therapy.  She credits her professors, mentors, teaching assistants, friends, and family for making her undergraduate studies so fruitful and allowing her appreciation for research to grow. She hopes to continue her studies to become a more skillful and independent researcher.
Emily Au completed her undergraduate degree in the Pharmacology Specialist and Physiology Major programs. She worked on a study investigating whether antipsychotics disrupt the ability of nutrients in the brain regulate glucose homeostasis in the body, since antipsychotics are associated with metabolic side effects such as weight gain and increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Emily is continued along this line of research this past summer through an NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award.  These research experiences, as well as great mentorship, have prepared her to pursue a Master of Science program and a career in research in the field of neuropharmacology.

We wish them both success with their future research careers.

Congratulations Fei Lin and Terri Ser!

Congratulations to Fei Lin and Terri Ser for their outstanding success as recipients of the W. Mac Burnham Achievement Award for having the highest academic standing in a Major program.

Fei completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto with a double major in Pharmacology and Physiology.  Following her third year, Fei did a semester abroad at Fudan University in Shanghai, where her background in pharmacology allowed her the opportunity to be a part of a global interdisciplinary team aimed to investigate the challenges faced by China’s elderly population. 

Terri completed a double major in Pharmacology and Biochemistry and a minor in Immunology.  During her undergraduate studies, Terri has explored pharmacology in many different contexts, from the cell signalling pathways perturbed in cancer to the systemic effects of various medications.  In the fall, Terri will be pursuing a thesis-based Master’s at UBC’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.  

Both Fei and Terri are grateful for the supportive environment provided by the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, and we wish them plenty of success in their future endeavours.

Congrats, Diana Nelles!

Diana NellesDiana Nelles is honoured to be the recipient of the the Dezso Kadar Pharmacology Student Achievement Award, presented by the Division of Teaching Laboratories to the top student within an undergraduate laboratory course.  Diana completed the joint Pharmacology and Toxicology Specialist program. Diana is especially appreciative to all her professors and TAs who have supported and guided her, especially during the challenges brought on by the pandemic.  She credits her newly founded interest in bioinformatics to her virtual laboratory experience, which has led to her undertaking her fourth-year research project with the Tripathy Lab at CAMH’s Krembil Centre for Neuroinformatics. Diana looks forward to returning to the laboratory this coming year, and is confident that these experiences will assist her as she plans on pursuing a PharmD degree at the University of Toronto’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

Undergraduate News

Meet the new PTSA 2021-2022 Executive Team!

We are happy to introduce your new PTSA execs for 2021-2022:

Co-presidents: Emily Mathers and Seungmin Lee
Co-vice presidents: Adrian Lee and Eric Kim
Director of Finance: Cheng An (Andrew) Wang
Director of Communications: Rachel Yang
Director of Social Events: Michelle Wang
Secretary: Alan Zhuang
Third year representative: Simon Qu
International representative: Anthony Wong

Graduate News

Meet the new PGSA 2021-2022 Executive Team!

We are pleased to announce the new PGSA team:

President: Alaa Alsaafin
Vice President: Alexandra Malinowski
Director of Finance: Alison Jee
Director of Academic: Alec Langlois
Director of Social Affairs: Evianne Rovers
Director of Health & Well-Being: Aleksandra Marakhovskaia
Director of Professional Development: Ella Bing Xin Song
GSU & GRC Representative: Nidhi Kulkarni
GEC Representative: Jonathan Chow
Site Representative - Sunnybrook: Vivian Feng

If you are interested in joining their team, keep on the lookout for by-elections happening in late September! They will be seeking nominations for the following positions:
  • Director of Philanthropy & Funding
  • Site Representatives (MSB, CAMH, Mount Sinai, etc.)
  • International Students Representative
  • First-Year Representatives for the ACP and Thesis Programs
  • Associates working with the Directors above

The PGSA team is excited for the new year and encourages you to follow them on Facebook, and LinkedIn or visit their website to learn more about their events.

PGSA Upcoming Events

The PGSA are hosting their orientation week from Thursday, September 9th to Friday, September 17th, where they will host a variety of social, academic, and professional development in-person & virtual events catered to all graduate trainees in the Department!  Above is a snapshot of the exciting events they have planned.

PGSA Mentorship Program

The PGSA is back for another successful year of the PGSA Mentorship Program, which will consist of two components! The Peer Mentorship Program is a ‘traditional’ peer mentorship program, where you will be paired up with a mentor/mentee for the academic year. The program launch will take place during orientation week on Wednesday, September 15th at 5 PM - 7 PM (food will be provided).  The PGSA are also excited to launch a new program - the Skills Mentorship Program, where you can get guidance for a particular skill (e.g., coding, experiments, applying for jobs, feedback on award applications) without a long-term commitment. To do this, be sure to join the Departmental Slack workspace (everyone is welcome) or email us at if you want them to point you to the appropriate resources!

PGSA Websites and Social Media

Research Round-up

Nicotine Replacement Therapy:  Not Just for Heavy Smokers

Noreen Rahmani
The prevalence of light smoking has increased in North America; however, few studies have investigated the effectiveness of currently available treatments in this subpopulation of smokers. We compared quit outcomes between light (1–10 cigarettes per day [CPD]) versus heavier smokers (>10 CPD) enrolled in a smoking cessation treatment program at their primary care clinic. The program offered cost-free nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) plus in-person behavioural counseling. We found that light smokers had higher odds of quitting at 6 months post-enrollment than heavier smokers, even though heavier smokers were prescribed more weeks of NRT and attended more clinic visits. Findings from this study support the use of personalized treatment for all smokers who are interested in quitting smoking, including light smokers. 

The study was published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research by Noreen Rahmani, a PhD student from the Dr. Laurie Zawertailo lab.

Insulin Resistance and Depressive Symptoms: a Chicken and Egg Story

Joey Wu
Insulin resistance may be part of depression pathophysiology, although it is controversial whether insulin resistance increases the risk of subsequent depressive symptoms or vice versa. This study used an advanced structural equation modelling approach, a random-intercept cross-lagged panel model, to examine these characteristics as they co-evolved over 20 years in 4044 adults. The model decomposed both characteristics, measured every 5 years from age 35 to age 55, into state and trait components. Assessing correlations between the traits, correlations between the states at each visit, and predictive effects of each state variable on the other at the subsequent visit, it was found that the two traits were correlated, and that depressive states were often accompanied by states of insulin resistance; however, no compelling evidence of predictive effects were seen, bringing into question whether one characteristic might influence the development of the other over time in the general adult population.
The study was led by Che-Yuan (Joey) Wu, a PhD student in the Swardfager lab. The paper has been published in Psychological Medicine.

Alzheimer's Disease:  Can We Teach an Old Asthma Drug New Tricks

Lisa Xiong
Leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs) are indicated for asthma maintenance. This study found that their use was associated with a slower decline in cognitive performance over time among people with Alzheimer’s dementia. LTRA use was also associated with a slower decline in clinical progression among people with Alzheimer’s dementia or with mild cognitive impairment, its clinical prodrome. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but the findings provide new evidence to support exploration of the leukotriene pathway, and the possibility to repurpose LTRAs to help slow Alzheimer’s disease progression.
The work was led by Lisa Xiong, a PhD candidate from the Swardfager lab, and it was published in Alzheimer's Research & Therapy.

Other recent publications from PharmTox


Amy Ramsey

PharmTox Prof Dr. Amy Ramsey talks about her career path in research, and discusses her research on NMDA receptor dysfunction using animal models of neurodevelopmental disorders.  Listen to the podcast here.

In Memoriam

We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Professor Harold Kalant on July 6, 2021. Harold Kalant was a Professor Emeritus (Pharmacology & Toxicology), University of Toronto, Director Emeritus (Biobehavioral Research), Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario/Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Member of the Order of Canada, and Former President, International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism. Continue reading...

Mental Health Resources

Please know that there are a wide variety of supports available to all U of T students, staff, and faculty. Here are a few helpful links and phone numbers:


 Faculty and Staff:

Community Helplines:

  • Gerstein Center Mental Health Crisis Line: 416-929-5200 Provides free, voluntary, and confidential crisis intervention service over the phone and in-person for adults living in the City of Toronto. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Toronto Distress Centre Hotline: 416-408-HELP (4357) or text 45645. Offers 24/7 emotional support, crisis intervention, suicide prevention and linkage to emergency help when necessary. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 Available 24/7 for phone calls to help individuals thinking of suicide or worried about a potentially suicidal loved one. Also available from 4pm to 12am ET via text at 45645.

We'd love to hear from you!

Have an event, story, award, or publication you'd like to share? Let us know!
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