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Student Spotlight: Meet some of this year’s SRI summer research students

August 21, 2023

Throughout the summer months, Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) provides undergraduate students with a unique hospital-based research experience through the Summer Student Research Program. Students work alongside renowned SRI scientists on a research project, attend weekly seminars about the research happening at Sunnybrook, and present their work at a poster competition in late August.

This summer, SRI welcomed over 100 students as part of the program, which runs from May to August. Meet four of this year’s summer students below.

Hedy Liu, Summer Student in Dr. Carol Schuurmans’ Lab

Hedy Liu, Summer Student in Dr. Carol Schuurmans’ Lab

Hedy Liu first developed a passion for research while working in senior scientist Dr. Carol Schuurmans’ lab in 2021 while completing an undergraduate research course. Now, as she prepares to begin her Masters of Biochemistry this Fall, she’s back in the Schuurmans lab.

"Carol’s lab at SRI is unique because of its highly collaborative nature, you really feel like a valued member of the team and get to do a lot of hands-on research, even as a summer student,” says Hedy.

“My work is focused on studying retinal cells, which in many eye diseases cannot be regenerated, ultimately leading to blindness,” explains Hedy. “We’re working to develop regenerative strategies to reprogram cells to replace these damaged retinal neurons.”

Hedy says the experience so far has taught her many lessons — including the importance of bringing the right mindset to her research.

“It’s critical to take the time to properly learn, and not rush experiments. My advice to other students is to approach your work with a desire to learn and if you get an unsuccessful result, have the patience to understand where you could have gone wrong. This learning will help you in your education and future career.”

Sivadas Twins: Shayan and Shuruthi

Shayan and Shuruthi

With a family history of dementia and a passion for science, twins Shayan and Shuruthi Sivadas both knew they wanted to contribute to neurodegenerative research.

“From a young age, we were exposed to Alzheimer’s with our grandparents and their caregivers,” says Shayan.

“We’ve always viewed Sunnybrook as a leader in brain research, and it’s within our community,” says Shuruthi. “It made sense [to apply to the summer program].”

This summer, Shuruthi is returning to Dr. Isabelle Aubert’s lab, while her brother Shayan is a first-time SRI summer student working with Dr. Jennifer Rabin, a scientist in Evaluative Clinical Sciences and the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Research Program at Sunnybrook.

Shayan Sivadas, Summer Student in Dr. Jennifer Rabin’s Lab

Shayan Sivadas

“Working with Dr. Rabin, we are studying the effects of focused ultrasound on the daily experiences of individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD),” says Shayan, a third-year health sciences student at Queen’s University.

Focused ultrasound is an incision-free, image-guided technology that uses ultrasound waves to target parts of the brain. It’s currently being investigated at Sunnybrook as a management strategy for treatment-resistant OCD.

“Seeing the life-changing impact focused ultrasound can have, I’d love to continue doing work in this field,” adds Shayan, who says he ultimately hopes to continue his education with a future career in medicine or research.

His sister Shuruthi, a third-year health sciences student at McMaster University, is hoping to one day be a clinician-scientist. She’s currently working with Dr. Isabelle Aubert, senior scientist in Biological Sciences, on researching a regenerative medicine approach to diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Shuruthi Sivadas, Summer Student in Dr. Isabelle Aubert’s Lab

Shuruthi Sivadas

We’re researching gene therapy vectors combined with MRI-guided focused ultrasound as a potential treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s,” explains Shuruthi. “Specifically, my current summer project involves exploring a novel vector delivery route."

The twins say their experiences in the program (both inside and outside the lab) have helped them advance in their studies.

“Mentorship in the lab has been outstanding,” says Shuruthi. “But there’s also a lot of value outside of science — presentations skills, learning about grad school, we also socialize with other summer students playing softball once a week at a nearby park. It’s been really nice.”

Kiriya Awad, Summer Student in Dr. Jamie Near’s Lab

Kiriya Awad

As a second-year biomedical engineering student at the University of Waterloo, Kiriya is beginning to explore potential career options and learn how her passion for math and physics could be applied in a medical research setting.

This summer, she’s working with Dr. Jamie Near, a scientist in Physical Sciences at SRI, using medical imaging and engineering concepts to better understand neurodegenerative diseases.

“Working in the lab has been really enlightening — from learning technical skills like MATLAB and shell scripting to soft skills like preparing presentations and posters, I’m really grateful for the experience,” says Kiriya.

“Most of all, it’s been great meeting the graduate students in the lab and learning about their career paths, especially since many of them have come from an engineering background as well.”

Kiriya says the summer has helped her consider new career options as she enters her second year of undergrad. “I’m really interested in systems design and how it can be used to solve some of healthcare’s greatest challenges like staffing and imaging backlogs. Working at Sunnybrook has also opened my eyes to other future possibilities - like medical school or a master’s or PhD.”