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Pursuing a passion

By Matthew Pariselli  •  July 19, 2017

An interest in neuroscience has taken Camille Cassel de Camps to the Norwegian fjords, Budapest’s baths, the Eiffel Tower and the Berlin Wall. Now, it’s brought her to Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) via the D+H SRI Summer Student Research Program.

The globetrotting neuroscience major at Dalhousie University, who completed a year of study abroad, is spending the season in the lab of Dr. Isabelle Aubert, a senior scientist in the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Research Program at SRI. Cassel de Camps’ work involves analyzing results from experiments that Aubert and her team are spearheading to treat Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Before detailing her specific duties, Cassel de Camps clarifies the research being conducted by the Aubert group. “[At one point], people thought that plaques in the brain might be the cause of AD. Now, people are thinking it might be a smaller build-up of amyloid proteins called oligomers.” To target these toxic proteins, she says the Aubert lab is trying to develop a gene therapy. One component of the research entails the use of focused ultrasound—a noninvasive and image-guided technique in which SRI is a global leader—on mouse models.

Illuminating her part in the project, Cassel de Camps says she is helping to establish a protocol, which she will use to “see if the therapies and interventions that [the Aubert team] has been testing are successful in reducing the levels of toxic oligomers.”

This may be Cassel de Camps’ first wet lab experience, but she didn’t arrive at SRI feeling unprepared, thanks to three years at Dalhousie and one year on exchange in the Netherlands at Maastricht University. It was her trip to Europe that allowed her to visit many famous sites and landmarks and, in the process, fuelled her passion for travel.

Although a love of travel is something her year abroad enhanced, she has always possessed an urge to explore the world. She fondly recalls a family trip to Hawaii when she was younger; fervidly recounts volunteering stints in Belize, Costa Rica and Argentina throughout her teen years; and excitedly chats about learning Italian in a coastal town east of Rome, as well as Spanish in Barcelona.

Animatedly, she says, “I love so much about travel—experiencing new places and cultures, meeting different people, seeing the art that comes out of those places over different time periods—I feel like I love everything about it. Why would you stay at home when you could go see something new?”

It’s no surprise Cassel de Camps mentions engaging with art as a highlight of travel. Since she was a child she has been working with clay to create pottery and ceramics. She developed her craft over the years, and when she opted to take time off between high school and university, she made the switch from hobby to vocation. The budding entrepreneur began selling her pieces at the Evergreen Brick Works—located in Toronto, Ont.—and was successful enough to justify launching her own business, aptly named Clay by Camille.

Cassel de Camps knew that keeping her business afloat while spending most of the summer in a lab was an unrealistic balancing act, so she decided to sacrifice pottery for the season. “Because I’m here this summer, there’s just no time,” she says. “I definitely miss it, but this [studentship] was really important to me. It wasn’t something I was going to turn down.”

With her hands off the pottery wheel and in safety gloves, Cassel de Camps is focused on her future. She has one year left in her undergrad and hasn’t determined her steps beyond university, but says a podcast she recently tuned into on cerebral palsy triggered a spark. “I was listening along and thought, ‘This is really cool. [Treating patients with cerebral palsy] is something I can actually see myself working on as a doctor.’ It was the first medical specialty I could actually see myself doing,” she says, before a smile sweeps across her face and she adds, “While, of course, finding time to travel and do artistic things.”