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Reaching the apex

By Matthew Pariselli  •  August 19, 2019

Winners of the 2019 407 ETR Summer Student Poster CompetitionWinners of the 2019 407 ETR Summer Student Poster CompetitionPeople viewing postersUndergrads

It’s the summit of their summers, the conclusion of their climbs. It’s the peak of their research projects, the finale of their efforts. It’s the Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) 407 ETR Summer Student Poster Competition.

Since May, undergraduate students have worked under the supervision of esteemed SRI researchers on projects exploring a variety of health science topics. They earned their placements through the SRI Summer Student Research Program, and on Aug. 15, 2019, they converged at the apex of their ascent to square off for glory. Cash rewards and the title of best research project were up for grabs.

Competing for prizes in Sunnybrook’s McLaughlin auditorium were 82 students—19 from Biological Sciences, 40 from Evaluative Clinical Sciences and 23 from Physical Sciences. This year’s crop of competitors was the largest to date.

Twenty-four judges, a blend of scientists, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students from the three platforms, selected those who reigned supreme. They toured the auditorium, listening as students explained their work and probing with questions when necessary. After deliberations, 12 students were recognized, and at the pinnacle were three first-place winners, one from each of the platforms—Ajay David in Biological Sciences, Apurva Dixit in Evaluative Clinical Sciences and Tashifa Imtiaz in Physical Sciences.

Dixit earned a win for her poster titled, “The development of a fragility index score to assess robustness of time-to-event analyses in randomized clinical trials.” Supervised by Dr. Stephen Fremes, she generated a new statistical method for researchers to use when evaluating their data.

“There’s a model that’s already been developed, but it’s only used for one certain kind of data, which is binary data. My project developed that model so it could also be applied to another type of data, which is time-to-event analysis,” Dixit said. Binary data, information that must be read by a computer, is represented by zeros and ones, whereas time-to-event data measures the time until the occurrence of an event, like a death. Dixit’s work will enable researchers to assess the significance of their time-to-event data.

Giddy following the announcement of her name, the McMaster University health sciences student added that she’ll likely put her prize money toward a vacation. “I think I need to relax after this summer,” Dixit said through a laugh.

In addition to the three first-place accolades, three second- and third-place awards were handed out, as well as three honourable mentions.

Dr. Nilesh Ghugre, a scientist in Physical Sciences at SRI, stepped into the role of judge for the day. Prior to the competition, he said a winning poster must effectively communicate a student’s work so either a layperson or an expert can understand it. He also said the ratio of text to visual elements needs to be carefully considered: “You can’t have too much of either—it’s always a trick to find the right balance.”

Ghugre addressed the value of the exercise, too. “The whole idea about research is to be able to get your idea across to people, to identify the impact. Presentation is key, and I think this is an excellent medium for students to get their hands dirty,” he said.

Revealing the winners at the culmination of the competition was Dr. Michael Julius, vice-president of research at SRI and Sunnybrook. “It’s quite a privilege to work under the excellent staff we have here at SRI, and a lot can be gleaned from the experience,” he said. “I’m thrilled to see that all the students here today—not just the winners—took full advantage of the opportunity. A great deal of exceptional research is on display, and I congratulate everyone involved.”

The winners from the 407 ETR Summer Student Poster Competition follow.

First place:

  • Ajay David (Biological Sciences; supervised by Dr. Carol Schuurmans): “Investigating the role of the Imprinted Gene Network in maintaining mammalian Müller glia quiescence and preventing a regenerative response.”
  • Apurva Dixit (Evaluative Clinical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Stephen Fremes): “The development of a fragility index score to assess robustness of time-to-event analyses in randomized clinical trials.”
  • Tashifa Imtiaz (Physical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Kullervo Hynynen): “Effect of microbubble and nanodroplet concentration on speed of sound.”

Second place:

  • Kate Noseworthy (Biological Sciences; supervised by Dr. Isabelle Aubert): “Widespread transduction of striatal neurons with rAAV2-HBKO and MRI guided focused ultrasound.”
  • Gursharan Sohi (Evaluative Clinical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Natalie Coburn): “The cost of providing chemotherapy: a systematic review and meta-analysis.”
  • Alex Tummon Simmons (Physical Sciences; supervised by Dr. David Goertz): “Computer controlled impedance matching for arbitrary hollow cylinder piezoelectric transducers.”

Third place:

  • Kirusanthy Kaneshwaran (Biological Sciences; supervised by Dr. Beverley Orser): “Crosstalk between IL-1Beta in astrocytes and p38-MAPK in neurons mediates postanesthetic cognitive deficits.”
  • William Pidduck (Evaluative Clinical Sciences; supervised by Drs. Patrick Henry and Albert Yee): “Local surgical complication rates in patients receiving surgery without post-operative radiation therapy for lower extremity bone metastases.”
  • Jillian Cardinell (Physical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Victor Yang): “Optical coherence tomography angiography analysis and quantification pipelines for retinal and dermal pathologies.”

Honourable mentions:

  • Megan Brenkel (Evaluative Clinical Sciences; supervised by Drs. David Wasserstein and Michael Hardisty): “Comparing motion capture technologies for ACL injury screening.”
  • Markus Kuksis (Evaluative Clinical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Katarzyna Jerzak): “The incidence of brain metastases among patients with HER2+ and triple negative metastatic breast cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis.”
  • Mahir Hamid (Physical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Kullervo Hynynen): “Vaporization efficiency of nanodroplets for triggered drug release.”

First-place winners received $500; second-place winners, $300; third-place winners, $200; and honourable mentions, $100. Names of the victors will be put on display plaques at SRI.

A different contest was held on the same day as the poster competition. “Tell it to a fifth-grader” pitted preselected finalists against each other. Students in the showdown prepared lay summaries of their work and shared them with fifth-graders, who then collectively determined a winner. Triumphant here and walking away with a cash prize of his own was Miles Jonson, supervised by Dr. Fahad Alam in Evaluative Clinical Sciences. His project was titled, “Can 3-D video games help people with Alzheimer’s disease?”

Students accepted into the summer research program receive a hands-on experience at a renowned institute and the mentorship of SRI staff. Careers in research are promoted, and students attend an orientation and are invited to weekly seminars, which showcase the work of SRI scientists.

In a nutshell

  • At the annual 407 ETR Summer Student Poster Competition, held Aug. 15, 2019, 82 contenders vied for top prizes.
  • Twelve undergrad students were honoured for their research projects, each receiving a cash award.
  • A wide range of health research was presented at the contest, highlighting the breadth of work students carried out over the summer at SRI.