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An inspiring final act

By Matthew Pariselli  •  August 22, 2018

Winners of the 2018 407 ETR Summer Student Poster CompetitionWinners of the 2018 407 ETR Summer Student Poster Competition

The curtain may have dropped on what has been an invaluable and insightful summer for students at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI), but the bright lights of big stages await.

With dress rehearsals behind them, 69 students from all three platforms—16 from Biological Sciences, 33 from Evaluative Clinical Sciences and 20 from Physical Sciences—took their places on Aug. 16, 2018 at the 407 ETR Summer Student Poster Competition to vie for the “Best Summer Research Project” prize. Since May, students accepted into the SRI Summer Student Research Program have engaged in a wide range of projects under the tutelage of the institute’s researchers and trainees, and the annual poster competition, held in Sunnybrook’s McLaughlin auditorium, was the culmination of their efforts. In addition to the title of “best,” cash rewards were also up for grabs.

A panel of 21 judges, made up of scientists, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students from the three platforms, circled the auditorium, listening as students explained their work and asking questions when necessary. After the production drew to a close, and the judges had made their decisions, 12 students were crowned. Climbing to the top of the heap were first-place winners Alina He in Biological Sciences, Kaiwen Song in Evaluative Clinical Sciences and Brayden Kell in Physical Sciences.

Song, who snagged a win for his poster titled, “Navigating caregiver strain: predictors of caregiver strain for caregivers of youth with mental health and/or addictions issues accessing navigation services,” was visibly awestruck when his name was announced. Supervised by Dr. Anthony Levitt, Song said family functioning, among other variables, allowed him to predict levels of caregiver strain.

Looking forward, he said, “Navigation services can take this information and identify whether the caregivers that they’re currently working with are experiencing higher strain, and if so, perhaps they can provide some additional resources to these caregivers, so that we also care for these caregivers. In the end, if the caregiver is doing better, their youth is doing better.” He added that his prize money will go toward tuition for medical school, which he has two years left to complete.

Three second- and three third-place distinctions, as well as three honourable mentions, were also announced. The honourable mentions were reserved for students in Evaluative Clinical Sciences and Physical Sciences, owing to the large number of participants from these platforms.

One judge to cast a ballot was Germain Hwang, a software developer in Physical Sciences. Relishing his first experience in the role, Hwang said he was confident the quality of science showcased would be high. The deciding factors, in his view, were in the presentation elements. “Mostly clarity of the poster itself, and then whether students can answer questions well—how the students interact with the judges,” he said before the competition began. He also emphasized the importance of an event like this for up-and-coming scientists: “It’s probably an eye-opener; it gives them a better field of view. They’ve probably focused on one specific thing [this summer], but looking at other people’s presentations, they can see what else is out there.”

Dr. Michael Julius, vice-president of research at SRI and Sunnybrook, revealed the victors. In discussing the students’ successful summer, he said, “To spend months with the experienced researchers we have here at SRI is an excellent opportunity for aspiring scientists, and the projects on display today illustrate that. All participants deserve a loud round of applause; their future looks very promising.”

The winners from the 407 ETR Summer Student Poster Competition:

First place:

  • Alina He (Biological Sciences; supervised by Dr. Burton Yang): “A novel circularRNA, circ-Nlgn-1, promotes the progression of cardiac disease.”
  • Kaiwen Song (Evaluative Clinical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Anthony Levitt): “Navigating caregiver strain: predictors of caregiver strain for caregivers of youth with mental health and/or addictions issues accessing navigation services.”
  • Brayden Kell (Physical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Martin Yaffe): “Fractal dimension as a quantitative metric of noise texture in tomosynthesis images.”

Second place:

  • Luke Ajay David (Biological Sciences; supervised by Dr. Carol Schuurmans): “Elucidating the role of imprinted genes in retinal regeneration.”
  • Connor Ostoich (Evaluative Clinical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Amy Cheung): “Psychological distress and mental health service access: trends and prevalence among a population-based sample of students from Ontario, Canada, 2013–2017.”
  • Yuan Tao (Tom) Wei (Physical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Cari Whyne): “Performance of press-moulded patient-specific orbital floor implants in a cadaveric model.”

Third place:

  • Joshua De Sousa Casal (Biological Sciences; supervised by Dr. Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker): “Development of a scalable, in vitro method for pro-T cell production suitable for clinical applications.”
  • Farah Wehbe (Evaluative Clinical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Yana Yunusova): “Speech acoustics detect bulbar changes in clinically unaffected patients with ALS.”
  • Ivy Deng (Physical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Simon Graham): “Functional MRI of the letter cancellation task in older adults.”

Honourable mentions:

  • Nastasia Kujbid (Evaluative Clinical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Rick Swartz): “Strokes still happen differently on Mars and Venus: age and sex differences in ischemic stroke care.”
  • Rachel Strauss (Evaluative Clinical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Jeannie Callum): “A quality improvement project to reduce the use of the AST and BUN.”
  • Mengyuan Li (Physical Sciences; supervised by Dr. Mihaela Pop): “Novel T1 mapping-based preclinical models for cardiac electrophysiology: a combined experimental and theoretical study.”

Three $500 cash prizes were given to first-place winners. Second-place winners received $300; third-place winners, $200; and honourable mentions, $100. The names of the winners will be engraved on display plaques at SRI.

On the same day as the poster competition, a separate contest unfolded, called “Tell it to a fifth-grader,” whereby five preselected finalists battled for a cash prize. To reign triumphant here, students prepared lay summaries of their projects and presented them to 11 fifth-graders, who then deliberated and landed on a winner. Supervised by Dr. Avril Mansfield in Evaluative Clinical Sciences, Jennifer Hutter emerged the champion for her project, “How can we help people with stroke exercise and be healthier?”

Students accepted into the summer research program receive an immersive, hands-on experience at a renowned institute, as well as the mentorship of SRI faculty. The postgraduate research field is promoted as a career as students attend an orientation and are invited to attend weekly seminars, featuring the work of SRI scientists across all programs and platforms.

In a nutshell

  • On Aug. 16, 2018, 69 students at Sunnybrook Research Institute converged to compete for “Best Summer Research Project” at the 407 ETR Summer Student Poster Competition.
  • Twelve students were recognized for their work over the summer months.
  • A variety of projects were presented, showcasing the diverse health research carried out at the institute.