Naturally occurring cationic host defence peptides and their synthetic mimics, innate defense regulator (IDR) peptides, are powerful regulators of the innate immune system. Improving our understanding of the mechanism of action of these peptides can guide the development of IDR peptides to treat disease. I am developing a novel in vitro screen for the mechanism of IDR peptide function. Embryonic stem (ES) cells will be differentiated into macrophages, believed to be a key target cell for IDR peptides. These cells will be stimulated with bacterial LPS and IDR peptides, then phenotyped to characterize their immune response to LPS and the effect of IDR peptide treatment on the immune response. Knock-out mutants will be compared with wild-type cells. Differences in the effect of IDR peptides between the wild-type and knock-out cells indicate that the mechanism of peptide function is dependent on the knocked-out gene.
What do you hope to accomplish with your research?
I hope to help stem the growing health problem of antibiotic resistance. Though antibiotics have long been a highly effective tool in treating infection, we need a new approach. IDR peptides may be that approach. In mouse models, these peptides appear to be effective against a broad range of pathogens, including drug-resistant strains, and can also limit harmful inflammation and protect against life-threatening septic shock.
What has winning a major award meant to you?
I hope that during my PhD I will be able to produce research that justifies the award.
What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?
How much I enjoy hanging out with my colleagues.
Why did you decide to study at UBC?
I came to UBC in order to study under the supervision of Dr. Hancock. I'd investigated Canadian researchers with work applicable to antibiotic resistance, and Dr. Hancock's research struck me as particularly interesting. My interview confirmed this impression and also gave me a look at the friendly, positive lab environment. I wanted to be a part of it.
What advice do you have for new graduate students?
Come to grad school because you want to be here, not just because you can't think of something else to do. Also, apply for scholarships even if you think it's a long shot. Worst case scenario – you'll get practice writing scholarship/grant applications.