Jens Vent-Schmidt

Research Topic

Developing a new cell-based therapy to treat inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis)

Research Description

Canada has the highest incidence of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) worldwide; over 200,000 Canadians are affected, and the financial burden to our society is over $2.8 billion annually. Currently, no curative treatment exists for this chronic relapsing inflammation of the gut and every treatment comes with a risk for harmful side effects. In IBD, the healthy balance in the gut immune system is disturbed. Simplified, a subset of immune cells get hyper-activated by certain factors and attack the patient’s body, while immune cells with regulatory properties are hypoactive and unable to stop the inflammation. I use gene-engineering to design regulatory cells to recognize those factors. I research their therapeutic properties to become activated in the gut and lead to remission of disease. This novel therapy will be patient-specific and significantly reduce the risk of side effects.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I was attracted to UBC since it is a world-class university in close proximity to the mountains and the sea. I chose to pursue my PhD with Dr. Megan Levings, a leading immunologist and expert on regulatory T cells (Treg) research, and Dr. Theodore Steiner, a clinician scientist and research expert on IBD. Their combined expertise in laboratory and clinical science is ideal for my research on the development of a novel Treg-based therapy for IBD. In addition, at UBC I am able to combine outstanding research with opportunities to further my mountaineering skills with the Varsity Outdoor Club, and my diving skills with the Aquasoc – both are renowned UBC AMS clubs.

 

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

In 2012, I graduated with a MSc equivalent in Molecular Medicine, specializing in Biochemistry from the University of Freiburg in Germany. During that time, I decided to switch direction and combine basic research with my passion for clinical application and knowledge exchange. I decided to pursue a PhD in Immunology to continue my training, while gaining valuable skills beyond the laboratory. For example, I strongly value teaching and got involved with the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology as a facilitator for the Instructional Skills Workshop early in my degree. Thus, I can broaden my skillset as an instructor, while deepening my knowledge in research.

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

I enjoy spending my time in the beautiful nature of British Columbia and the Pacific North West. I just had a son in July 2015 and I look forward to bringing him hiking, camping, climbing and exploring.

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Meet with your supervisor and establish a learning agreement outlining each other’s expectations and goals. If you are honest with yourself and your supervisor, you will create a document that you can refer back to in case of a low  period during your program. Also, take opportunities for a break and do something you love outside of your research.