Samantha Lora, Institute of Medical Science

Samantha Lora

Dr. Isabelle Boileau

Research Title:
Investigating Tauopathy in Military Blast Exposure: A Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Study with The Tau Tracer [F-18] flortaucipir

Description of your Research:
My research investigates the sub-concussive effects of repetitive exposure of blast overpressure waves by military members during their training exercises and operational deployments through the use of MRI and PET imaging.

Why did you Choose this Department:
Both Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Institute of Medical Sciences (IMS) offer a wide range of multidisciplinary research opportunities stemming from neuroscience, cardiovascular to population health. This department is specifically research focused, current educational initiatives aim to foster greater collaborations with the great variety of hospital partners at the heart of Toronto in addition to making investments towards student wellbeing and an increased commitment to equity.

Despite the multitude of challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic, the programs and department quickly pivoted to the virtual environment, it also enabled many clinician and research trainees to maintain and continue pandemic-related and mandatory clinical research. The Temerty Medicine community provided necessary tools to build a sense of community even throughout the pandemic through the resources and IMS community led events offered by student groups such as Institute of Medical Science Student Association, UofT Talks, Raw Talks Podcast, IMS Magazine,  IMS Connect and Temerty Medicine Connect that helped promote interaction among graduate students, staff and faculty as well as enable students to bring necessary educational, administrative, and legislative change. I am grateful to have worked alongside some of my wonderful IMS peers through these student committees.

How was your Experience Looking for a Research Opportunity?
While the University of Toronto is known for its vast research hub, finding your way into this space and mixing your undergraduate education with original research can be distressful. For me, I contacted a mass number of professors to work part-time in their lab with absolutely no luck until I finally participated in the GLSE lab-shadowing program where I was able to learn from graduate students. My experience here taught me to try any volunteer by not sending mass emails to faculty list but rather emailing professors whose work may be of interest to you, and that is when I found myself volunteering as an Research Assistant at CAMH under the supervision of Dr. Ofer Agid. Then the year following this, I spent a summer working in a Chemical Engineering Lab at the University of Toronto through the Work-Study program under the supervision of Dr. Mahadevan. It’s important to note that there are many research courses that you can also take in your upper years at UofT; my previous volunteer and work-study participation enabled me to navigate what type of research I was truly interested in. For my specialist program in the Human Biology’s (HMB) Health and Disease, I chose to interview and enroll with the Biomedical Engineering Capstone (BME) Course where I found the collaborative research work and the hands-on application was much different from wet lab/clinical research lab.

When did you Start your Research Experience?
My research journey began during my second year as an undergraduate student and I have volunteered in different labs including Department of Chemical Engineering & BME at the University of Toronto and CAMH (both Queen Street and College Street), and lastly at the Defense Research Development Canada which brought me to my master’s thesis project.

Why did you Choose this Supervisor?
Dr. Isabelle Boileau is a Canada Research Chair and a Senior Clinical Scientist at the Addiction Imaging Research Group at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s (CAMH) Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute. Dr. Boileau’s expertise and research focus in the use of brain molecular imaging techniques to better understand the living brain throughout the process of mental illness and addiction is what propelled me to this field of work. However, really drew me to Dr. Boileau’s lab has been the experiences of other students graduating from her lab who spoke of the exceptional support Dr. Boileau gives her students. Thus, in my supervisor I was looking for a mentor as well as someone whose research interests I find fascinating!

How’s the Social Experience with Research:
As an early research trainee, my experience as a study coordinator has been initially limited due to pandemic restrictions. However, as these policies lifted, I was introduced to a lab filled with inspiring individuals who are in the same field of work as I am. One of the aspects that you learn in graduate school include how helpful peer to peer support is throughout the entire journey. Becoming involved in many extracurricular activities such as the Institute of Medical Sciences Student Association, as the CAMH Site Director, or becoming an organizing lead to a symposium for UofT Talks, working with a school magazine such as Elemental all lead you to discover opportunities for mentorship both as a mentor and a mentee. I am endlessly appreciative of my lab mates and my peers who I have grown with in the past two years.

In research specifically prioritize collaboration and use up any opportunities to learn about other’s research work. Grades are not reflective of your abilities and potential, do invest in your progress and the journey instead!