#UofTMed TRP Student Profile – Helen Liu
Name: Helen Liu
Year of Study: 2nd Year
Country of Origin: Canada
Previous Education: Bachelor of Science (Hon.), Psychology Research Specialist and Physiology Minor (University of Toronto)
Why the Translational Research Program?
During my undergraduate program at the University of Toronto, I was fascinated with learning about new findings that scientific research could uncover. Therefore, I actively sought and pursued many research opportunities so that I too could be involved in the process of knowledge discovery. For instance, I partook in basic science research in cognitive neuroscience through my Psychology Research Specialist Program which allowed me to conduct eye-tracking experiments and elucidate aspects of statistical learning. Moreover, I was interested in being exposed to different streams of research beyond basic science. Therefore, I ventured into the realm of clinical research at Toronto General Hospital in the Multi-Organ Transplant Program. This experience not only allowed me to dig into the wealth of data captured in electronic medical records but also gave me first-hand experience interacting with patients to collect data. I found being able to put a face to the data was essential because sometimes when you are just analyzing the data it is easy to lose sight of the end goal – using scientific research to help individuals (such as the patients).
From these cumulative experiences, a question I have always had was how are the published research papers used to influence the health of the general population? In fact, a lot of research that is published is not accessible to the general population. Firstly, many papers require a subscription to be viewed. More importantly, even if a patient or caregiver is able to access the paper they may not have the background knowledge or time to understand how the experiments in the papers will help with their or their loved one’s health. Lastly, even if they overcome all these barriers to understand the experiments, how do they as patients and caregivers have the ability to influence change in healthcare? Having had these questions in the back of my mind, I spontaneously came across an email for an open house at the Translational Research Program through the Toronto General Hospital. After the open house, I realized I was interested in learning and pursuing more translational research – where I would be able to apply all the interesting research findings to real-life healthcare problems and help the end users.
Why the Faculty of Medicine at UofT?
I chose the the Faculty of Medicine within the University of Toronto because not only is it known to be one of the best graduate programs in Canada, being a student in this faculty, we also have access to innovative courses taught by leading researchers/professors in the field, and links to many hospitals/incubators within Toronto.
How have you explored different opportunities and career paths in the health sciences?
TRP has exposed me to many additional personal and professional development opportunities. For instance, just two months into the program, I was able to help out for Pillars of Health, a student-led organization that hosts biannual networking sessions, attracting up to 200 healthcare professionals from the different pillars of health (academia, government, industry, clinicians, and patients). This meaningful opportunity allowed me to see the importance of communication between the siloed pillars. Patients have a deep understanding of what their challenges are and what they want to be solved. On the other hand, researchers may have scientific findings but not know what specific challenge is the most important for a patient and lack the business skills to be able to translate the research into the clinic. Therefore, it is important to have an open space where all the pillars can communicate with one another and share their knowledge. Since I resonated strongly with the meaningful mission of this organization, in my second year of the program, I became the co-chair of Pillars of Health. This opportunity not only allowed me to develop my leadership, communication, and many other transferable skills but more importantly, it taught me the value of going against the status quo and initiating change if you think something needs to be fixed.
The TRP program also introduced me to new career options that I never knew existed. For example, from the TRP program, I learned the important role finance and business play in translating research. There are many intelligent researchers with great research ideas and findings, however, if they do not have the capital backing them to continue their experiments, they may never be able to bring their research into the market to help those who could benefit from it. Having had an interest in both business and science since high school, I was ecstatic to learn that I would be able to amalgamate both into a career. Coincidentally, just as I was looking into completing an internship where I would be able to combine both business and science in a real-life work environment, there was an internship opportunity with MaRS Innovation that perfectly aligned with my interests. This intern analyst position was meant to be focused on a program called LAB150 at MaRS Innovation– which involves scouting for exciting scientific research from the universities and hospitals within the Toronto area and evaluating the research to see if there is potential to invest up to $400k in the project for it to be further developed into a therapeutic drug. Fortunately, I was selected for this internship program and through the past nine months of the internship, I have had countless learning experiences. From expanding my professional network by meeting with key opinion leaders and attending industry conferences to learning how to conduct full due diligence on a research project. All of this would not have been possible without the support from the TRP program and the incredible mentors I have met along the way at MaRS Innovation.
What are you learning about translational research during your time at MaRS Innovation?
While actively translating research at my internship, many of the learnings from the TRP came to be true. One example is seeing first-hand that the journey of mobilizing research and its subsequent translation is not a one-person job; it requires a multi-disciplinary team, including but not restricted to basic science researchers, clinicians, drug discovery experts, technology transfer personnel, key opinion leaders, and business development personnel. Furthermore, I was able to apply some of what I have learned about the importance of intellectual property in knowledge translation and the basics of a patent search combined with additional teaching from patent experts at MaRS Innovation.
Future Education Plans and/or Career Goals
I am currently considering careers within an academic setting as well as non-academic jobs related to healthcare, biotech, and business.
Congratulations to TRP Senior Advisor & LMP Prof Avrum Gotlieb, on being one of four UofT researchers to receive the Connaught Global Challenge Award. The project will support the development of a Translational Hub, a collaborative community to mobilize knowledge & commercialization to improve impact on health & patient outcomes. Read an excerpt from UofT News below.
Professor Avrum Gotlieb, in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, will receive $247,000 to build capacity for translational research that enables scientific discoveries to move out of the lab and into the real world, where they can improve patient care, health-care policy and products like pharmaceuticals.
Gotlieb, whose academic research is focused on cardiovascular disease, is also a senior program adviser with U of T’s Translational Research Program, which seeks to move knowledge “towards mechanisms, techniques and approaches that support the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease.”
The Connaught award will support the development and implementation of a Translational Hub – a community dedicated to educational programs, research collaborations and community-building that’s focused on knowledge mobilization and commercialization to improve impact on health and patient outcomes.
“Creation of a community to provide support and infrastructure at the U of T will expedite the growth and development of our local translational infrastructure and its global reach,” said Gotlieb in his project description.
Read about the 2019 winners of the Connaught Global Challenge Award.
Connie Putterman – Seasoned Parent Advocate and New Researcher
Written by: Paige Gilbank
“I am a Translational Research student (MHSc candidate) who is transitioning from my role as a parent advocate for [family involvement] in neurodevelopmental research, to a researcher in neurodevelopmental research, hopefully. I’m in a transition phase of my life,” Connie Putterman says thoughtfully, fitting decades of experience and future aspirations into two short sentences.
Connie comes to the Translational Research Program (TRP) with an untraditional career path, a unique perspective and a passion for patient and family involvement in research.
“My advocacy is about me wanting other people to see what I see. And that is: there’s so much to gain by being involved in research. Because you’re not just helping your child, you are helping yourself and helping others. It’s sort of a win-win? For me, it was and continues to be.”
Connie Putterman’s son was diagnosed with autism at an early age. Connie went from a career in business, working for the Ontario Centres of Excellence program, to a full-time mother and manager of her son’s care and participation in autism research.
“I took my personal journey, which was having had a child with autism diagnosed at a young age, and getting involved in research activities very soon after he was diagnosed… I had a journey that resembled a career path of sorts because I began as a participant in research and then moved into various advisory roles. What I realized through this journey is that I became an expert in navigating uncertainty. And I think you have to be, but you don’t necessarily want to be when you first get a diagnosis. You go ‘what do I, how do I manage this?… How do I help my child?’ And you continually ask yourself: how do you live in that uncertainty and navigate through it to get the best help for your child?”
“I realized over many years that it was so beneficial to be involved in research as a parent participant, as a parent advisor, as a parent representative on committees, as a parent who’s brought in to be co-lead and chair a national Knowledge Translation (KT) committee. As I got further along, I had this experience participating in research that benefited me so much. Then I decided that I really wanted to promote the benefit to other families to get involved in research.”
Connie has always been interested in science and being involved in autism research only fueled her drive to get more involved.
“…how can I be more a part of the team? I really wanted to understand how research works. And the only way to do it is to study it. So, that’s why I came to study at the TRP at the University of Toronto. And I’m so glad I did. Now, I have a different perspective on the research process and translational thinking, and I’m hoping to change the way autism science research thinks about translation – to have more impact.”
The TRP focuses on how research can be designed with impact in mind, discussing the values but also the challenges of patient-centered research. The program teaches the translational landscape from discovery to application and examines the valleys of death that draw out the innovation process. Connie’s experience in her professional advocacy highlights the difference in hypothetical problem-solving and the complexities of these challenges in the real-world, where the problems don’t exist in isolation.
In her second year, Connie’s already using what she’s learning at TRP in her role as Parent Advisor. She sees the way research has always been done and interjects the questions of “how can we consider the impact?” and “how can you reframe the question in a way that takes into account some of the patient needs?” into discussions with researchers. For many in these circles, it’s a different way of thinking.
“I’m a seasoned parent, but I’m also a new researcher. I bring that dual role and it’s really interesting because sometimes I feel conflicted. You need to include families but then there are certain instances where it’s pretty impossible. We are currently trying to figure out how to do that in our Capstone project.”
Connie’s second-year Capstone project focuses on understanding the needs of refugees in Toronto who are awaiting status and need to access health services. She’s working in a team with three other TRP students with interdisciplinary backgrounds. Ibrahim Alshaygy is an orthopedic surgeon from Saudi Arabia, completing a fellowship in Toronto. Christina Beharry is a recent graduate of a Bachelor of Science, specialized in Psychology and Graduate Certificate in Autism and Behavioural Science. Jonathan Lee is a recent graduate of a Bachelor of Health Sciences. Together, they use their unique perspectives in creative brainstorming to drive the research forward with the patient need at the center of their project.
Throughout this process, Connie has learned that we don’t always truly understand the problem, and that research can mean more than searching for a cure or treatment. When she began her first year of TRP, Connie wondered: “how do you get to the research question?”. She wanted to know how to start off a truly meaningful project with the appropriate research question. Now, Connie describes her Capstone project as a needs analysis, focusing on understanding the complexity of the problem-space. Their research question revolves around discovering the needs of refugees, setting the stage for future work to address them.
Like most students nearing graduation, Connie’s thinking of her own next steps. Of how she’s going to take her experience at TRP to impact neurodevelopmental research and her recent work in Family Engagement in Research (FER). As a Parent Advocate, Connie continues to see a need for families engaged in research to have an appreciation of the scientific method and process and in turn, for the researchers to better integrate the family’s perspective. Connie sees the need for better processes, training and communication between researchers and parents as a way to fill the gap between them and allow for better engagement in research. She recently created a FER course through a joint partnership with Kids Brain Health Network, McMaster and Canchild in Hamilton that is a first step toward achieving better partnerships for families and researchers.
During the remainder of her Capstone and post-graduation, Connie will also prioritize developing her qualitative research skills. By better understanding the research perspective and incorporating that into her role as a parent advocate, Connie hopes to be that bridge she was looking for.
“Maybe that will be my role when I’m done… By understanding both sides, maybe that’s where I fit in.”
Learn more about Connie and her advocacy work.
Rawtalk Podcast #57 Autism – Unraveling the Spectrum
TedXTalkYorkUSalon – Finding your WAZE
#UofTMed TRP Student Profile – Sydney Taylor
MHSc Translational Research Candidate, 2nd year
Why Faculty of Medicine?
I have always had an interest in medicine and healthcare. The Faculty of Medicine at UofT offers an array of programs that best suit my graduate needs and provides support for me to further develop my professional skills. Two of the largest influencing factors for me were the reputation of the university and the numerous opportunities for collaboration amongst the students within the faculty.
Why the Translational Research Program?
After completing my Bachelor of Kinesiology, I knew that I wanted more control over the direction of my graduate degree. The TRP provides us with the tools we need to develop and complete a collaborative capstone project, as well as challenges us to approach problems within health care differently. We are exposed to the numerous facets within the health care ecosystem, which provides me with the ability to further develop areas of interest and increase my understanding of how the system can be changed.
Current Research Experience
Four months as a research analyst at the Toronto General Research Institute and previous four months inputting patient data during a student work term placement at a biomechanics lab.
Future Education Plans and/or Career Goals
One of the main reasons I applied for the TRP was to pursue my passion regarding women’s reproductive health. Upon completing my graduate degree, I will continue to pursue opportunities within this space. My personal experiences combined with the learnings from the program have increased my awareness of the current gaps within this field and the possibilities to address these gaps. My overall goal is to improve the experience of women during their reproductive years.
Job ID 139741 – Communications & Marketing Assistant
The Communications & Marketing Assistant will be an integral part of the Translational Research Program team to assist in the creation and implementation of the graduate program’s communication strategy. The candidate will work collaboratively and independently to create communication materials employing a board range of technical skills and strategic thinking. Working closely with the Program & Partnerships Officer and Program Director, the candidate will design and produce content for the program’s multiple communication platforms including website, social media (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn), newsletter, and print materials and optimize audience reach.
Job ID 139745 – Community Events & Recruitment
The Event Planning and/or Marketing Assistant will work closely with the Program and Partnerships Officer to engage the program’s stakeholder community and develop new opportunities to reach prospective students and clinician innovator community.
Duties include: Assisting in all aspects of coordinating, organizing, and marketing of TRP to prospective students and interested stakeholders; coordinating and organizing events including grad fairs, email outreach, booking venues, setting up and preparing promotional materials; preparing promotional materials and distributing to interested student groups, departments, hospitals other relevant health organizations for engagement.
Job ID 140389 – Partnership Research & Engagement Workstudy
The Partnership Research & Engagement Workstudy will work closely with the Program and Partnerships Officer to help in the research and development of strategic relationships with hospitals, community health organizations and health innovation industry. The candidate would be aiding the cultivation and sustainability of organizational relationships by supporting the development and maintenance of outreach and partnership materials and affiliations in line with the program’s strategic priorities and initiatives. The candidate will assist with research on potential partners and help identify key contacts;
help maintain current partners and explore new ways to grow the partnerships; support the implementation of a systematic, process-driven approach to partner outreach and relationship management; identify and source partnership opportunities through inbound lead follow-up and outbound communications strategies, and build the organizational network through targeted outreach and planning.
HOW TO APPLY
You can find out more about the positions and qualifications for each job on the Career Learning Network (CLN.utoronto.ca). Log in with your UTOR ID then click Jobs → Work Study and search for the position by the Job ID number provided above. Instructions for applying are located in each position’s posting.
Please make sure you have a tailored cover letter (the Career Centre can help with this!)
The deadline to apply is 11:59pm on May 17, 2019. Applications will be considered on a rolling basis.
By Gabriella Chan
On June 11, 2018 the United States Federal Court of Appeals (the “Court”) heard the case of Medtronic Inc. v. Mark Barry. Medtronic is a global manufacturer of various medical devices including spinal surgery tools and devices. Spinal surgeon Dr. Mark Barry sued Medtronic, alleging that some Medtronic products infringed a group of his patents that were directed to methods of improving spinal column deviations using pedicle screws to correct conditions such as scoliosis.
Medtronic sought to disprove infringement by alleging that Barry’s inventions were not patentable because they were anticipated by Medtronic’s prior art. Medtronic cited one of its own patents as prior art against Dr. Barry ’s patents, as well as a video demonstration and a slide presentation of de-rotation surgeries, including with pedicle screws, to correct scoliosis (the “Materials”). Medtronic first presented the Materials to 20 spinal deformity experts at a Spinal Deformity Study Group (“SDSG”) meeting in Scottsdale as part of Medtronic’s sponsorship of medical education courses at industry meetings and conferences. It subsequently presented the Materials at two additional conferences; the first in Colorado Springs, attended by 20 SDGS surgeons, and the second in St. Louis, attended by 55 SDSG surgeons. Notably, at least 75 non-SDSG surgeons also attended the Colorado Springs and the St. Louis meetings.
Medtronic initiated Inter Partes Review (IPR) proceedings against Barry’s patents though the U.S. Patent and Trade Mark Office’s Patent Trail and Appeals Board (the “Board”). The Board determined that the Materials were not prior art citable against Barry because they were not ‘publicly accessible’, and therefore were not ‘printed publications’. While an inventor who disclosed un-protected material at a conference would have been elated with this determination, Medtronic, wishing to invalidate Barry’s patents, hoped for the opposite result so it sued Barry in Court. Medtronic argued that Barry’s patents were invalid because, while the Scottsdale disclosure of the Materials may not have been to the public, its disclosure of the Materials at the Colorado Springs and St. Louis meetings did constitute a public disclosure and the Materials were publicly accessible. Therefore, the questions before the court were whether (i) the distribution of certain materials to groups of people at one or more meetings renders such materials printed publications and (ii) the materials were sufficiently disseminated at the time they were distributed at the two conferences to have been made available to the public.
The crux of the prior art evaluation analysis depends, subject to some exclusions, on whether the Materials became public before the date on which the patent application for the invention was filed. Section 102(b) of 35 USC requires that an invention must not have been (i) described in a printed publication, (ii) in public use, (iii) offered for sale, or (iv) otherwise available to the public. Similarly, section 28.2(1) of Canada’s Patent Act, requires that a patentable invention must not have become “available to the public in Canada or elsewhere”.
To determine whether a piece of prior art (also referred to by the courts as a reference) is a printed publication requires a legal exercise based on the underlying facts and the circumstances under which the reference was allegedly disclosed to the public. The courts have used ‘public accessibility’ as a proxy to determine whether the dissemination of a reference constitutes a printed publication (re Hall, Fed. Cir. 1986).
In this case, the Court determined that the Board did not address the potentially critical difference between the SDSG meeting in Scottsdale and the conferences in Colorado Springs and St. Louis so it remanded the case to the Board for re–evaluation. The Board must now determine whether the dissemination of the Materials to a set of “supremely-skilled experts in a technical field precludes finding such materials to be printed publications and were publicly accessible”. In its re-evaluation, the Board must determine whether the Materials were published without restrictions at the Colorado Springs and St. Louis meetings and whether the SDGS members were expected to maintain the confidentiality of the Materials or whether they were permitted to share or publicize the Materials and the insights they may have gained at the meetings. In addition, the Board must treat the relatively exclusive nature of the SDSG membership as only one factor in the public accessibility analysis and it must consider the purpose of the meetings.
By way of a review of other factors to be considered in a prior art analysis, the Medtronic Court reiterated that a printed publication need not be easily searchable after publication if it was sufficiently disseminated at the time it was published. Divulging the existence of a paper, and then proceeding to inform a captive group of persons of ordinary skill in the art of its contents in an oral presentation, can be a factor in determining public accessibility. Similarly, although not dispositive of the inquiry, the length of time any material is exhibited, the ease with which the material presented or displayed could have been copied, and the expertise of the intended audience can help determine how easily those who viewed the material could retain it.
Additional analysis factors include the presence or absence of an expectation of confidentiality between the presenter and the audience. Importantly, even without a formal notice or requirement of confidentiality, such as “Confidential” marking or a non-disclosure agreement, the Court noted that one must still determine whether any policies or practices associated with a particular meeting, or any academic or professional norms, may give rise to an expectation that a disclosure would remain confidential.
Although this case outlines a few potentially exculpatory factors against a finding of public disclosure, if inventors themselves were to disclose the information, they may avail themselves of the applicable grace period in a few jurisdictions. However, the grace period is no saving grace in a first to file jurisdiction if a third-party were to race to the patent office to file an application before the inventors do. Using the facts of this case as a hypothetical example, if Barry learned about the use of pedicle screws at Medtronic’s first conference, then filed patent applications for a Medtronic invention in his name and applying the Board’s finding that Medtronic’s Materials did not constitute prior art against Barry’s patents means that Barry’s patents stand. As the Medtronic case demonstrates, an inventor’s disclosure at a meeting may or may not constitute prior art against a third party so, in the words of the prolific inventor Ben Franklin, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. There is no better substitute for inadvertent disclosure of patentable information than filing at least a provisional patent application to protect it before presenting it anywhere.
Featured Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash