UTCSP Trainee Scholarship Recipients 2012-2013

Danielle DeSouza
is a third year PhD student in the Institute of Medical Science/Neuroscience collaborative program, University of Toronto. Under the supervision of Drs. Karen Davis and Mojgan Hodaie, she studies patients with a chronic facial pain disorder, called trigeminal neuralgia (TN). Although TN affects a peripheral nerve, we recently demonstrated that these patients have structural abnormalities in brain areas involved in pain and its modulation. One intervention for TN, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery (GKRS), precisely delivers radiation to a portion of the trigeminal nerve. Since we currently do not understand the mechanisms underlying the analgesic effect of GKRS, the aim of my PhD project is to use structural MRI to delineate the neural correlates of pain relief in TN patients undergoing GKRS. Understanding how pain can be relieved may provide further insight into the mechanisms underlying this condition, which could help to improve current treatments and optimize patient outcomes

Ruma Goswami is a post-doctoral fellow working under the supervision of Dr. Karen Davis in the Division of Brain, Imaging and Behaviour — Systems Neuroscience. Peripheral nerve injuries (PNI) occur commonly in the workplace and are a major cause of disability. However, while some patients report sensorimotor problems/pain following surgery, others do not, leading to the hypothesis that the differences may reflect individual personality and neurophysiological factors. Thus, the aim of Ruma’s study is to determine whether pre-existing patient factors (i.e., catastrophizing, anxiety, structural brain abnormalities in gray and white matter) are associated with sensorimotor recovery and neuropathic pain following surgical repair. Longitudinal assessment of pre-existing personality traits and pre-surgical brain features may aid in understanding the development of chronic pain following surgery. It is Ruma’s hope that patients will benefit from tailored treatment options that may include psychological assessments and brain imaging to improve maladaptive brain plasticity and potentially prevent pain.

Erika Harding completed her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience and Chemistry at Dalhousie University. Erika is now a first year graduate student supervised by Dr. Michael Salter in the Department of Physiology at the University of Toronto. Erika will be researching neuropathic pain, focusing on pain-relaying neurons in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. Utilizing electrophysiological techniques and calcium imaging, Erika will be investigating the protein Src, which has been shown to facilitate neuropathic pain. She hypothesizes that Src increases calcium concentration in these neurons, leading to hyperexcitability, which manifests as neuropathic pain. By also looking at the effects of Src antagonists on these neurons, this project will help confirm that Src changes neuronal behaviour in a biologically consistent manner. This will determine if Src represents a suitable pharmacological target for future therapies to treat neuropathic pain.

Mike Hildebrand completed his PhD in Neuroscience at UBC and then did an Industrial R & D Fellowship at Neuromed Pharmaceuticals, where he helped identify and characterize a novel class of ion channel blockers for the potential treatment of pain. In 2010, Mike joined Mike Salter’s laboratory as a postdoctoral fellow, with the goal of combining electrophysiological, biochemical and behavioural approaches to study spinal cord signaling mechanisms in animal models of chronic pain. Mike has found that two distinct neural signaling pathways linked to neuropathic pain are actually functionally connected, so that when the "brakes" are removed from spinal cord excitability (BDNF-mediated disinhibition) this acts to also "step on the gas" for neuronal output (facilitated excitation through NMDA receptors). Mike project is revealing new insights into the cellular mechanisms of neuropathic pain, creating potentially new approaches for the rational design of drugs to treat chronic pain in humans.

Grace Lee (RN, MSc) is a PhD student at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto and a research trainee at the Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute and the CIHR Pain in Child Health program. Grace is also a member of the UTCSP Knowledge Translation (KT) Sub-committee. Under the supervision of Dr. Bonnie Stevens, she plans to conduct an Institutional Ethnography of the pain management practices of Registered Nurses in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). This research will examine how pain management is coordinated by social relations and textual influences at the local and system levels. Study results will contribute to a better understanding of the complexity of pain practices in the NICU and inform the development of KT strategies in the future.

UTCSP Trainee Scholarship Recipients 2011-2012

Mike Hildebrand completed his PhD studying voltage-gated calcium channels in Terry Snutch’s laboratory at UBC. As an Industrial R & D Fellow, he went on to identify and characterize a novel class of ion channel blockers for the potential treatment of pain. Mike is now a postdoctoral fellow in Mike Salter’s laboratory and is combining behavioural and electrophysiological approaches to explore functional interactions between distinct spinal cord nociceptive signalling pathways.

Mary-Ellen Hogan is a pharmacist who has just completed a Master of Science at the University of Toronto with Dr Anna Taddio as her supervisor. Her thesis research was a randomized controlled trial that investigated tactile stimulation to reduce pain from immunization in infants. She has just begun a PhD and plans to conduct an economic analysis of a knowledge translation program for immunization pain management in infants.

Aaron Kucyi is a Master's student in the Institute of Medical Science at University of Toronto under the supervision of Karen Davis at Toronto Western Research Institute. He is researching the dynamic interactions between pain and attention, with a focus on the role of activity fluctuations in human brain networks. His work combines pain psychophysics (behavioural testing) with neuroimaging (structural and functional MRI) to provide insight into the mechanisms of spontaneous chronic pain.

Sheila O'Keefe-McCarthy is in the 5th year of a PhD in Nursing. Her doctoral dissertation examines the relationship of pain management, pain, and anxiety for Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS) patients while awaiting transfer for urgent diagnostic cardiac catheterization. Sheila is an active trainee member on, the University of Toronto Centre for the Study of Pain involved in the U of T Interfaculty Pain Curriculum (IPC), and has recently completed her two year role as the national trainee representative on the Canadian Pain Society Executive Board of Directors for 2009-2011.

Qi Wu was an Anesthesiologist in China. He finished his PhD with Dr. James Henry at McMaster on mechanisms of osteoarthritis pain in 2010. His current postdoc research with Dr. Karen Davis is in mechanisms of pain and fatigue in Ankylosing Spondylistis patients. He is interested in clinical pain management.