Letter from the Editor-in-Chief

by Natalie Osborne

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of The Ring

Lately I have been revisiting old childhood stories to avoid languishing like Artex in the Swamps of Sadness. After three devastating waves of covid-19, there is a lot to despair about. But, as I hope this special pandemic issue of the IMS Magazine will illustrate, there is also reason to be proud and thankful.

This issue features some brilliant and hard-working IMS members who pivoted their research to address covid-19. From blocking the virus’ entry into our cells to tackling inequities in healthcare infrastructure, IMS researchers are finding solutions for this and future pandemics. On page 8, you’ll find an infographic on covid-19 in Ontario, including how racialized minorities and individuals with lower incomes were disproportionately affected in Toronto.

Read how Dr. Andrea Gershon and her team adapted their smartphone app to help monitor the health of covid patients isolating at home using blood oxygen levels, temperature, and symptom reporting (page 10). Their ultimate goal is for the COVIDFree@Home app to determine when patients should seek emergency medical care. Dr. Sanjeev Sockalingam realized that the pandemic would exacerbate and add to existing mental health challenges for many Canadians, and the resulting lockdowns would increase barriers to accessing treatment. Learn how his group are analyzing and optimizing digital mental health programs to address this issue on page 12. Dr. Haibo Zhang and colleagues, building on lessons learned from SARS, have created a soluble form of ACE2 that can competitively bond with the virus and prevent it entering cells. They are currently running preclinical and clinical trials to investigate this potential new treatment for covid-19  (page 16). Dr. Sharmistha Mishra and her interdisciplinary team are applying some of the modelling techniques they use to study HIV transmission to investigate how covid-19 outbreaks occur differently province to province and within vulnerable populations (such as long-term care residents). They are also tracking the effectiveness of various interventions, to one day guide more tailored public health responses (page 18).

The pandemic has been at the forefront of students’ minds – as you can read in our viewpoints (pg 24), which include a discussion of the ethical and logistical challenges of vaccine rollout to the anticipated “4th wave” of mental health issues and its implications for grad students. Ever the optimists, IMS students also describe the “pandemic pause-itives” they have enjoyed in the past year. And see pages 32 and 34 for the inspiring journeys and encouraging advice of Faculty Spotlight Dr. Michael Fehlings and Alumni Spotlight Dr. Stephen Wright.

It has been difficult to face the terrible inequalities in our society and healthcare system laid bare by covid-19. Our Diversity in Science section (pg 36) features an interview with Dr. Chase McMurren, who explains why listening to Indigenous voices, perspectives and experiences is vital if we want to build a truly equal healthcare system.

Finally, I would like to thank all the students who volunteered their time to write, edit, photograph and design for this issue. IMS Magazine is a labour of love, and a reflection of IMS students’ earnest passion and dedication to health and science. I would also like to thank former Co-EIC Beatrice Ballarin for her many years with the magazine and wish her best of luck with her career.

We hope you enjoy this issue as a testament to the innovative and resilient spirit of the IMS community, and we’d love to hear from you: you can email us at theimsmagazine@gmail.com and visit our website at imsmagazine.com.

Natalie Osborne

Natalie is a 5th year PhD student using neuroimaging and sensory testing to study sex differences in chronic pain under the supervision of Dr. Karen Davis.

Twitter: @NatalieRaeOz

Website: http://www.natalieraeosborne.com