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Tomorrow’s scientists tour Lawson research facilities

Senior chemistry class learns about hospital-based research in London, Ontario

Senior chemistry students tour Dr. Alexandre Legros' gait lab with Dr. Sebastian Villard (far right), postdoctoral scholar

Senior chemistry students from H.B. Beal Secondary School tour Dr. Alexandre Legros’ brain stimulation lab with Dr. Sebastien Villard (far right), postdoctoral scholar

St. Joseph's Hospital - 

A group of senior chemistry students from H.B. Beal Secondary School visited Lawson Health Research Institute (Lawson) facilities at St. Joseph’s Hospital on Wednesday, November 8. In addition to learning about Lawson’s world-renowned imaging research, the group toured the Cyclotron and PET Radiochemistry Facility and Dr. Alexandre Legros’ brain stimulation lab.

The students first learned about Lawson’s simultaneous PET/MRI – the first in Canada – and its associated research. Led by Dr. Jonathan Thiessen, Lawson imaging scientist, the presentation focused on the benefits of combining Positron Emission Tomography (PET) with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) across multiple disciplines.

Dr. Thiessen presents to high school class

Above: Dr. Jonathan Thiessen discusses Lawson’s simultaneous PET/MRI

Benjamin Wilk, a PhD candidate working under Dr. Thiessen’s supervision, presented on his research which is focused on developing methods to image the heart after myocardial infarction, or heart attack, using PET/MRI. Qi Qi, another of Dr. Thiessen’s PhD candidates, discussed his research that looks at multimodal imaging to evaluate tumour perfusion and glycolysis in brain tumours.

“It is an incredible opportunity to present our work to high school students,” said Dr. Thiessen. “By seeing examples of the research happening in their own community, my hope is that some of them will be inspired and work hard to become the scientists and healthcare professionals of tomorrow.”

The students were then split into two tour groups. The first group toured Lawson’s Nordal Cyclotron and PET Radiochemistry Facility with the facility’s director, Dr. Michael Kovacs; Jeff Corsaut, engineer; and Dr. Justin Hicks, Lawson imaging scientist.

Dr. Justin Hicks provides tour of the Cyclotron and PET Radiochemistry Facility

Above: Dr. Justin Hicks provides a tour of The Cyclotron and PET Radiochemistry Facility

The Cyclotron and PET Radiochemistry Facility is used to produce positron-emitting radiopharmaceuticals (PERs). PERs are injected into patients undergoing a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. The half-life of the radioactive isotopes in PERs is short, which necessitates generating them with a cyclotron that is in close proximity to the clinic where they are used.

The students learned how PERs are produced in the Cyclotron and research being conducted with PERs to advance imaging of complex diseases.

The second group toured Dr. Alexandre Legros’ brain stimulation lab which is part of the Bioelectromagnetics and Human Threshold Research Group at Lawson. Dr. Legros’ research focuses on the effects of specific electromagnetic stimuli - from deep brain stimulation to power-frequency magnetic fields - on human brain processing, motor control and cognitive functions. The students were guided by lab manager, Michael Corbacio, and postdoctoral scholar, Dr. Sebastien Villard.

Above: Dr. Sebastien Villard (second from right) and Michael Corbacio (far right) provide a demonstration of research being conducted in Dr. Alexandre Legros’ Bioelectromagnetics and Human Threshold Research Group

The two groups of students then traded places, touring the facility they had not yet visited.

“The H.B Beal senior chemistry class was impressed and grateful with the opportunity to visit the facilities at Lawson Health Research Institute,” said Andrew Holmes, the class’ teacher and head of science at H.B. Beal. “The presentations, cyclotron tour and research lab gave students some valuable insight into some of the roads available to them with a scientific path in education. Students were particularly impressed with how enthusiastic and excited the researchers were in talking about their work at Lawson, and came away with a very positive view of scientific career paths.”

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