New Assistant Professor in the BMI department, Dr. Mireille Ouimet
Dr. Ouimet will be joining uOttawa as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology in March 2017. She will lead a Cardiovascular Metabolism and Cell Biology Laboratory at the University of Heart Institute, and her research program aims to determine the role of autophagy in macrophage foam cell metabolism, inflammation and cholesterol trafficking.
What is your background?
I am a biochemistry major, completing my B.Sc. with honours at the University of Ottawa in 2005. I chose to do my undergraduate honour’s project in the laboratory of Yves Marcel, a world-renown lipoprotein metabolism expert, and this is where I became interested in the etiology of atherosclerosis, lipid droplet biology and cellular cholesterol trafficking. So I joined Yves’ lab at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute for my graduate studies, in the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology at uOttawa, and graduated in 2011. For my postdoctoral studies, I moved to New York City to join Dr. Kathryn Moore, a notable leader in the fields of innate immunity and atherosclerosis. At NYU (New York University), I gained valuable experience in the fields of immunometabolism, non-coding RNA biology, and in vivo model systems of atherosclerosis. I remain fascinated with the role of autophagy in health and disease, particularly cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, and the potential discoveries to be made. I am now looking forward to launching my research program at uOttawa and bridging major gaps in our knowledge of the mechanisms by which macrophage autophagy protects against atherosclerosis, the cause of the majority of cardiovascular complications.
Tell us about your research?
My expertise is in autophagy, lipid homeostasis, immunometabolism, non-coding RNA biology, and in vivo model systems of atherosclerosis. My Ph.D. work led to some important findings relevant to the cellular pathways of cholesterol removal from foam cells, my most significant contribution being the discovery of autophagy as a key pathway for macrophage cholesterol efflux. During my postdoc, I studied the relationship between the microRNA miR-33 and autophagy, lipid metabolism and the innate immune system, and made some exciting discoveries broadening our understanding of mechanisms leading to predominance of classical M1 inflammatory macrophages in atherosclerotic plaques, cellular cholesterol trafficking, and the persistence of M. tuberculosis bacilli in alveolar macrophages. Now, my independent research program is built on a combination of the knowledge and technical skills that I have gained during both my graduate and postgraduate studies, and aims to identify mechanisms of autophagy-dependant cholesterol efflux and its role immunometabolism.
What are some applications of your work?
I am interested in understanding fundamental mechanisms of cellular lipid homeostasis, trafficking, and metabolism, particularly in lipid-loaded macrophage foam cells. During atherosclerosis, foam cells accumulate in the artery wall, and they are the precursor of heart disease. While today we have lipid-lowering therapies such as statins to prevent atherosclerosis, they are not universally effective and do not reverse atherosclerosis. Therefore, the Canadian population and health care system continue to be heavily burdened by this disease. The ultimate clinical goal is to stop, prevent and reverse the atherosclerotic process, preventing heart attacks and strokes. The objectives of my research program, designed to broaden our understanding of the mechanisms of cellular lipid removal and to define the role of these metabolic pathways in inflammation, are to identify novel therapeutic targets for the development of lipid-removal therapies to treat heart disease, to identify new diagnostic biomarkers of heart disease, and to develop autophagy modulators as heart disease therapies.
What got you interested in lipid metabolism and heart diseases?
My passion for science began in adolescence. I distinctly remember the awe that I experienced at the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of biological systems. Like many teenagers, I struggled choosing my career path. Because I also enjoyed physics and mathematics, I started my undergraduate studies in electrical engineering, and I quickly developed an intense dislike for computer programing and mechanical physics. I knew I found my path when I changed to the Biochemistry program. I had a natural (-ish) aptitude in the biochemistry laboratories, and I can think back to many thought-provoking lectures; the molecular makeup of our bodies is so impressive, how could I not marvel at all that wonder? While doing my undergraduate honours project, I developed a special interest in discovery science. I fell in love with macrophages and lipid biology, and went on to complete my PhD and to do a postdoctoral fellowship. Now, I am excited to start a new chapter in my research career, and I know that I will be forever captivated by cardiovascular biology and the mysteries it beholds.
What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume?
I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Whenever I set my mind to something, whether it be my science or home improvements, I do it with great enthusiasm and focus so that it turns as best as possible! I enjoy art, I love cats, and I love to travel and discover new places, cultures and history around the world. I talk about science in my everyday life way too much, which can drive my husband crazy. I’m an avid reader, eclectic in my tastes; some of my favourites are Solar by Ian McEwan, the Harry Potter series, and Gone with the Wind. I’m also an Ottawa Senators fan, and enjoy skiing, skating and camping in the great Canadian outdoors. My favourite bands are Metric, Tegan and Sara and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and it’s no secret to my friends and family that I’m hugely fond of karaoke. Finally, I’m a bit of a foodie (OK, a total foodie), so I’m looking forward to poutine and ribfest in Ottawa!