A cure for this lifetime
By Damian Chwastek and Ryan Daniel
Special Guest Writers
Damian Chwastek and Ryan Daniel are 4th year Faculty of Medicine students in the Honours Bachelor of Science Program in Translational and Molecular Medicine. They wrote this story originally for their Science Communications course as part of a series profiling researchers at the Faculty of Medicine. MedPoint will be publishing profiles from this series throughout 2019 .
Many of us drive or take public transit to work and school, but not Adam Pietrobon. Instead, the third-year MD/PhD student at uOttawa relies on his lungs, often running more than 5 km a day to get to his laboratory at uOttawa—even in the winter.
But what if he couldn’t?
What if Pietrobon’s lungs were deteriorating and he couldn’t perform normal physical activities without wheezing or coughing, or experiencing a lung collapse? This isn’t just a thought. This is the reality for people with a rare lung disease called Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), a disease he spends his days working to cure.
LAM is characterized by the formation of growths in the lungs, which eventually causes damage of the lung tissue resulting in debilitating symptoms. The current treatment for LAM slows down the development of growths in the lungs, however, it does not fully eliminate them. Further complicating matters, many patients are unresponsive to treatment.
Pietrobon is currently part of a research team in Dr. William Stanford’s laboratory located at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI), where they are working towards finding a cure for LAM.
Pietrobon’s project includes assessing various drugs and their potential for treating LAM.
Typically, stem cells are used in research for regenerative purposes, but Pietrobon is instead using them to model LAM cells to see if he can identify a drug that can effectively kill them.
“We’ve established the first-ever stem cell model for LAM, and with it, it is realistic that we can cure LAM in our lifetime,” says Pietrobon.
Pietrobon’s passion for LAM was recently recognized on a national level, when he was awarded the 2018 Vanier Graduate Scholarship. This award is given to a select number of outstanding graduate students from across Canada who show exceptional promise in academic excellence, research potential and leadership.
While research is a passion for Pietrobon, he is also working towards becoming a clinician through the MD/PhD program at uOttawa.
“I absolutely love research, but I’d also very much like to work with people and treat patients directly,” says Pietrobon, who is in a program that integrates basic science research with patient care, allowing him to translate his work from bench to bedside.
“The University of Ottawa is affiliated with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute which is renowned for clinical translation of basic science discoveries,” says Pietrobon. “It’s a world leader in stem cell research and when it comes to finding a cure for LAM in our lifetime, I’m confident that it’s not a matter of if, but when and I’m excited to be a part of that journey.”
The Science Communications course is designed and taught by Dr. Kristin Baetz, director of the Ottawa Institute of Systems Biology and professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology, to foster in students the ability to convey complex science to a lay audience – an essential skill when making presentations, applying for grants, composing abstracts for research papers and generally communicating one’s work in the biomedical sciences.