Meet The 2021 TC3 Fellows

We are excited to announce our inaugural cohort of TC3 Fellows.
They come from all corners of the University of Toronto and Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network and are each advancing impactful cannabis and cannabinoid-related research projects.

Mark Aquilino

Mark Aquilino

Dr. Peter Carlen

I am a biomedical engineer who is applying signal processing techniques to understand our brain's electrical activity.

I am using human brain organoids to assess the effect of cannabinoids on controlling epilepsy and seizures.

My goal is to be able to assess which epilepsy patients are most likely to be positive responders to cannabinoid treatment. By assessing the electrical activity of organoids - 3D brain tissue made from a patient's blood sample - I can measure how effective different cannabinoids would be to suppressing a patient’s epilepsy.

It's exciting to be on the frontier of drug development - cannabinoids have the potential to be a revolutionary medication for epilepsy.

My favourite podcast is Flail Forward, a weekly podcast about game design.

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Ankita Das

Ankita Das

Dr. Stefan Kloiber

I am a physician from India, currently a second-year Master of Science (MSc) candidate at the Institute of Medical Science, University of Toronto.

To understand perceptions, motivations, and effects of cannabis use in individuals with mood and anxiety disorders including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

With the medical marijuana program and recent legalization Canada is in a unique situation with various challenges including a large controversy and uncertainty about potential risks and beneficial effects of cannabis or specific cannabis products in the area of Mood and Anxiety disorders. Results from the systematic review will inform healthcare decision makers, patients and clinical care providers to identify risk patterns and improve preventative approaches as well as the design of future research projects in this field.

It is paradoxical that while individuals report reduced anxiety/depression as the motivation for using cannabis, yet acute anxiety is the most common adverse effect of cannabis use. Moreover, there are more than 6 cannabis shops just around my locality. Thus, researching on cannabis is quite interesting as you are sure to discover new facts every day!

I am passionate about singing and playing my piano. During the weekends, you can either find me playing basketball or hiking in the woods!

Twitter: @DrAnkita1102

Avery Loi

Avery Loi

Dr. Beth Sproule

I'm a PharmD graduate from the University of Toronto, recently completed hospital pharmacy residency at University Health Network, and currently enrolled in the MSc Pharmaceutical Sciences program.

My research is focused on the feasibility of implementing a novel program, CannabisCareRx, in the community pharmacy setting to help pharmacists assess and manage patients using cannabis.

As the number of people using cannabis continues to grow, so does the potential for harms and risks associated with cannabis. The CannabisCareRx program will help pharmacists, who are uniquely positioned as trusted and accessible health care providers, to assess, screen, and manage these risks.

I really enjoy how the field of cannabis/cannabinoids is always evolving and innovative!

I'm a huge Raptors fan! I enjoy playing and watching basketball.

Twitter: @AveryLoi

Catharine Mielnik

Catharine Mielnik

Dr. Ruth A. Ross

I completed my PhD in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology at the University of Toronto.

I am a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, studying the role that a prominent endocannabinoid, 2-AG, plays in states of increased dopamine signalling that are prevalent in psychiatric illness.

Using mouse models of dysregulated dopamine signaling, we will characterize 2-AG’s role (along with its downstream signaling pathways) in these disease states, allowing us to better understand how the endocannabinoid system can be targeted to treat dysregulated dopamine. This study focuses on a body of work imperative to better understanding treatment for psychiatric disorders, particularly highlighting the vigilance needed around endocannabinoid modulation in psychiatric disorders.

I enjoy the complicated nature of the endocannabinoid system, and how in the context of neuropsychiatric illness, the clinical application of my work is relevant to the therapeutic landscape.

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Twitter: @camielnik

Alexandra Santos

Alexandra Santos

Dr. Peter Carlen

I am currently a Masters of Applied Science student in Biomedical Engineering at University of Toronto, and also completed my Honours Bachelor of Science at University of Toronto in Neuroscience and Pharmacology.

My project involves modelling epileptiform activity in human cerebral organoids as well as looking at the effects of cannabis compounds on in vitro seizure models.

This work is important to find novel anti-seizure treatments, and eventually develop a personalized drug testing platform for people with epilepsy.

Being on the edge of science and elucidating the effects of compounds so widely used both recreationally and medically

I love to hike up mountains. My favourite hobby is gardening!

Twitter: @synapticsantos

Maryam Sorkhou

Maryam Sorkhou

Dr. Tony P. George

I am completing my Master’s Degree at the Institute of Medical Science with a specialization in Addiction Studies.

My research project employs a 28-day contingency management abstinence intervention to examine whether reductions in cannabis use will lead to improvements in clinical symptomology and cognitive functioning in patients with major depression.

The findings may demonstrate that reductions in cannabis use may be a viable treatment goal with associated clinical and cognitive benefits. These results can inform clinicians, policymakers, and other key stakeholders on the effects of cannabis in psychiatric populations.

Research in this area is especially fruitful, with significant advancements occurring rapidly due to the changing landscape surrounding cannabis’ legal status.

My favourite podcast is Stuff Mom Never Told You.

Twitter: maryamsorkhou97

Ke Bin (Kelly)  Xiao

Ke Bin (Kelly) Xiao

Dr. Matthew Sloan

I completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Toronto, followed by a Clinical Research Graduate Certificate at Seneca College, before returning to the University of Toronto as an MSc student in the Graduate Pharmacology program.

Our research aims to examine the effects of cannabidiol on craving and alcohol consumption in individuals with alcohol use disorder, as well as its neurocognitive effects.

Currently, there are only three approved anti-craving drugs for alcohol use disorders in Canada. If cannabidiol is found to be effective in reducing craving and alcohol consumption, it may provide more treatment options for patients who were unresponsive to the previous medications.

The various effects of cannabis, particularly the therapeutic effects is what I enjoy most about studying and research the cannabis/cannabinoid system

I enjoy reading spoilers on novels, tv shows and movies. My favourite podcast is Roz and Mocha.

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Yi (William) Yang

Yi (William) Yang

Dr. Lakshmi P. Kotra

I graduated from the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto with a specialist in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and am currently a PhD candidate in the department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

My project revolves around the medical chemistry of cannabis and cannabinoids, investigating cannabis as a complex mixture of physiologically active molecules.

Despite its widespread medical use, basic research on the combined effects of chemicals in cannabis at cannabinoid receptors is lacking. Investigations into this chemical complexity along with its associated responses will serve to guide healthcare professionals and maximize the health benefits of medical cannabis prescriptions.

Being pioneers in a relatively under-explored field, cannabis research, constantly venturing into the unknown, and encountering many rewarding challenges as part of trailblazing work is what I enjoy most about cannabis/cannabinoid research

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Twitter: @WillYan03447617

Adam Zaweel

Adam Zaweel

Dr. Bernard Le Foll

I am currently a first-year PhD student at the department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, I graduated with a PharmD degree from the Lebanese American University.

Using anonymous surveys and in-depth interviews, our project aims to better understand cannabis use patterns among individuals with pre-existing substance use disorders and concurrent mood/anxiety disorders.

Cannabis use is common among patients with substance use disorders, however, our understanding regarding patterns and motives for use remains limited. Results from our study will help fill this knowledge gap, and have the potential to educate and inform patients, their families, healthcare providers, policy makers and other stakeholders in this field on the impact of cannabis use in patients with pre-existing substance use disorders.

I enjoy being able to answer questions and provide evidence-based information on a topic that has historically been overlooked and understudied, and continues to be shrouded in misinformation.

I have lived in four different countries, Canada being the fifth. My favourite hobby is lane swimming.

Twitter: @AdamZaweel

Han Zhong (Jerry) Zhou

Han Zhong (Jerry) Zhou

Dr. McIntyre Burnham

I am a Pharmacology and Toxicology Graduate at the University of Toronto.

I am researching the therapeutic potentials of different cannabinoids against epilepsy and its co-morbidities.

Epilepsy is a prevalent disorder among populations that could lead to life threatening conditions. Cannabinoids have been suggested to protect and alleviate symptoms of epilepsy.

The unexplored therapeutic potentials of Cannabinoid drugs is what I enjoy most about cannabis/cannabinoid research

I like sports and getting a good night's rest.

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Laura Best

Laura Best

Dr. Bernard Le Foll & Dr. Isabelle Boileau

I completed my PhD in Medical Science at the University of Toronto with the support of the CIHR Frederick Banting and Charles Best Doctoral Award, and my HBSc in Pharmacology at McGill University.

My project will involve critical steps to develop new positron emission tomography tools to image the endocannabinoid enzyme, monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL), in the human brain.

By developing a novel tool to image components of the endocannabinoid system thought to be involved in pain, anxiety, inflammation, depression and other symptoms of neuropsychiatric conditions, this research will pave the way for future studies in clinical populations. The aim is to use brain imaging in humans to help future scientists better understand the underlying endocannabinoid mechanisms contributing to the experiences of those with mental illness and addictions.

I enjoy cannabinoid research because it allows me to contribute to a fairly new, yet quickly-evolving field focused on a system that is involved in a huge variety of physiological and neurological processes. In short, it's a challenging yet fascinating field of research.

I love listening to audiobooks while out for a long walk with my dog, Riley.

Twitter: @laurbest

Helena  Fetter Filippini

Helena Fetter Filippini

Dr. Robert Bonin & Dr. Mohit Kapoor

I am a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Bonin’s Lab ( Faculty of Pharmacy - UofT) and collaborate with Dr. Kapoor’s lab at the University Health Network (UHN). I am from Brazil and hold a D.D.S., Specialty degree, Masters, and Ph.D. in Endodontics and Specialty degree in Orofacial Pain and Temporomandibular dysfunctions. My research is focused on Neuroscience and pain.

My project aims to assess the effects of cannabinoids in pain, anxiety, memory and disease stages of osteoarthritis in mice.

Cannabis is a potential therapy for osteoarthritis and may provide analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant and disease-modifying effects. The results of this work will inform drug administration protocols for planned clinical studies of cannabis for osteoarthritis pain, as well as provide unique information on the mechanisms by which cannabinoids relieve pain.

The opportunity of understanding the mechanisms of cannabinoids in pain relief, bringing responses for those who suffer from pain, and improving their quality of life, is fascinating.

I love drinking a cup of tea while enjoying a great book.

Twitter: @HelenaFilippini

Justin Matheson

Justin Matheson

Dr. Bernard Le Foll

After completing my PhD in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology at U of T, I started a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Bernard Le Foll in the Translational Addiction Research Laboratory at CAMH.

My main postdoc project is a pilot trial of the synthetic cannabinoid drug nabilone as a potential treatment for obesity.

Obesity is a serious health concern lacking effective drug treatments. As previous research has suggested a role of the endocannabinoid system in obesity, we aim to test for the first time the hypothesis that a CB1 receptor partial agonist may reduce body weight in adults with obesity, which could represent a significant advance in obesity treatment.

The breadth of cannabis products, motives for using, and potential therapeutic applications of cannabinoids means there will never be a shortage of interesting research questions to explore in the cannabis/cannabinoid research field.

I love horror movies and I hope to someday finish writing a horror novel. My favourite podcast is Dead Meat.

Twitter: @justinrmatheson

Pavel Powlowski

Pavel Powlowski

Dr. Ana Andreazza & Dr. Ruth A. Ross

I completed my BSc. in Pharmacology from McGill followed by an MSc in Pharmacology at UofT where I am currently a PhD student.

I am studying the role of cannabinoids in altering mitochondrial function.

Cannabinoids have been known to impact mitochondrial function for decades, but recent research demonstrates the presence of CB1 receptors on mitochondria. We hope to be able to help patients suffering from mitochondrial disease by applying CB1 mediated therapies to inducible pluripotent stem cells from patients.

Helping to answer longstanding questions about cannabis benefits/harms in a country that has recently legalized is what I enjoy most about cannabis/cannabinoid research

One of my favourite hobbies is growing cacti from seed.

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Claire Shyu

Claire Shyu

Dr. Isabelle Boileau & Dr. Bernard Le Foll

I am a PhD student in the lab of Dr. Bernard Le Foll and Dr. Isabelle Boileau at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, ON, Canada. I completed my HBSc in Neuroscience and Psychology at Queen’s University prior to joining the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the University of Toronto in 2020.

My research project utilizes neuroimaging to investigate how opioid exposure impacts the endogenous cannabinoid system and its involvement in opioid use disorder.

This project will open up many opportunities for future research looking to identify ECS biomarkers for the assessment, identification and prevention of problematic opioid use and provide foundation for potential ECS targeted pharmacotherapies for opioid addiction. This will greatly benefit the millions of people who are at risk of opioid abuse, dependence, addiction and overdose every year and help mitigate the current opioid crisis in North America.

The endless possibilities and collaboration is what I enjoy the most about cannabis/cannabinoid research

I enjoy kickboxing.

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Madison  Walker

Madison Walker

Dr. Michael D. Cusimano

I am currently in the second year of my MSc degree at the Institute of Medical Science at UofT, based out of St. Michael's Hospital.

My thesis is focused on the effects of recreational cannabis legalization on emergency department visits and hospitalizations for injury and trauma.

My research will provide insight into how cannabis legalization has affected rates of injury and trauma, such as vehicle collisions and self-harm, and which groups are most affected. This will help guide targeted public health efforts including educational strategies and awareness campaigns to promote cannabis safety and prevent unnecessary injury.

I enjoy working on novel cannabis policy research that I know will have direct implications to benefit public health and safety.

I have played sports my whole life including ice hockey, rugby, volleyball, and field hockey. I love the Office Ladies podcast because I am a big fan of the Office series!

Twitter: @madisonwalker43

Hui Jue (Janet) Wang

Hui Jue (Janet) Wang

Dr. Krista Lanctôt

I am a first-year Pharmacology PhD student in the lab of Dr. Krista Lanctôt at Sunnybrook Research Institute.

Our Nabilone for Agitation Blinded Intervention Trial (NAB-IT) will investigate the efficacy of a synthetic cannabinoid called nabilone in treating agitation in patients with moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s disease.

Current drug treatments for agitation in Alzheimer’s disease, namely antipsychotics, have limited benefits and are associated with a slew of negative health issues. By finding a safer and more effective alternative, we could greatly improve the quality of life for patients and decrease the physical and psychological burden on their caregivers.

I like that my research area is about a relatively new and “controversial” topic to scientists and the general public alike; introducing my research to the people around me has prompted many impassioned and thought-provoking conversations, which has enriched my experience as a student and allowed me to better appreciate the potentially far-reaching impact of my future work.

My favorite show is either Breaking Bad or The Office.

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Maham Zain

Maham Zain

Dr. Robert Bonin

I am a third-year PhD student in Pharmaceutical Sciences.

My research is examining the ways in which we we can modulate the hedonic quality of gentle touch.

A better understanding of the neural circuits that underlie gentle touch detection and its perception will aid in the development of therapies for disorders with dysregulated sensory processing such as Autism or chronic pain.

Positive results with cannabinoids holds great and fast potential for translation into therapeutics settings.

I have 2 cats named Dexter and Dee Dee whose relationship is pretty much like the characters of the cartoon show. I'm a foodie at heart.

Twitter: @MahamZain1

Hantao Zhang

Hantao Zhang

Dr. Robert Bonin

I am a PhD candidate under the supervision of Dr. Robert Bonin. I obtained my honor B.Sc. degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry from the University of Toronto.

My project focuses on cage-lid hanging behavior, as a translationally relevant outcome measure of pain-associated anhedonia in mice, and evaluates how it could be modulated by cannabinoid compounds.

We want to use this behavioral measurement to standardize the behavioral testing process to evaluate both safety and efficacy profiles of potential cannabinoid compounds to alleviate pain in mice. This project will analyze potential cannabis drug candidates and bridge the translational gap in cannabis research.

This research will pave the way for new analgesics to improve functionality in human patients suffering from chrinica pain.

I am enthusiastic about science communication and love cooking and spinning in my spare time.

Twitter: @HantaoZhang3

Lola Zovko

Lola Zovko

Dr. Ali Salahpour

I was born and raised in Windsor, Ontario where I completed my Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience at the University of Windsor. I am currently pursing my PhD in Neuropharmacology.

I will be using a dopamine deficient mouse model to demonstrate potential beneficial cannabinoid treatments in Parkinson's disease.

Treatments that enhance L-DOPA and reduce the dose required for therapeutic effect are highly desired as they potentially delay the development of L-DOPA induced dyskinesia. Potential cannabinoid drug treatments that would increase L-DOPA efficacy or duration in our model would provide beneficial therapeutic intervention in Parkinson’s disease and could potentially reduce or delay the development of L-Dopa induced dyskinesias.

Discovering potential uses of cannabis/cannabinoids in motor disorder treatments is what I enjoy most about cannabis/cannabinoid research

My favourite show is Adventure Time and I love playing the piano!

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Stay Tuned for Next Year's Round of Applications

Join the TC3 to be eligible for funding opportunities

The TC3 acknowledges the Institutional Strategic Initiatives Office of the Division of the Vice-President Research and Innovation, Temerty Faculty of Medicine, Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto Scarborough, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, Faculty of Arts & Science, Faculty of Kinesiology, Department of Cell & Systems Biology, at the University of Toronto and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for funding support.