Q & A with Daniel McLean
Daniel McLean

Daniel McLean | PhD candidate, ChemE in collaboration with IBBME

Recipient - Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship | Granting Agency: NSERC |
Research Proposal: Antibody-mediated brain imaging in Alzheimer's disease

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your research?

My research is aimed at developing a protein-based imaging agent that can be used to diagnose and monitor the progression of Alzheimer's disease (AD). AD is a progressive neurodegenerative disease which impairs the cognition, memory and behaviour of 24 million people worldwide. There is no definitive diagnosis or monitoring modality for AD and the underlying disease mechanism is poorly understood. Clinical diagnosis and monitoring is heavily dependent upon potentially subjective behavioural evaluation of subjects.

The goal of this project is to image the senile plaques associated with AD and to correlate these images with the progression of the disease. Current imaging agents do not selectively bind with the senile plaques, thereby leading to numerous false positives. By selectively binding with the Alzheimer's plaques, we will be able to both better detect AD at an earlier stage, and follow the effectiveness of the treatment.

Specifically, we propose to develop a derivative of a monoclonal antibody that will cross the blood-brain-barrier, thereby allowing specific binding with the senile plaques in the Alzheimer's patient brain. By coupling a radioactive tracer to this molecule, we will use Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging to determine the location of the Alzheimer's plaques. In the same way PET images are used to monitor tumour growth in cancer patients, we propose to develop a molecule that will illuminate those regions of the brain in which Alzheimer's is developing. The senile plaques observed in patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease comprise millions of tiny proteins, called amyloid-beta, that have been slightly misfolded. The location and amount of misfolded protein will be visualized using PET imaging, thereby giving the health care professional an unbiased assessment of the patient's condition.

2. How does this scholarship help you or its recipients?

The Vanier Scholarship program encourages young researchers to stay or visit Canada to conduct graduate research. The rigorous application procedure and generous reward emphasizes the value Canadians place on basic research. There is a continuing debate within the mainstream media about whether Canadians adequately support basic research. The Vanier Scholarship helps young researchers to feel that Canadians support their work and understand the benefits of basic research. Particularly in the applied sciences, prospective graduate students choose to pursue an industrial career because of the abundance of well-paying jobs available. The Vanier Scholarship program encourages new Engineers or scientists to pursue graduate studies by removing the monetary benefit to entering industry. In the global knowledge-based economy, Vanier scholarships help train engineers and scientists that better equip Canada's workforce to compete internationally. Another benefit of the Vanier Scholarship program is greater financial freedom to travel to international conferences to present my research to wider audiences. Attendance at international conferences increases the visibility of Canadian research and provides a forum to obtain important feedback on my research.

3. Why do you choose to perform your research at U of T/Canada?

I choose to pursue graduate studies at the University of Toronto because of the impressive international reputation of the University, modern laboratories and equipment, and the highly collaborative culture amongst researchers. Biomedical engineering is a highly interdisciplinary field, which requires the combined expertise of researchers from many different fields. U of T has fostered a culture where researchers are encouraged and supported in collaborations. One of the most common questions I am asked as a Canadian graduate student is why I choose not to travel to the U.S. to pursue graduate studies. I often cite the high calibre, and underappreciated, research programs available at Canadian universities that allow me to conduct important research that benefits Canadians and can be presented to international audiences. Further, the supportive attitudes present in Canadian universities encourages greater collaboration, and cooperation amongst researchers. The Vanier Scholarship program will allow me to share the excellent research conducted in Canada with the international community.

4. Educational/work/research background

I hold a Bachelor of Engineering and Biosciences from McMaster University, where I was enrolled in a five-year Chemical and Bioengineering program. The program offers a traditional background in Chemical Engineering supplemented by biosciences themed courses such as physiology, pharmacology and tissue Engineering. My research experience includes three summer research placements, a 4th year undergraduate project and two years of graduate research. As an undergraduate, I participated in placements in three separate labs where I was able to gain a diversity of skills, techniques and ideas. In an interdisciplinary field such as bioengineering, it is critical to have wide breadth of experience with which these placements have provided me.

5. What kind of music do you listen to when you want to relax?

Surprisingly, I love to listen to a mix of punk rock bands. I know it sounds strange that punk rock music could be relaxing, but it is true! As a teenager, I listened to punk rock music continuously and
almost every song I listen to brings back fond memories.

6. Who do you admire most?

The mayor of Mississauga, Hazel McCallion. I grew up in Mississauga and have always looked up to our mayor for her inspiring leadership. I admire her perseverance, tenacity and commitment to improving her community. It is rare to find a public figure who makes decisions based upon what is best for her constituents rather than political expediency. Inevitably, I compare my leadership and the leadership of others to this woman.

7. What inspires your research?

I am most inspired when outdoors observing nature. Whenever I am able to go hiking, canoeing or fishing, watching the complexity of nature at work and trying to understand how the natural world works always provides me the creative energy to come up new ideas to solve the problems I confront in the laboratory.

8. If you had not chosen a career in Engineering, what else would you have done?

Understanding how living organisms function in their natural habitat has always been a passion of mine when I am not studying Engineering. Engineering is an attractive career because it allows me to use science to not only understand nature but also to improve the world we live in. I would have enjoyed studying population or community ecology because I could use this expertise to protect and enhance the natural environment.

9. What are you currently reading?

I just finished Malcolm Gladwells most recent book, Outliers. In Outliers, Dr. Gladwells tries to explain why some people are extraordinarily more successfull than others (he terms these people outliers). He emphasizes how many of the factors we typically attribute to success, such as hard work or pedigree, don't always explain why some individuals are more successfull than others. He argues that success is often by chance, and we squander talent by not nurturing those with talent fairly. Many of the examples presented to demonstrate Dr. Gladwells arguments are surprising and compelling.


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