Bram Bussin and Qin Ji receive 2022 Cecil Yip Award

Orginally by Jovana Drinjakovic

Five graduate students at the start of their research training have been awarded the 2022 Cecil Yip Doctoral Research Award.

The annual award recognizes outstanding students in their first year of graduate programs who are conducting collaborative research projects that straddle the traditional scientific field boundaries and have the potential to impact human health. The award was established by the Yip family in honor of the late U of T Professor Cecil Yip, former vice-dean of research at the Faculty of Medicine and co-founder of the Donnelly Centre.

Yip co-founded the Centre in 2005 as the first interdisciplinary research institute at U of T dedicated to foundational discoveries in biology for the advancement of biomedicine.

The 2022 award winners are enrolled in graduate programs at the Department of Molecular Genetics (Mogen) and the Institute of Biomedical Engineering (BME). Their research projects attempt to answer some of the biggest outstanding questions in human biology with implications for neurological disorders, infectious disease, regenerative medicine and cancer.

“On behalf of the Yip family and the award committee, I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to the 2022 Yip award recipients,” said Christopher Yip, chair of the award committee and Dean of U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and the son of late Professor Yip. “Their research projects tackle some of the most challenging questions in human biology and disease through the development of new methods that will benefit researchers all around the world. I am excited to follow their progress and learn about the discoveries they will make.”

Bram Bussin and Qin Ji, both at BME, are in the same lab where they are tackling the problem of targeted drug delivery from different angles. Under the supervision of Dr. Warren Chan, Director of BME, Bussin and Ji are studying how nanoparticles are taken up by the cells in the body in an effort to use them as vehicles for delivering cancer drugs directly into tumours. The Chan team previously showed that around half of nanoparticles injected into the bloodstream get taken up by the liver, while less than one percent of the particles, or one in one hundred, reach tumours. As the particles travel through the bloodstream, they get coated by serum proteins that may impact their uptake by the target cells. Bussin is developing high-throughput approaches to identify which of the blood proteins interact with the receptors on the liver cells. With this knowledge it might be possible to engineer nanoparticles to avoid the liver and hopefully route more of them into tumours. He is collaborating with the functional genomics expert Dr. Jason Moffat, formerly at the Donnelly Centre and now at the Hospital for Sick Children, and the liver immunologist Sonya MacParland, at the Toronto General Research Institute.

Ji is focused on the interaction between the nanoparticles and tumours. He’s building up on previous research from the lab which showed that the particles do not passively leak from the blood vessels into tumours as previously thought. Instead, they are transported in an active process, the details of which remain unclear. Ji has set out to probe tumour metabolism as the driving force of this active transport process. Ji’s hope is that by gaining a deeper understanding of the relationship between tumour nutrient transport and nanoparticle accumulation, this knowledge can be used to better target the nanoparticles into tumours.