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How Nine Weeks in Toronto Changed the Course of My PhD

j.chua5 March 2020

Daniyal Jafree with colleagues at the University of TorontoDaniyal Jafree (centre) is a MB/PhD student in UCL’s Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, combining a clinical MBBS degree with a PhD in the basic sciences. His research focuses on the development of lymphatic vessels in the kidney and in July 2019, he had the opportunity to delve deeper into his investigation by collaborating with researchers at the University of Toronto (U of T) to find out more about how these vessels are made.

Through UCL’s Bogue Fellowship scheme, which supports research visits to laboratories in the United States and Canada, Daniyal travelled to SickKids Hospital in Toronto, one of Canada’s most research-intensive children’s hospitals and an affiliate of U of T. Daniyal spent nine weeks at the hospital’s academic research institute, the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning (PGCRL), where he completed his research, re-planned the remainder of his PhD, and formed lasting connections with the team he met there.

Q: Can you briefly describe what your research was about?
My research is all about understanding lymphatic vessels in the kidney. Lymphatic vessels act like a waste disposal system and remove debris, excess fluid and cells from almost every organ. Heart attacks, cancer and dementia are all examples of diseases that feature faulty lymphatic vessels, highlighting the importance of this waste disposal system for healthy life. But how do lymphatic vessels first grow in the kidney, an organ that itself acts as a waste disposal system for our body? This question was partly answered by my PhD research, as we used three-dimensional imaging techniques to show exactly how lymphatic vessels first appear and form in the kidney. My research in Toronto was about taking our work to the next level, by understanding where the actual building blocks (the cells) that form the kidneys’ waste disposal system come from. This kind of information is important because targeting lymphatic vessels might lead to a completely new way of tackling kidney diseases.

Q: How did you hear about the Bogue Fellowship and what made you want to apply?
My Bogue Fellowship came to be by complete coincidence. I’ve always wanted to travel around and experience research in another academic environment. I’d also heard a lot about the amazing calibre of research at SickKids Hospital and how U of T and UCL have a really well-established partnership. At a conference in the UK, my supervisor Dr David Long and I were discussing my ideas with Professor Norman Rosenblum, an internationally renowned expert in kidney development and disease. He took an interest in our work and kindly suggested I visit his laboratory in Toronto where, coincidentally, he had all the tools and techniques I needed for my research. I was mind-blown to find that he was a clinician and scientist at SickKids Hospital; I’d heard about the exciting things they do there. I then looked up what UCL had on offer to support my visit to SickKids and the Bogue Fellowship came up—everything seemed to be falling into place!

Q: What unique research opportunities did you have at SickKids?
My research needed an advanced genetic engineering technique that enables scientists to ‘tag’ stem cells to see where they end up and how. The specific tools to carry out this technique, which I required to assess how kidney lymphatics form, weren’t available in London, nor anywhere else in the UK or Europe! However, SickKids had all of the things I needed. All in one place.

Q: How did collaborating with an international team benefit your work?
In the nine weeks I spent at SickKids I completed my research and found what I was looking for, with a lot of help from members of Professor Rosenblum’s laboratory. These individuals are amongst the brightest and best I’ve met in investigating kidney development and genetic diseases that affect the kidney. Watching their way of working, their rigour and the level of science they were performing had a huge impact on me and my work—particularly the way they used genetic engineering to solve the most complicated of problems. Learning from them whilst out there led to me completely rewriting most of my plans for the remaining two years of my PhD!

Q: What were the highlights from your time in Toronto?
On a personal level: I have lots of family in Canada. The Bogue Fellowship is very generous and encourages travelling around the US or Canada to experience the culture. So, I spent a lot of time with my family in Toronto and even flew out to Vancouver to visit more family there. It made me realise how beautiful a country Canada is; I definitely see myself living out there in the future.

On a professional level: It was a huge accomplishment to complete my project in such a short time. It was very ambitious for nine weeks, so much so that the Bogue Fellowship committee recommended I stay out there longer! However, mostly because of personal commitments, I was insistent on keeping it to nine weeks. Thanks particularly to the lab’s Research Project Manager Christopher Rowan and Professor Rosenblum’s MD/PhD student Rob d’Cruz, we were able to squeeze all of our experiments into nine weeks. Actually, what we found was quite profound. We found that some of the cells that form kidney lymphatic vessels come from the most unexpected of places; this finding could affect the way scientists think about how lymphatic vessels grow in different organs. It also raises the question of whether lymphatics that form from different cells have different impacts on disease.

Q: How have the connections you made in Toronto and the research you did there made a lasting impact on your career?
In addition to bringing back to UCL the ideas and suggestions related to my work on kidney lymphatics, Professor Rosenblum and Dr Long have now forged a long-term collaboration. They are now co-supervising an extremely talented PhD student at UCL who is investigating a molecule that may have great therapeutic benefit on polycystic kidney disease, the most common genetic cause of kidney failure. Aside from the science, Professor Rosenblum gave me invaluable insights into how to forge a career path at the interface of clinical medicine and laboratory science. One day I hope to run a laboratory of my own alongside clinical work, and I have a feeling Professor Rosenblum’s advice will come in very handy. The only thing I am unsure about is whether to pursue these ambitions in the UK, Canada or somewhere completely different—time will tell!

Q: What advice do you have for students considering taking advantage of UCL’s global partnerships?
My advice is short and very simple—put yourself out there, look for the right opportunities and take your chances at applying for schemes like the Bogue Fellowship. The collaboration between UCL and U of T represents a unique link between two of the most academically-strong research centres in the world. Who knows? A trip to U of T from UCL, or vice versa, might completely change your mind set for the better. It definitely did mine.

For the latest news about UCL’s international activity, partnerships and opportunities, subscribe to our bimonthly Global Update newsletter.

Exploring UCL’s collaborations with Canada

ucypsga29 January 2018

This month saw UCL President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur host a University of Toronto (UofT) delegation at UCL’s Bloomsbury campus.

UofT President Professor Meric Gertler joined a roundtable where representatives from both universities discussed the joint funding projects launched in November 2017, along with the potential for future health science collaborations.

But how else is UCL collaborating with the University of Toronto – and Canada more widely?

Here, we take a look at the existing connections.

UofT emerges as top research partner

Looking at data for the papers published in the past five years with less than five authors (according to InCites), along with how many times they’ve been cited, the University of Toronto is UCL’s closest collaborator, by a clear margin.

UCL’s next highest collaborator in the country is University of British Colombia, followed by McGill University.

High volume of medical research collaboration

Taking a more in-depth look at the collaborations between UCL and UofT reveals that life and medical science is by far the most common area of shared research.

For example, UCL and UofT collaborated on 17 papers on clinical neurology, 15 on neurosciences, 13 on paediatrics and nine on surgery.

UofT students at UCL

The figures for 2016/17 suggest that Canadians are most commonly heading to UCL for post graduate study, and the University of Toronto is no exception. In the graph below, you can see the distribution of UofT students across UCL faculties.

Subjects that UofT undergrads study at UCL

The table below shows the number of applications from UofT undergraduates for postgraduate study at UCL. It demonstrates a high interest in social and historical sciences (22% of applications), followed by built environment (20%) and engineering (19%).

 

Number of applications from UofT undergraduates for postgraduate study at UCL

Canadian students in the UK

Taking a wider view and looking at the enrolment figures from 2011/12 through to 2015/16 across all UK universities, it’s clear that the most popular subject for Canadian students choosing to study in the UK is law, followed by social studies and medicine – a contrast to the popular subjects at UCL previously highlighted.

Canadian subject choices across the UK

Contrary to the UK as a whole, for instance, law makes up just 6% of Canadian students’ subject choices at UCL.

 Steady growth in students from Canada

Canadian students who were enrolled from 2011/12 through to 2015/16 in the UK’s Russell Group Universities

Finally, looking at the Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Canadian students who were enrolled from 2011/12 through to 2015/16 in the UK’s Russell Group Universities, it’s clear that while other universities within the group have seen a decline in Canadian applications, there has been a steady increase in students coming from Canada to UCL in recent years – a trend that we hope will continue for many years to come.

Explore the Global Engagement Office (GEO)’s interactive dashboard to see more of UCL’s collaborations across the world.

For more information on UCL’s activity in North America, visit the GEO web pages.

Ask GEO: Ciaran Moynihan, Senior Partnership Manager (North and Latin America)

Sophie Vinter25 January 2017

Ciaran Moynihan, Senior Partnerships Manager (North and Latin America)Ciaran is GEO’s Senior Partnerships Manager for North and Latin America. Here he shares some key updates and opportunities from both regions with us.

Tell us more about your role in GEO and activity in your regions

I work closely with UCL faculties and departments, as well as other Professional Services, to manage and develop partnerships with institutions in North and Latin America. As you can imagine, UCL has a very wide range of activity in both regions, ranging from research collaborations and student exchanges to dual degrees and beyond. Some interesting partnerships I work on would be the Yale UCL Collaborative; an emerging priority partnership with Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile; and another emerging partnership with the University of Toronto (to name but a few!)

One challenge I face in my role is around capturing the full breadth of activity that UCL colleagues have underway with partners in North and Latin America – I am always interested to hear about links in the regions which I may not be aware of – so please do get in touch to tell me about your research and education links in both regions. There may be ways I can support you in your endeavours!

Map showing a sample of UCL collaborations in North and Latin America, by metropolitan areaWhat are the UCL Research Catalyst Awards?

The UCL Research Catalyst Awards, sponsored by Santander Universities, have successfully run since 2011. The scheme has enabled more than 40 visits to Latin American universities to support development of research collaboration.

The purpose of the awards is to foster research collaboration between UCL and key partner universities in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. The awards are available to cover travel, accommodation and subsistence costs associated with focused visits to potential research collaborators, and are aimed at achieving a specific outcome that will support future research collaboration.

We have recently extended the deadline for this year’s applications to Monday 13 February 2017 at 10am. If you’d like to apply, find out more on GEO’s website.

Why do you think UCL’s partnership with Santander Universities is so successful?

UCL began its partnership with Santander Universities in 2007 and was one of the very first UK universities to become a member of the Santander Universities network. The partnership provides UCL students and staff with numerous benefits and opportunities, ranging from study abroad experiences, to research travel grants for staff, to Masters scholarships for incoming students from Latin America.

The partnership with Santander Universities is a strong one for UCL – this year marks the ten-year anniversary of the relationship, which has gone from strength to strength. Not only does Santander Universities provide funding to UCL, but we also work closely with them on support for student entrepreneurship and on helping students to gain internships in small and medium enterprises to enable them to be better prepared for global careers and lives.

UCL will shortly sign a new partnership agreement with Santander Universities, renewing our strong relationship through to 2019, so watch this space for updates on opportunities for staff and students!

What are you working on at the moment?

One of my big areas of focus right now is developing a potentially important partnership with the University of Toronto (U of T). UCL already has strong collaborative links with U of T in a range of areas including child health, education, big data and cancer research, to name a few. We also have a large undergraduate student exchange programme with them. I am currently working with UCL faculties and U of T, under the leadership of the Vice-Provost (International), to explore other areas in which we might collaborate together. Most specifically right now, we are organising a joint workshop on ‘cities’ at UCL, to discuss research collaboration in this area.

U of T is a similar institution to UCL – located in a global city, similarly placed in world league tables, research intensive and with strong educational underpinnings for our students. We are excited at UCL with the opportunity this developing partnership presents, to enable us to work together to deliver excellence in research that will potentially have global impact while also supporting our students as global citizens.

What benefits would joining the North and Latin America networks bring to UCL academics?

Both networks essentially act as ‘communities of interest’ for UCL academics working on topics related to the region, with partners in the region or from the region. We hold termly meetings to bring academics together to hear about institutional initiatives in these regions, while also providing a forum for academics to network with each other and discuss their work regarding partners from North and Latin America.

We also utilise the networks to share regular region-specific funding opportunities that may be of interest to academics, and we are planning to run some academic led events over the coming months. In fact, it would be wonderful to hear from UCL academics on themes, topics etc. for possible events which colleagues would like to see run via the networks!

Contact Ciaran on:

ciaran.moynihan@ucl.ac.uk
+44 (0)20 3108 7777 / internal 57777