Schulich school of Medicine and Dentistry logo Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry

Julia Abitbol

abitbol

I am a PhD student in the department of Anatomy and Cell Biology in Dr. Dale Laird’s lab. Our lab studies Connexin (Cx) and Pannexin (Panx) large-pore channels in the context of human disease. Cxs, of which there are 21 subtypes in humans, form gap junction proteins, which allow our cells to communicate with each other. Panxs share similar structure to Cxs and form single membrane channels that allow passage of small molecules through the intracellular and extracellular space. Cxs are ubiquitously expressed throughout the body and thus mutations in these channels can lead to many diseases including but not limited too; cardiovascular disease, skin disease, cancer progression, and hearing loss. Our lab is interested in studying Cx and Panx channel proteins and how their deletions or mutations lead to various diseases.

Background:

I graduated from the University of Western Ontario with an Honour’s specialization degree in Biology and a minor in medical cell biology. Through completion of a fourth year thesis project and a strong interest in cell biology, I chose to pursue a Master’s degree at the University of Western Ontario in the Anatomy and Cell Biology department, of which I then transferred to a PhD.

My Research:

My current studies focus on Cx and Panx large-pore channels in hearing.  Hearing loss amongst the human population is very common and causes a significant decrease in quality of life. The reasons for hearing loss are not fully understood and thus I am studying the roles of Cx and Panx channels and how they may influence this process. Currently, 1 in 1000 children will be born deaf and approximately half of these cases will be due to mutations in Cx26, a Cx family member expressed in the inner ear. Consequently, if a child is now born deaf they will be screened for certain Cx26 mutations. My research is to further understand what roles cochlear large-pore channels serve to strategize molecular targets that may be used for hearing loss therapies.

To do this we have in hand different genetically modified mice harbouring Cx mutations and/or Panx deletions so that we may further investigate the specific roles on these channels in hearing. We test hearing using the auditory brainstem response (ABR), where we can obtain neuronal trace recordings in response to an external acoustic stimulus. In this manner, we can discern whether Cx mutant mice have frequency specific hearing deficits. We can also deliver a very loud noise exposure and determine if there is any differential recovery in Cx mutant mice. In addition, we can perform cochlear dissections to determine if there are any malformations of cochlear structures or specific cell types.

What I do outside grad school:

Outside of grad school I play intramural sports with our Anatomy and Cell Biology teams of which we have played soccer, volleyball, and dodge ball.  I am also the student co-chair of our department student council so I ensure students are well informed and are content in our program.  I also volunteer for annual high school science fairs and other science-related high school events.

Why I like grad school:

Graduate school provides critical thinking skills that are applicable to everyday life. As a grad student I enjoy having my own schedule, conducting independent research and having the opportunity to be mentored by the best faculty. I am fortunate to be part of a highly collaborative lab and thus I am able to reach out to faculty members with different expertise to constantly increase my knowledge and gain expertise. In grad school there are many opportunities to build upon various skills including; critical thinking, scientific writing, and platform presentations, to name a few. Graduate school is a great opportunity for students that are interested in the research field and the desire to continuously grow as individuals.