Schulich school of Medicine and Dentistry logo Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry

Diagnosing ways to improve health

Laila C. Schenkel Magalhaes, PhD

Four years ago, Laila C. Schenkel Magalhaes, PhD, made the decision to leave her hometown in Brazil to travel throughout Canada. Eventually landing in Guelph, Ontario, Schenkel Magalhaes quickly realized she had fallen in love with her new surroundings, and was not ready to leave any time soon.

“After realizing how much I enjoyed being in Canada, I decided I would not be happy if I continued my education in Brazil, because I wanted to do something a little more than that,” Schenkel Magalhaes said. “In only six months, I went from being a tourist to applying to programs to eventually beginning my PhD at the University of Guelph.”

Schenkel Magalhaes completed her PhD in Human Health and Nutritional Sciences this past year. While she enjoyed the research she was involved with, it strayed from her main interests in diagnostics and genetics. When looking for a postdoctoral placement, she decided she would focus on these two passions, and is now working as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Schenkel Magalhaes’ research is focused on looking at epigenetic markers for disease.

“Epigenetic factors change the way your genome is read without actually changing the DNA sequence,” she explained. “We are looking at these epigenetic factors to better understand how they can increase the risk of developing many different diseases, from cancer to intellectual disability.”

The ultimate goal of Schenkel Magalhaes research is to find genetic and paediatric diseases that have this epigenetic change, so her lab can use this change as a biomarker and apply it to the diagnostics for the diseases.

Bekim Sadikovic, PhD, one of her supervisors, explained in the highly collaborative and competitive world of medical translational research, Schenkel Magalhaes has the right combination of skills and personality to be highly successful.

“Since her research involves collaboration with multiple medical and academic centres, Laila has demonstrated excellent collaborative skills and the ability to multitask multiple challenging roles,” Sadikovic said.

“The combination of her scientific acumen, personality traits and passion for translational research and patient care put her on a right trajectory for a career in research, medical, and clinical diagnostic fields, and I have no doubt she will continue to make significant contributions to whatever field she ultimately chooses,” he added.

Schenkel Magalhaes’ ultimate goal is to continue working toward improving health in the way of finding treatments for diseases and the diagnosis of diseases. She is also considering staying in Canada for at least a little while longer to complete training to become a laboratory director through the Canadian College of Medical Geneticists.

“I really enjoy seeing my research being applied in direct ways to improve health,” she said. “What I’m doing is not just basic research — I can see my work being used in clinical techniques in the future, and I would like to be a part of that.”