World News

"Mutation Research" hooks biomedical student

7 September 2016 at 00:43 | 2150 views

Culled from SFU News, Vancouver, Canada.

Colin Peters started studying Biomedical Physiology in 2009 at SFU with a clear goal in mind. He wanted to become a doctor “just like everyone else”. Seven years later, Peters says he’s no longer interested in becoming a clinician after falling in love with the “mutation research” he’s pursued during his time both as an undergrad and now PhD student in the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology.

“This stuff really spoke to me because when we look at genetic disease, people are born with mutations, but they don’t always die, at least not right away. We are really good at finding mutations in their DNA, but figuring out how different events trigger mutations to harm the patient – that’s where we have a lot of work to do,” says Peters.

He says his first big break came after attending a SFU scholarship reception before his first year began. That’s where he met Professor Peter Ruben, who toured Peters and some other prospective students through the lab. Ruben gave him a volunteer job to help out in his lab. While the job started out with what Peters calls “minion duties” such as cleaning dishes and helping graduate students, it quickly evolved into far more scintillating work.

After a few months, Ruben tasked Peters with creating a computer simulation of the electrical signals emanating from a single nerve cell and heart cell. That’s about when Peters says he started to get hooked on becoming a biomedical scientist. During his years as an undergraduate student, Peters quickly grew the complexity and experimental nature of his research.

All the while, he says his blossoming career was supported every step of the way by Ruben.

“Peter got me started. He has supervised every project, read papers, helped me edit everything,” says Peters of his mentor. “He was the one suggesting new courses of action. Then he’d put me in touch with other researchers. He is a very networked, super intelligent guy, and has a huge amount of background knowledge.”

When Peters published his first paper at the age of 19, Ruben and the other lab members were on hand to help him celebrate.

After only seven years as a student researcher, Peters is publishing his ninth paper, this time on Dravet syndrome – a rare disease that causes severe epileptic seizures (and in some cases, death) in infants. In an article that was published this week in Scientific Reports, Peters examined how the symptoms of a patient suffering from Dravet are related to the function of individual cells at febrile temperatures. “This research will provide clinicians with additional understanding of how their patients are actually being impacted by the disease,” says Peters. “In the long term, we’re hopeful that the work we’re doing here at SFU will allow health teams across the country to provide better care to present and future patients.”

Peters says it’s the opportunity to make a big difference to people all around the world that’s kept him engaged as a scientist and continues to drive his work.