U of T Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Research Day returns in-person after three-year hiatus
A smiling woman with a grey sweater and a smiling man wearing a toque and blue coat

Some of the trainee speakers at the 2023 Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Research Day. (Back row: l-r) James Pollock, Cynthia Guo (Middle row: l-r) Krithika Muthuraman, Derek Tsang, Jonathon Kotwa, Priyal Shah, Natalie Au, Purav Guptal (Front row) Emma Lash

June 26, 2023

By Betty Zou

On June 19 and 20, the annual University of Toronto Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Research Day took place on campus for the first time since 2019.

This year’s event — which was jointly organized by the division of infectious diseases in the department of medicine at U of T’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine, the Emerging and Pandemic Infections Consortium (EPIC) and MicrobeTO — brought together nearly 270 researchers and trainees for two days of talks and poster presentations.

The first day featured 11 talks from trainees on a broad range of topics, including detection of coronaviruses in eastern Ontario bats, impact of microscopic surface features on microbial contamination and transmission, and mechanistic insights into pathogen and host biology.

Selected from over 80 submitted abstracts, the talks also included the first ever talk by a high school student at this event. Purav Gupta presented his work uncovering a highly divergent RNA virus associated with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. A grade 12 student at The Woodlands Secondary School in Mississauga, Gupta has spent the past eight months working with Artem Babaian, an assistant professor in the department of molecular genetics, and will be starting his undergraduate studies at U of T in the fall.

The second day started with talks by new faculty members who have joined U of T in the last two years, including EPIC members Babaian, Nelson Lee, Michael Norris and Kathryn Rozen-Gagnon. Jennie Johnstone, the incoming director of the division of infectious diseases and a member of EPIC’s steering committee, also spoke and shared her vision for the division over the next five years.

The event concluded with a poster session with close to 70 trainees presenting their work to attendees and judges. The research presented at this year’s trainee talks and posters was the most diverse yet, with representation from five hospital partners, five university divisions and ten university departments.

New to this year’s event was the addition of a separate category in the trainee talk and poster judging for junior trainees, which included high school, undergraduate and M.Sc. students as well as PhD students in their first or second year. Senior trainees were PhD students in their third year and beyond, postdoctoral fellows and research associates.

The following prizes were awarded for the best trainee talks and posters:

First Place Trainee Talk (Senior) co-winners ($400 each)

Krithika Muthuraman (Department of Biochemistry)

Supervisor: Jean-Philippe Julien (Hospital for Sick Children)

Talk title: A multi-specific, multi-affinity antibody platform neutralizes sarbecoviruses and confers protection against SARS-CoV-2 in vivo

James Pollock (Department of Immunology)

Supervisor: Rupert Kaul (University Health Network)

Talk title: Recent sexual assault and genital biomarkers of increased HIV susceptibility

First Place Trainee Talk (Junior) winner ($200)

Anqi Liu (Faculty of Dentistry)

Supervisor: Siew-Ging Gong (U of T, Faculty of Dentistry)

Talk title: Encapsulation of VAR6, a potential probiotic against dental caries

First Place Poster (Senior) co-winners ($200 each)

Anna Bojagora (Department of Molecular Genetics)

Supervisor: Scott Gray-Owen (U of T, Temerty Faculty of Medicine)

Poster title: Characterizing the immune kinetics driving Neisseria gonorrhoeae-induced pelvic inflammatory disease in female mice

Rajiv Sanwal (Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology)

Supervisor: Warren Lee (Unity Health Toronto)

Poster title: Ultrasound-guided transfection of claudin-5 improves lung endothelial barrier function in lung injury without impairing innate immunity

Véronique Taylor (Department of Biochemistry)

Supervisor: Karen Maxwell (U of T, Temerty Faculty of Medicine)

Poster title: Identifying new prophage encoded anti-phage defence systems in P. aeruginosa

First Place Poster (Junior) winner ($200)

Lu Yi (Lina) Li (Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology)

Supervisor: Dana Philpott (U of T, Temerty Faculty of Medicine)

Poster title: Tissue specific differences in IL-18 regulation in human monocytes

Thank you to all of the volunteers who helped to select abstracts and judge the trainee talks and posters!