Outreach in motion

Tonight I had the honour of attending a swim training session for the Can Too Foundation (http://www.cantoo.org.au/). Can Too is a Health Promotion Foundation that funds cancer research, which is admirable and amazing but to end the description there would be doing the program a disservice.

A lot of charity fundraising is done through bake sales, barbecues, and the sale of other foods which are not be the healthiest around. Can Too’s fundraising is instead focused on training people to prepare for a long distance run, swim, or ride. All the while, the participants collect donations in support of their major athletic events and cancer research. They tackle their goal of improving health not just through the funding of scientists and research, but by also encouraging participants while they train for major athletic feat.

The Can Too Foundation invites both beginner and experienced athletes to train for their events, which include full marathons and triathlons! They are trained by professional coaches who, as far as I know, donate their time and expertise to the cause. The participants give their all, training several times a week for several months, and proudly complete their races together. These athletes are motivated, inspired, and empowered to reach their personal fitness and fundraising goals. The donations then directly fund cancer researchers like my labmates, who are researching prostate, breast, and blood cancers. Although my research is in cartilage regeneration, some of the participants expressed interest in my research as well, and joked about wanting to be signed up for cartilage repair as soon as it becomes available. It’s always nice to get out of the lab and see the real, human side of what we are working toward.

My supervisor gave the Can Too organizers, coaches, and athletes an overview of the research we do, what’s already been discovered within the field, and an explanation of what we’re trying to achieve. Afterwards, we answered any questions the group had, including an interesting one about what drives us. As athletes in training for what is quite a large undertaking, they definitely know that drive is important, and wanted know what pulled us to research and what keeps us there for the long run. Our answers generally expressed that there is a global gap in our knowledge of how to keep people healthy, and we are motivated to keep researching because we want to benefit humanity. Many of us also mentioned an early interest in science, and thinking of scientific research as a series of fascinating puzzle to be solved.

My favourite moment of the night was when one of the participants told us it was nice to have faces to put to the vague terms “scientist” and “researcher”. She said hearing about the research firsthand and meeting us was really nice, because she could now think of us when training and know where some of the funds are being allocated. They seemed to really enjoy hearing why we care and why we show up every day to keep chipping away at the research puzzle, even when certain questions have been asked for decades without a definitive answer. We believe that the answers are out there, but it will take many more years and many more researchers to discover treatments and cures. Can Too’s values are “fun, fitness, friends, and fundraising”, and they stay true to their values. We were received warmly and later thanked for our time and our dedication to research.

I’ll finish off with a motivational message from their webpage that fits well with both long-term training and long-term research: “There is a stretch goal in all of us and with a desire we all CAN TOO do anything we set out to do. We just need to take that first step, join Can Too and anything is possible!!! We believe we CAN TOO!!”


Introductions are in order


My name is Ena and I’m a scientist in motion. That phrase sums up three things that I value, but I’ll start with the most literal one.

Firstly, I’m a scientist that likes to move. I like the rush of alpine skiing, the calm of running, the quiet energy of yoga, the smoothness of a good bike ride, the rhythm of rollerblading, the technical puzzle of a tough climb. It’s easy to forget how great it feels to move, especially when other parts of life start to crowd out time that used to be set aside for physical activities. I had built a good, steady jogging habit back home this summer, logging almost 300km, and I proudly ran my first half marathon three weeks ago! However, I haven’t made time for running or any other kind of fitness since then and it’s time to change that. I hope to remind myself (and maybe others!) how enjoyable it is to get outside, sweat and push your limits.

Run a half marathon: check! After years of wanting to run a half marathon, I finally checked it off my bucket list!

Run a half marathon: check! After years of wanting to run a half marathon, I finally checked it off my bucket list!

Second, I’m a scientist that likes to move. I know, I already said that; this time I’m talking about movement on a larger scale. I like to travel and explore new places, try new foods, and learn new languages. Two months ago I undertook my furthest move ever by flying in three planes for 22 hours. I crossed the dateline, never experienced August 2nd 2014, and set foot on a new continent. I’m now a Canadian expat, living a mere 15028km away from home for the next three or four years. My new home is Brisbane, Australia, which gets an average of 8 hours of sunshine a day, 261 days of the year. In contrast, Toronto averages just 5.5 hours of sunshine a day, and I won’t even mention the cold (yet). I’ll be talking about similarities and differences between the two countries, and sharing pictures and stories of new adventures and friends. I’ve got less than a handful years to explore this side of the globe and I intend on using the time well!

Move across the world: check! Ottawa's not Toronto but let's call it 15309km ± 500km

Move across the world: check! Ottawa’s not Toronto but let’s call it 15309km ± 500km

Finally, the scientist bit (aka the reason I’m calling Australia home for the next several years): I’m a new PhD student and my field of research is cartilage regeneration using stem cells. In the first two months of my PhD, I have learned an enormous amount. I completed my Masters of Science in Biology in April, but it was in a completely different field and I’d primarily learned three things: cell culture, western blotting, and confocal microscopy. Here, cell culture is still a large part of what I’ll be doing, but I’ll also be handling mice (and hopefully sheep!), as well as using flow cytometry to characterize and sort cells, running PCR to determine gene expression patterns, slicing frozen tissues on a cryostat to prepare them for a variety of stains, isolating and quantifying DNA, RNA, and proteins, optimizing cell loading into hydrogels, and more. Don’t worry if you don’t understand anything I just said– I didn’t understand it myself until recently! I’ve already learned the basics of these techniques though and I dove headfirst into the literature when I got here, so I’m feeling ready to tackle my project on cartilage repair. As an obesity epidemic coincides with an aging population, we will experience great social and financial losses due osteoarthritis, which is a major cause of pain and disability. My aim is to create a stable, functional cartilage repair construct that will improve quality of life for people with degenerative joint diseases. It will be challenging but if I can do anything that will advance the field, I will be satisfied. I’ll be writing about difficulties and triumphs as I move through my program and project and I’ll also write about other interesting science news as I hear about it.

Complete my MSc: check! I couldn't have done it without my family, friends, and Waterloo waterfowl.

Complete my MSc: check! I couldn’t have done it without my family, friends, and Waterloo waterfowl.

That’s all for my first post! Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave comments. I’ll be writing weekly from now on — until then, keep moving!