So, what projects are you working on at the moment?
Jessie: In September, we submitted a manuscript for the project that was presented at the AHEAD Collaborative Research Week. In collaboration with lab members at the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies at UNB-Saint John, I am also preparing a manuscript on use of support canines for first responder mental health. Thus, I have continued to cultivate an interest in researching first responder populations. Additionally, my major course-based research project is interested in police officers’ use of force reports, and how certain cognitive (i.e., executive function capacities) and physiological (i.e., stress) factors can affect an officer’s ability to produce a quality written report. This is being supervised by Dr. Mary Ann Campbell, who was an integral part of the team for the AHEAD 2020 project.
Developing collaborative relationships is integral to me as a researcher; for instance, I am second author on a recently submitted grant for a multi-site project evaluating the effects of COVID-19 on mental health in university students. Interest in another under-researched population – personality disorders – inspired a collaboration with clinical psychologists at the Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Treatment Program in Nova Scotia that I am preparing to submit for publication. It has also compelled a more recent inter-lab collaboration at UNB on relations between BPD, shame, sexual risk-taking, and sexual self-esteem.
Katie: Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that results from the improper development and maturation of the body’s immune cells. It’s the sixth most common cancer diagnosis in Canada. Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma, (DLBCL) is the most common type of NHL and is difficult to treat, with a 5-year survival rate of 63%. Current therapies to treat DLBCL are not effective for many patients and can cause life-threatening side effects. We need new therapies that are more effective and less toxic.
Our lab is looking at the potential anti-cancer properties of Caffeic Acid Phenethyl Ester (CAPE) which is found in bee glue, also known as propolis. CAPE has several biological properties such as anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-cancer activity. Elevated levels of a protein called interferon regulatory factor 4 (IRF4) contribute to the progression of DLBCL. As a summer student, I carried out my evaluations under the supervision of Dr. Alli Murugesan and Dr. Tony Reiman at UNBSJ, using CAPE derivatives synthesized in collaboration with the Université of Moncton. We compared the anti-lymphoma potential of CAPE derivatives to an immunomodulatory drug used for treatment blood cancers, lenalidomide, that lowers IRF4 expression.
Preliminary findings from our research suggest that a CAPE derivative has the ability to lower IRF4 levels and inhibit growth of DLBCL cells. These findings make us excited to continue our research on the anti-cancer potential of this compound.
How - if at all - has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your project and/or how you’ve been working together as a team? Any tips for students?
Jessie: Much of my current projects' data was collected pre-COVID-19 (which just goes to show how lengthy the research can be sometimes!). Some projects have been taken to a virtual platform, meaning that Qualtrics has become my new best friend. Zoom/Microsoft Teams has become another close friend of mine; it has been integral in staying connected with various collaborators. My most recent project, though, will be tough to take virtual. Even though it is survey-based, we hope to recruit a clinical sample, which is tough at the best of times, and a global pandemic certainly stacks the odds against us.
In terms of tips for other students, my best advice is to try to be flexible (easier said than done, I know). It is tough, and of course there are limitations to what we can do now, but remember that this will not last forever. And, chances are, research using that really cool technology with that really elusive population will still be there post-pandemic.
Katie: The pandemic has certainly brought some new challenges to this research. Closure of the lab delayed the start of this project for several months. Once I was able to get back into the lab, timing our experiments became challenging due to difficulties with supply orders.
On the positive side, I was able to contribute to writing and editing a manuscript which was just recently published. I took this time out of the lab as an opportunity to work on my writing skills, and I believe that students in a similar position could also benefit from doing this.
From your perspective, what makes a positive research collaboration? What should those new to research look for in a team?
Jessie: Work with people who are transparent in their expectations and needs throughout the entire research process. I simply cannot overstate the importance of this. My most successful research collaborations thus far have not been the ones that has gone off without a hitch; rather, they have been ones where some minor disagreement or conflict has occurred, and all parties involved have been willing to have an open, honest, and respectful discussion. You need to be able to collaboratively foster an environment where you both can discuss the awkward (e.g., authorship) or mundane (e.g., timelines) things at the outset, and have civilized disagreements about differences in where you want to take the projects (conceptually, methodologically, statistically, etc.).
Second, work with people who have a similar level of commitment to the project as you; this will help foster accountability to one another and to the project itself. Certainly, there are specific qualities that are important to look for in collaborators, but I would implore students who are new to research to reflect on what they can bring to the table, what strengths they can draw on to accomplish goals, and what kinds of things they might need to work on in order to foster an open, honest, and trusting environment.
Katie: I think it’s important to have an open channel of communication with members of your research team. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and use the resources available to you. Asking for help or advice from an experienced team member can be an extremely valuable way to learn.