Meet two of our newest students: Neal Callaghan and John Edgar

IBBME welcomed 77 new graduate students this September. Hailing from as far as Banjul, Gambia, they represent the next generation of biomedical and clinical engineers, with aspirations to impact modern health care through scientific and technological innovation.

Among these bright new minds are Neal Callaghan and John Edgar. Callaghan, from Mount Allison University, joins Professor Craig Simmons’ Cellular Mechanobiology Lab as a C. David Naylor University Fellow. He is one of two recipients at U of T to receive the top doctoral entrance award this year.

Edgar comes from the University of Victoria and joins University Professor Peter Zandstra’s Lab for Stem Cell Bioengineering as a Mary H. Beatty Fellow, a U of T award that compliments his federal tri-council funding.

Why did you choose U of T?

NC: I had previously been working on both cardiac physiology and biological interactions with nanostructured materials during my master’s. I was interested in moving into a more applied field using the principles that I had previously learned, and I was really excited by the papers coming out of the labs of Professors Craig Simmons and Paul Santerre, which combined both of those research topics.

JE: In one word: resources. U of T has world-class faculty and facilities, access to 10 teaching hospitals, and is surrounded by a myriad of life sciences and biotechnology industry partners. For someone who is interested in conducting high-quality, impactful research in regenerative medicine, this is the place to be.

What is your proposed research about?

NC: I plan to look into the surfaces and conditions that we use to culture pluripotent stem cells, which are cells that have the ability to form into any cell type in the body. I am interested in factors that either maintain pluripotency or reliably direct stem cells to turn into a desired cell type. This could lead to our ability to graft specialized heart cells to repair diseased cardiac tissue or build customized patient models for drug development and testing.

JE: I will be working on the development of processes and systems to generate immune cells from pluripotent stem cells. I am especially interested in one type of immune cell, the T-cell, because it can be engineered to target cancer, to be HIV resistant, or used to restore immunity to patients that have undergone radiation therapy. The challenge is to develop protocols that generate pure T-cell populations in sufficient quantities for clinical use. This will require a better understanding of T-cell developmental biology and the application of that knowledge to design systems to guide that development.

What are you most excited to experience at U of T and in Toronto?

NC: Concerts! On the East Coast, we have a lot of fantastic local musicians but it is hard to attract the big names, so I’m definitely excited for the live music here. I’m also a pretty big football fan so I’ll be checking out the Varsity Blues and the Toronto Argonauts this fall.

JE: I am most excited to experience the diversity of Toronto and U of T as it reflects the city. Toronto is a truly global city, often considered among the most multicultural cities in the world. This diversity in cultures, ideas, food, entertainment, and other aspects of life make it hard to be bored in Toronto—and is unlike anywhere else I have lived in Canada.