IG Institute Advisory Board Members – Biographies
Esther Verheyen (Chair)
Professor, Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
Simon Fraser University
Esther Verheyen is a Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University. She received her BA degree from Cornell University in 1988. In 1993 she obtained her PhD from the Yale University School of Medicine in Genetics, studying profilin function in Drosophila with Dr. Lynn Cooley. She conducted postdoctoral research in the HHMI lab of Dr. Spyros Artavanis-Tsakonas, also at Yale, where she used genetics to elucidating the control of signal transduction during Drosophila development. In 1998 Dr. Verheyen started her lab at Simon Fraser. Her research focuses on kinase regulation of conserved signaling pathways. Using genetic and biochemical approaches, Dr. Verheyen's group has identified mechanisms controlling growth, patterning and tissue proliferation in Drosophila and human cell culture. In 2016 she received the Grant and Moens award for Excellence in Genetics from the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences. Dr. Verheyen received the SFU Faculty of Science Excellence in Teaching Award for her teaching of genetics. She has served as Associate Chair and Acting Chair of her department, and as the Canada Representative on the Drosophila Board of Directors (FlyBoard) for 2016-2018. Since 2017 she is co-Director of the Centre for Cell Biology, Development, and Disease (C2D2) at Simon Fraser. She has also organized numerous national and international research conferences. Dr. Verheyen is very interested in fostering outreach, and has given several public talks on genetics and stem cells, as well as written a book review for the Literary Review of Canada on personalized medicine.
Department of Medical Genetics
University of British Columbia
Dr. Laura Arbour is a Professor in the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of British Columbia situated at the Island Medical Program in Victoria, BC and a Medical Geneticist at Island Health. Her clinical practice and research focuses on northern and Indigenous health issues as they pertain to genetics. Trained as both pediatrician and clinical geneticist (McGill University), her research integrates maternal child health issues and the understanding of the genetic component of Indigenous health of all ages. Notable research has included addressing a high rate of Long QT Syndrome (LQTS) in Northern BC, potential risk of CPT1A P479L for infant mortality in Nunavut, and the genetics of Primary Biliary Cholangitis in First Nations women of BC. Her LQTS work in Northern BC led to the establishment of a multidisciplinary province wide program to address inherited arrhythmias for all British Columbians (The BC Inherited Arrhythmia Program). She is also currently the project lead on a Genome Canada/CIHR Large Scale Applied Research Project grant, with co-leads Drs Nadine Caron and Wyeth Wasserman “Silent Genomes: Reducing health-care disparities and improving diagnostic success for Indigenous children with genetic disease” which aims to address the challenges of equitable access to genetic/genomic diagnosis for Canadian Indigenous populations.
Jehannine C. Austin PhD FCAHS CGC
Professor, UBC Departments of Psychiatry and Medical Genetics
Executive Director, BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services Research Institute
Dr. Jehannine Austin is Executive Director of the BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services Research Institute, and is a Professor in Psychiatry & Medical Genetics at the University of British Columbia. Jehannine is a board certified genetic counsellor and their research work involves studying the impact of genetic counselling for people with psychiatric disorders and their families. They founded the world’s first specialist psychiatric genetic counselling service that has won an award for its impact on patient outcomes, and in addition to peer-reviewed publications, has written a book, and won awards for teaching, leadership, and research.
Jehannine is a member of the College of the Royal Society of Canada, and a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.
Dr. Naveed Aziz serves as the Chief Executive Officer of CGEn, Canada’s national platform for genome sequencing & analysis with nodes at The Hospital for Sick Children (Toronto), McGill University (Montréal) and Canada’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre (Vancouver).
Dr. Aziz leadership has enabled CGEn to fuel Canadian research and innovation, playing a key role in the advancement of technological development within the field of genomics, including the potential deployment of clinical genomics in Canada as a diagnostic tool. He is passionate about championing the generation of large-scale genomic datasets, along with supporting the development of powerful and efficient solutions for big data storage, deposition to “open-science” databases, and high-speed data exchange at both national and international scale.
Prior to joining CGEn, Dr. Aziz served as the Director of Technology programs at Genome Canada. In this role, he led Genome Canada’s portfolio of technology programs with the primary goal to help create opportunities that promote innovation and develop new national capacity in genomics, big data, and related sciences. His previous roles include serving as the Head of Genomics at University of York, UK and as a Research Fellow at the Noble Research Institute, USA.
Dr. Aziz has a keen interest in the role of genomic in providing solutions to pressing global challenges. His experiences of working in various capacities within the field of Genomic over the past 20 years has led him to strongly believe in the notion of convergence – especially when it originates from divergent fields. In 2018, Dr. Aziz was named as one of Canada’s emerging executive leaders as a member of the adMare and Pfizer Canada's Executive Institute program, focused on executive development of senior-level life sciences professionals in Canada.
Yvonne Bombard, PhD
Associate Professor, Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto
Director, Genomics Health Services Research Program, St. Michael’s Hospital, Unity Health Toronto
Scientist, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael's Hospital, Unity Health Toronto
Dr. Bombard is a genomics health services researcher and Scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital. She is an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto in the Institute of Health Policy Management and Evaluation. Her research focuses on evaluating the adoption of new genomic technologies in clinical practice. She develops patient-facing digital tools for genomic medicine and evaluates their comparative effectiveness to inform translation in clinical practice. She also conducts public and patient engagement research to advance health technology assessment and health service delivery. Dr. Bombard is active in numerous international policy advisory committees; her research informs policy development in this area. In 2014, Dr. Bombard was the inaugural recipient of the Maurice McGregor Award for Demonstrated Excellence and Leadership Potential from the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) and also received a ‘Rising Star’ award from CIHR’s Institute of Health Services and Policy Research in 2011. Recently, she has been awarded a CIHR Foundation grant as an Early Career Investigator, and she holds a CIHR New Investigator Award. Dr. Bombard holds a Fellowship from Yale University (Health Policy), a Fellowship from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (Cancer Genomics) and a Fellowship from the University of Toronto (Health Services Research).
Benjamin Haibe-Kains, PhD
Canada Research Chair in Computational Pharmacogenomics
Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network
Associate Professor, University of Toronto, Department of Medical Biophysics
Dr. Haibe-Kains is a Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (PM), University Health Network, Associate Professor in the Medical Biophysics department of the University of Toronto, and the Canada Research Chair in Computational Pharmacogenomics. He earned his PhD in Bioinformatics at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium). Supported by a Fulbright Award, he did his postdoctoral fellowship at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard School of Public Health (USA). Dr. Haibe-Kains started his own laboratory at the Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal (Canada) and moved to PM in November 2013. His research focuses on the integration of high-throughput data from various sources to simultaneously analyze multiple facets of carcinogenesis. In particular, his team is analyzing radiological and (pharmaco)genomic datasets to develop new prognostic and predictive models and to discover new therapeutic strategies with the aim to significantly improve disease management. Dr. Haibe-Kains main scientific contributions include several prognostic gene signatures in breast cancer, subtype classification models for ovarian and breast cancers, genomic predictors of drug response in cancer cell lines, and radiomic prognostic models in head-and-neck cancers. His team is also working towards developing new ways to improve transpârency and reproducibility of computational research. Dr. Haibe-Kains have co-authored 180 lifetime peer-reviewed publications, including 50 (co-)Senior Responsible Author publications (20,000 citations, h-index of 60; source: Google Scholar). His laboratory maintains 31 public genomic datasets and provides 15 open-source software packages that are freely available to the scientific community (BHKLAB).
Geoff Hicks, PhD
Director – Regenerative Medicine Program
Professor - Dept. of Biochemistry & Medical Genetics
Senior Investigator – Research Institute of Oncology and Hematology, CancerCare Manitoba.
Rady Faculty of Health Sciences
University of Manitoba
Dr Geoffrey G. Hicks is the Director of Regenerative Medicine Program and Professor of Biochemistry & Medical Genetics at the University of Manitoba. He is recognized internationally for his expertise in the genetic modeling of human disease and high throughput functional genomics. As the Director of the Mammalian Functional Genomics Centre, located at the Research Institute of Oncology and Hematology, CancerCare Manitoba, he has had several large scale international projects including NorCOMM, the Canadian component of The International Knockout Mouse Project from Genome Canada and other partners to create knockout mice lines for each of the approximately 20,000 mouse genes. Dr. Hicks is Director of the Regenerative Medicine Program in the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Medicine. The 8 Principal Investigators of the program will focus on stem cell-based applications for the treatment of human disease, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and spinal cord injury repair. Hicks is co-founder of the Canada Israel International FASD Consortium (CIIFAC), Team member of the CIHR Canadian Epigenetics, Environment and Health Research Consortium (CEEHRC) in FASD, and a PI of the Kids Brain Health Network / NeuroDevNet NCE (FASD). His most recent work developed a novel mouse model of FASD that identifies Vitamin A as a potential preventative treatment for FASD. Genetic and epigenetic studies in animal models and human FASD cohorts are identifying biomarker signatures that can be used for early diagnosis of FASD, particularly for enabling early intervention of children at high-risk of developing FASD.
Founding Member and Chair, Rare Disease Foundation
Co-Chair, Patient and Caregiver Advisory Committee, SKIP
Isabel Jordan draws from her lived experience to provide leadership and guidance in health care and health care research to support meaningful patient engagement practices and partnerships that are aligned with patient-oriented research.
Isabel was a founding member of the Rare Disease Foundation. Under her leadership, the organization built partnerships between families and researchers through their Microgrant Program. Isabel is the Strategic Lead in Patient Partnerships in the Chambers Lab at Dalhousie University as well as the patient engagement advisor for Solutions for Kids in Pain (SKIP), a knowledge mobilization network that seeks to bridge the gap between treatment practices and evidence-based solutions for children's pain in Canadian health institutions.
Isabel is the mother of a young man living with a rare disease and has drawn on her lived experience in rare disease and disability to become a strong advocate for patient partnership in research. She's been interviewed on CBC radio, written blog posts on patient engagement, co-authored Patients Included™ charters, is a member of numerous health research committees, and has spoken at national and international conferences about collaborations between researchers and patients.
Full Professor, Bioethics Programs
School of Public Health
University of Montreal
Vardit Ravitsky is a Full Professor at the Bioethics Program, School of Public Health, University of Montreal, and a Senior Lecturer on Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She is President of the International Association of Bioethics and Director of Ethics and Health at the Center for Research on Ethics. She is a 2020 Trudeau Foundation Fellow and Chair of the Foundation’s COVID-19 Impact Committee, as well as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences and of the Hastings Center. She is a member of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Advisory Board for the Institute of Genetics. She is also a member of the National Human Genome Research Institute’s (NHGRI) Genomics & Society Working Group. She holds a Research-Creation Chair on the Re-appropriation of Maternity.
Ravitsky’s research focuses on the ethics of genomics and reproduction and is funded by CIHR, FRQSC, SSHRC, Genome Canada, and the NIH. She published over 180 articles and commentaries on bioethical issues. Her research covers a variety of topics such as public funding of In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF); the use of surplus frozen embryos; posthumous reproduction; pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD); gamete donation; epigenetics; prenatal testing, in particular the ethical, social and legal aspects of Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT); germline and somatic gene editing; and mitochondrial replacement.
Ravitsky holds a BA from the Sorbonne University in Paris, an MA from the University of New Mexico in the US, and a PhD from Bar-Ilan University in Israel. Previously, she was faculty at the Department of Medical Ethics, School of Medicine, at the University of Pennsylvania. She was also a Senior Policy Advisor at CIHR's Ethics Office and a GE3LS consultant to Genome Canada (GE3LS = genomics and its ethical, economic, environmental, legal, and social implications).
Professor, University of Waterloo
David Rose’s career has focused on Structural Glycobiology and Biochemistry. Following a BA from University of Pennsylvania, he completed his DPhil degree at University of Oxford, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT. In Canada, Dr. Rose spent 7 years at the National Research Council in Ottawa, progressing from Research Associate to Senior Scientist and Group Leader. Recruited to the Ontario Cancer Institute (now Princess Margaret Cancer Centre), he spent 19 years in Toronto studying enzymes involved in glycosylation and glycan processing, particularly ones associated with human diseases such as cancer and nutritional disorders. During that period, he took on positions in academic administration, as Graduate Coordinator and Interim Chair of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto. Dr. Rose moved to Waterloo to Chair the Biology Department for 2 terms and has served for 12 years as CIHR University Delegate for Waterloo, including on the UD Advisory Committee. He has extensive peer-review experience in several organizations, including as a reviewer and Chair of the CIHR BMA Project committee, and of the SCORE Program-Project committee of the Terry Fox Research Institute. Dr. Rose recently completed a term as President of the American Crystallographic Association.
Assistant Professor, School of Biomedical Engineering
University of British Columbia
Dr. Nika Shakiba is an Assistant Professor in the School of Biomedical Engineering (SBME) at the University of British Columbia. Nika received her B.A.Sc. from the Engineering Science program and subsequently completed a Ph.D. under the supervision of Dr. Peter Zandstra, both at the University of Toronto. She conducted her postdoctoral training under the co-supervision of Dr. Ron Weiss and Dr. Domitilla Del Vecchio in the Synthetic Biology Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Through these experiences, she has bridged experiment-to-theory by using genetic technologies to track single cell behaviors, using mathematical models to deconvolve complex datasets, and generating novel predictions. Her training trajectory has instilled in her a scientific philosophy that is rooted in interdisciplinary thinking and collaborations.
Nika’s independent research program is interested in the “social lives” of stem cells: how these cells interact to influence one another’s survival and cell fate decisions, both in culture and embryonic development. Her lab uses systems and synthetic biology to understand the genetic rules that encode cooperative and competitive interactions between stem cells. Leveraging genetic engineering, her lab seeks to program these interactions to drive predictable growth and differentiation outcomes and enable robust bioprocesses for manufacturing stem cell-derived cell therapies.
Nika is committed to training the next generation of biomedical researchers with core expertise that span life sciences and engineering. These scientific leaders will have the know-how to develop cutting-edge technologies, serve as nodes for interdisciplinary collaboration, and tackle fundamental scientific questions. She has co-developed a national workshop brining synthetic biology to stem cell trainees in the Stem Cell Network. Beyond her research and teaching, Nika has been actively involved in outreach, bringing the science and ethics of stem cell research to the general public and youth. As a former national leader for the StemCellTalks symposium for high school students, she co-led a committee that saw the expansion of the event to eight cities across Canada. Nika is also passionate about providing equity in mentorship and multi-directional advice-sharing through her latest project, Advice to a Scientist.
Assistant Professor, School of Public Policy and Administration, York University
Ian is an Assistant Professor of Canadian Public Law and Governance at York University. He has obtained an BA (Western), MA in Philosophy (York), LLB (Alberta), LLM (Toronto) and his PhD in Law (Osgoode). Ian completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the Governance of Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare at the Opportunities to Understanding Childhood Hurt (OUCH) lab under Dr. Rebecca Pillai Riddell (York). He was also the inaugural Fellow in Artificial Intelligence Law & Ethics at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children’s Centre for Computational Medicine, under Dr. Michael Brudno (Toronto). In 2020, Ian was awarded the David Vaver Medal for Excellence in Intellectual Property from IP Osgoode at Osgoode Hall Law School.
Ian is a member of the Ontario Bar (2009) and practiced law in both the private and public sectors before returning to graduate school to obtain his PhD. He has published and presented extensively in the area of public sector governance, particularly in relation to ethics and accountability. Ian’s current research focuses on both the law of public sector governance and accountability, as well as the regulation of innovative and emerging technologies. His research examines the legal, ethical and social impacts of technologies and policies that are driving toward greater personalization in healthcare. This includes examining the implications of using technologies like artificial intelligence, genome editing and bioprinting.
A former member of the Board of Directors for the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders (CORD), Ian is also a person with a rare genetic disease and is an active advocate for the rare disease community.
Scientist, BC Cancer
Department of Medical Genetics
University of British Columbia
Peter Stirling is a Scientist within the Terry Fox Laboratory at BC Cancer and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of British Columbia. He obtained his B.Sc. from the University of Victoria, PhD from Simon Fraser University, and post-doctoral training at the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of British Columbia before starting his independent group in 2014. His current research interests are in mechanisms of faithful genome maintenance. This interest spans CIHR, NSERC, and Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI)-funded projects in his group focussed on DNA replication, DNA repair, faithful mitosis and cellular stress responses as the major determinants of genome stability. His group is particularly interested in how genome maintenance pathways prevent mutations associated with cancer development, and how their disruption can both enable carcinogenesis and create opportunities for treatment of cancer. Professor Stirling is a CIHR New Investigator (2015-2020), a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar (2017-2022), and a TFRI New Investigator (2017-2020).
Raymund J. Wellinger
Canada Research Chair in Telomere Biology
Full Professor, Université de Sherbrooke
Deputy Scientific Director, Center for Research on Aging
Raymund Wellinger is a molecular geneticist interested in the mechanisms ensuring genome integrity. His lab studies the details of how the ends of chromosomes, the telomeres, are maintained. By using molecular genetic, biochemical and live cell microscopy tools, his work produced important insights into the interplay between conventional DNA replication and telomere replication as well as uncovered new proteins on the telomerase RNP. He has published over 70 manuscripts in top tier scientific journals and currently has an H-factor of 43. After post-doctoral work with Virginia Zakian at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Seattle, USA), he joined the department of microbiology in the faculty of medicine at the Université de Sherbrooke, where he currently is a Full Professor. Raymund Wellinger holds the Canada Research Chair in Telomere Biology and is also the Deputy Scientific Director of the Centre for Research in Aging (CdRV) in Sherbrooke. In the past, he acted as Vice-President Research of a small start-up biotech company Telogene, of which he was a co-founder. Finally, for ten years, Raymund Wellinger served as a member of the Board of Directors as well as member of the executive committee of the Fonds de Recherche Québec - Santé.
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