U of Saskatchewan, Canada 1996-2003. Baylor College of Medicine 2007-2011.
BSc Microbiology, MSc Computer Science, PhD Structural and Computational Biology and Molecular Biophysics
I used to work as a price-changer at a grocery store. I did some very large database development for IBM. Data analysis for the Saskatoon (my home town) cancer clinic. I worked in Vancouver (British Columbia) at a Genome Sciences Center and did a lot of interesting algorithm development. And I was a professor at Baylor College of Medicine.
Associate Director for Translational Clinical Reserach
Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine
Discovering new things. Finding new ways to look at a problem and solving the problem. Diagnosing sick kids and finding new disease genes.
Me and my work
I look at genetic data in sick kids and and try to figure out what’s going on.Read more
Your genome is a recipe book that’s inside each one of your cells. It tells your body how to make YOU. There are about 20,000 different recipes (called genes) in this book. Sometimes the recipes have mistakes in them and they make a non-working ‘dish’ (called a protein or enzyme), sometimes the recipes are missing entirely. When this happens you can (but not always) get very very sick.
My work involves ‘reading’ (called sequencing) the recipe book and trying to figure out what is wrong with the sick kids. Because the recipe book is over 3 BILLION characters long we need to do this with computers. I write programs that help sort through all the sequencing data to try and find the small mistakes that is causing a kid to get sick.
Some genes are known to cause illness but some genes do not. A lot of my work is trying to see if a typo in a gene with no known disease could actually be causing a disease in a kid. This is called ‘gene disease discovery’. So far I have been involved in finding about 10 new disease genes. These genes might cause heart disease, or epilepsy (a disease where you sometimes shake uncontrollably) or cause the kids to be very sick and disabled. I often work with other scientists, parents and doctors to find these new disease genes and right now I’m working on 2 brand new ones.
You can read about some of my work below:
My Typical Day
Write computer code. Run software on sequence data and read about genes.Read more
I often wake up in the middle of the next and think of a new way to analyze data. So usually the first thing I do in the morning is write computer code to see if my idea finds something new. (It usually doesn’t). I’ll then look at some unsolved cases that have been analyzes by my coworkers but couldn’t be figured out. This is the machine that actually sequences the kids. More of my coworkers actually know how to run it. .
My office is very boring but I get to run my code on a fairly large computer cluster. . The cluster is actually 10 miles away from where I work. I’ve never even been there.
Like most jobs I have lots of meetings. I’ll meet with coworkers, parents of sick kids, and doctors. I also do a lot of writing. Scientists write “papers”, which is how they tell the rest of the world new things we’ve found. We also write grants, which is how we ask the government for money to fund us so we can find new diseases and diagnose more kids.
What I'd do with the money
I’d support the local science fairRead more
I think science fairs are a great way to get kids excited about science. It’s also a good way for them to interact with scientists who they might otherwise never get to meet.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
funny. stubborn. logical.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I named my dog after a Rolling Stones song, so them or Oasis.
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I got married in the ruins of a 1000 year old temple in India.
What did you want to be after you left school?
Genetic engineer. I still think it’d be a cool job.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Elementary school: All the time for talking. High school: Installed video games on lab computers
What was your favourite subject at school?
Physics, we had a really good teacher who’d make cannons and lay on a bed of nails and other crazy things
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
I discovered why a friend of mine had a sick kid and they named the disease after me.
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
My dad never gives me advice, but he did say I should get a PhD.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
A cook! I really enjoy cooking. I bet it is less fun when you do it as your job, though.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Photographic memory: it’d be so useful. Heaps of money, then I could do whatever research I wanted and not worry about funding. The ability to stop procrastinating at will: I always procrastinated – its a really bad habit.
Tell us a joke.
There are 2 types of people in this world. Those who can extrapolate from incomplete data.
The place where I work is brand new so my office is actually a converted doctor’s exam room (no bed, but I do have a sink). We’ll actually be moving in a month, then moving again in a year.
All my code runs on a compute cluster that’s about 10 miles away from where my office is. This what a computer room looks like . This is a close up of a set of racks . And here’s what they look like when they are open . Each one of those lights is a computer, and between them in storage (hard drives). Our computers have 2 or 8 CPUs each, and each CPU has 4 or 8 cores (depending on what we wanted). We have about 1 petabyte of storage (your computer probably has 1 or 2 terabytes of storage, so we can store 1000x more data).
The sequencing data is made in a lab that’s next door to my office. This is what the machine looks like . The women in the picture (Luca, Laura and Yan) actually run the machines.