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About the Institute

Profile of Marina Tourlakis

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Dr. Marina Tourlakis, PhD

By: Mackenzie Hill-Strathy

Dr. Marina Tourlakis, PhD

  • Trainee, Genetics & Genome Biology

1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I was born and raised in the Toronto area. I grew up in Markham, and did my undergraduate degree at York University. I also completed my masters at York in molecular biology, specifically in plant systems. I just completed my PhD studies in the lab of Dr. Johanna Rommens, working on human diseases with animal models. My project specifically related to the pancreas, and a disease that affects the pancreas called Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome.

2. What are you researching right now?
Currently we know the gene whose mutation causes Schwachman-Diamond Syndrome and we have modeled these mutations in the pancreas of the mouse. By looking specifically at the pancreas, we can really focus in on what is happening in disease. This mouse model turns out to be an excellent model with which we can work on better characterizing the disease and getting a much better understanding of what types of stress responses are involved in the development of this disease in the pancreas.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist and why?
This may sound cliché, but the first person to come to mind is David Suzuki, but I have a good reason! I admire him because he started off as a basic scientist, and then had a calling to spread the word. He has made a huge name for himself, specifically with respect to awareness of the environment. He isn’t just focused on climate change, but as you can see in his program The Nature of Things, he discusses animals and plants and how everything in the environment interacts. I think it’s amazing how he has bridged this gap in knowledge, giving the average person a better understanding of how components of our complex environment fit together.

4. What in your opinion is the most important scientific breakthrough and why?
I would have to say the most important scientific breakthrough for me is genomic sequencing, not just in relation to the human genome but in general. Sequencing has allowed us to get down to the blueprint of the human body, to really gain a better understanding of what is happening and why. I am obviously biased because I am in genetics, but I think at the end of the day, in any field of study, knowing what the DNA is saying is critically important.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I love spending as much time as possible hanging out with my friends. Besides that, I am an avid floor hockey player. I also love painting, particularly oil painting. And lastly I love to read fiction.  

6. Why science?
I think I like science so much because I like learning. I love brainstorming, and I like logic. Science brings those altogether; you have to brainstorm logical ways to learn new things.

7. Why SickKids?
When I was doing my masters, I always had a really strong love for basic research, and I still do. My masters project had very “down the line” implications that could impact human health, but very far into the future. For my PhD, I wanted to get involved in something that had a more obvious impact on human health; SickKids offered the opportunity to do so. SickKids is also very renowned, as is my affiliated department at U of T - Molecular Genetics, which makes it arguably the best place in the country to pursue a degree in medical research.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
In my opinion, the most controversial question in my field right now is a question very near and dear to my heart actually. In both my M.Sc. and PhD studies, the common focus was the ribosome, which is the machine in your cell that actually translates your genetic code into functional proteins. We have known about the ribosome for generations, but it’s only in the last little while that the controversial idea that ribosomes are not the same across all of your cells has emerged. These modifications are another facet that may dictate different manifestations of disease. The idea of specialized ribosomes with specialized tasks is probably the most controversial and exciting thing in my field right now.

9. What are you reading right now?
This is a bit embarrassing, but I have a bit of a young adult fiction addiction. Currently I am reading the City of Bones series. I would love to say I am reading something better, but that is the honest answer! It’s a Harry Potter meets Twilight type of series.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
Firstly, to be a good researcher, you have to have your eyes and mind open all the time. Another piece of advice I would give is to beware of getting trapped in silos of specific genres - saying I’m a biologist or I’m a geneticist. My most intriguing research experiences came from places and people that appreciated that having an open mind and following a multi-disciplinary approach is critical. These experiences gave me a taste of the many different components of a career in research, and these have been very valuable to my learning experience so far.

11. What does the SickKids' Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning (PGCRL) mean to you?
I think the PGCRL is great! I have served on the Research Training Centre’s managing committee for many years now and a challenge previous to the PGCRL was adequately representing all RI trainees when we were spread out amongst the different campuses. I always found it daunting because it was difficult to represent trainees if I didn’t know who they were, or even where they were! On top of that, the breadth of research at SickKids is so wide. I think this is definitely a strength of this institution, but is something that we don’t take enough advantage of. I am hoping that this new, unifying building, which has been designed with interaction in mind, will really let us capitalize on the full scope of the Research Institute.

November 2014