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Profile of Christine Bear

Photo of Christine Bear
Dr. Christine Bear

Dr. Christine Bear, PhD

  • Senior Scientist, Molecular Medicine
  • Professor, Physiology, University of Toronto

1. Where are you from? Where did you study?
I am from Toronto and I did my undergraduate degree in science at the University of Toronto. Then, I did my masters at McGill University studying immunology and my PhD back at U of T. I also completed post-doctoral training in Calgary and in England before returning to Toronto. I was always interested in electrophysiology and membrane proteins and how they are affected in disease and focused on this for the majority of my studies.

2. What are you researching right now?
Our lab focuses on Cystic Fibrosis (CF) research. I came to SickKids just at the time when the CF gene was discovered and at that point they were guessing that it was involved in electrolyte transport across membranes. I had a great interest in membrane proteins and so I was right on board to start to understand how the CF gene worked.

Currently, I am the Co-Director of the SickKids CF Centre. I represent the basic scientists who are interested in studying CF. My Co-Director Felix Ratjen is a clinical scientist. Together we are trying to work towards therapy discovery for CF. Right now we are trying to treat the diseased versions of the protein so that they will become functional and work more normally. There is a lot of progress on that front.

In my research I need to have expertise in molecular structure and function, cell biology and the models of disease and then be able to work with clinicians to understand how the disease itself is affecting patients. As we move forward towards therapies and clinical trials close interactions between clinical researchers and basic scientists are very important.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
I think that the first one that comes to mind is Charles Darwin. He’s someone who revolutionized the way people think. He is truly inspiring and I admire how he basically worked through the scientific powers of operation. It is mind boggling to me that basic components of Darwinism are still being debated today. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is definitely a major breakthrough that now impacts so many different fields - not only in science but sociology and theology.

4. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I’m a mother of a 17 year old daughter and she is one of my major occupations outside the lab. I get a lot of joy out of watching her meet and deal with the challenges of being a teenager. Her goal is to act in great plays in a Canadian theatre company and because of that I get to see many wonderful plays. I love watching theatre especially if she’s performing in it. Also, because I’ve got a teenage daughter, I also help to look after my teenage daughter’s pets. We’ve got quite an animal menagerie at our house.

5. Why science?
When I was young I was always interested in the natural world around me and how it worked. It’s fascinating to make observations about biology and then try to make connections between these observations.  Following such connections by experimentation can sometimes lead to discoveries that can change how people think about a particular process in normal human health or disease.  These discoveries are very exciting for scientists and can have important consequences for health care.

6. Why SickKids?
I love working at SickKids because you feel as though the research that you are doing will have an impact on the community. Walking to work through the hallways with parents and children really makes me constantly aware of the fact that I do have a responsibility to the people in my community.

Even though the steps that I take seem small on a day to day basis I can see headway and there seems to be a lot of optimism amongst basic scientists and clinicians that we are en route to finding a treatment to prevent damage to lungs and other organs. There is a real optimism and hope at SickKids.

7. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
People are using drastically different approaches to try and develop therapies for CF and it is not always clear which of these approaches is going to end up being the most fruitful.  The conversations are sometimes pretty aggressive as people argue amongst themselves which approach is going to be the best. I think that we just need to be able to support a research environment where people are going to be able to develop ideas using multiple approaches at the same time because it’s hard to predict which approach will lead to discovery.

8. What are you reading right now?
I’m reading a book called Blindness by Jose Saramago. It is about a small town where somebody is hit with a virus that makes them go immediately blind. It is very graphic and is written in such a realistic way. It starts off with just one person going blind but since it’s a virus everybody who is contact with that person starts to go blind. The infected people are segregated into this small hospital. It’s written in such a way that the reader can almost feel what it’s like to get hit by this white blindness and try and adapt to your environment. The author also deals with how this situation brings out the worst elements of the community.

9. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
I would suggest that they try to have a wide range of experience around a research question that they find personally compelling. To pursue a career in research, you really do need to have a strong sense of personal commitment because it’s long hours and hard work. Once you take a route you basically are committed to that route for a long period of time so make sure that you’ve got a fairly extensive background in different fields before you take that plunge. Always remain open to new ideas, comments or even criticisms about your work as these will help you to progress toward meaningful discoveries.

May 2010

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