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About the Institute

Profile of Margaret Rand

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Dr. Margaret Rand

 By: Hannah Sunderani

Dr. Margaret Rand, PhD

  • Scientific Associate Staff, Haematology/Oncology
  • Senior Associate Scientist, Translational Medicine
  • Professor, Departments of Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology, Biochemistry and Paediatrics, University of Toronto

1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I am a first generation Canadian born in Toronto, and my heritage is Estonian. I’ve spent almost my whole life here in Toronto. I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto (U of T) in biochemistry, as well as my PhD in biochemistry. After that I went abroad to do the first part of my post-doctoral fellowship at the Universiteit Maastricht in The Netherlands and then I did a final post-doctoral year at McMaster University in Hamilton.

2. What are you researching right now?
My training is as a basic scientist and my research has always focused on the function and dysfunction of blood platelets. Platelets are the smallest cells in the blood stream and are very important for haemostasis, which stops bleeding from wounds. Blood platelets do this by clumping together, which clearly is a beneficial process. However, in pathological processes, platelet clumping can block blood flow in a condition called thrombosis, leading to heart attacks or strokes.

My research at the moment is looking at a specific aspect of platelet activation called procoagulant surface exposure, which enhances blood coagulation. We used to think that once platelets were activated to expose this procoagulant surface, it would be reversed quickly, but now we know that it is not reversed. We began to wonder if this contributed to thrombosis. So we are looking at how exactly the procoagulant surface becomes exposed and why it’s not reversed, and what the effects are when it is blocked, as this may help us reduce the problems with heart attacks and strokes.

I’ve also become involved in clinical research at SickKids through my work with the Paediatric Thrombosis and Haemostasis Program in the Division of Haematology/Oncology. One of our major projects at the moment is the development and use of standardized questionnaires to better understand the bleeding symptoms of children that visit the Bleeding Disorders Clinic, to aid in their possible diagnoses. We’ve developed a questionnaire with colleagues in Kingston called the “PBQ,” which stands for Paediatric Bleeding Questionnaire, and now we are working on making the questionnaire more practical, so that parents and children can fill out the questionnaire on their own when they come to clinic.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist and why?
It’s so difficult to choose one favourite scientist, so I would have to say for me that it’s the polymaths of old; the true renaissance giants. These were individuals like Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and Hildegard von Bingen, who were great thinkers of their time and made important contributions to all sorts of fields including science. In today’s world we have become so specialized in what we do, which is out of necessity, but these people were multi-taskers with broad interests and I admire (and envy) that.

4. What in your opinion is the most important scientific breakthrough and why?
Again, that is a really difficult question! For this one, I will have to narrow down my answer to my field of research and say that this breakthrough was made by Giulio Bizzozero, an Italian histologist from the late 1800s. He was one of the pioneers of using the microscope in medical research, and by using this technique he was the first to describe the function of platelets in blood coagulation and thrombosis. These fundamental observations opened the door for researchers to start investigating the role of platelets in haemostasis and thrombosis.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I love spending time with my husband and my kids. My kids are young adults now and they are so much fun to be with!

One of my major interests is music; it is a big part of my life. Toronto has so much to offer in terms of music and I try to take advantage of that. I enjoy going to concerts, the opera and musical theatre; you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve seen Mamma Mia!

I also practice yoga. It is important to me for keeping my mind and body flexible. Every day starts out on the yoga mat, even when I’m travelling. It has definitely helped me in many aspects of my life including my work, particularly in terms of focus.

6. Why science?
As a child I was always making up my own little experiments in the garden or in the kitchen. As I grew older my interest in science continued, and by the time I reached Grade 13 I was taking three sciences and three maths. I knew science was the direction I was heading in so I went to U of T for an undergraduate degree in biochemistry. It was the summer between third and fourth year when the research bug really bit me. I was working as a summer student in a platelet research lab, and I realized that “this is what I want to do with my life.” I absolutely loved it then, and I’ve loved it pretty well every day since.

7. Why SickKids?
I was approached by Dr. Victor Blanchette, who was looking to establish a haemostasis research lab at SickKids. I had been working at U of T doing platelet research for many years and had met Victor through our haemostasis and thrombosis community here in Toronto. When he approached me I jumped at the chance as I thought it was a great opportunity to incorporate clinical relevance to my research that I had previously only been studying from a basic science perspective.

Co-directing the thrombosis and haemostasis clinical research lab has given me an incredible opportunity to work with a clinical team that is so dedicated to improving the lives of children with bleeding disorders. It has also given me the opportunity to work in the worlds of basic research and clinical research, which is a real win-win situation for me. SickKids is a world-class institution and I feel so fortunate and privileged to work here.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
This answer is going to sound very nit-picky, but it’s a controversial question in my specific field of research right now: “What is the main function of TMEM16F?”

I had mentioned before that I am investigating procoagulant surface exposure on platelets. Recently, it was discovered that patients with a rare bleeding disorder who cannot expose a procoagulant surface on their platelets have genetic mutations in a protein called TMEM16F. However, we do not know the exact function of TMEM16F – if we did, this could help us regulate platelet procoagulant surface exposure.

We have a conference coming up in Amsterdam for The International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis and I’m hoping to hear from the international community more about whether TMEM16F is the protein that is directly responsible for procoagulant surface exposure on platelets or whether it’s more of a regulatory protein.

9. What are you reading right now?
I don’t have much time to read outside of work, and so I depend on my family and friends to recommend real gems to me. Right now I am reading The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan, lent to me by a friend and colleague at the University of Manitoba. This book was said to have sparked the beginning of the second wave of feminism 50 years ago at the time of its publication. I would recommend this book to everyone, but especially to women, of every age, so that they can see what life was like for women 50 years ago, where we have come to in 2013 and what we still need to achieve.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
Being a research scientist is hard work and you need to have the passion to pursue it as a career. It is much more than just curiousity and enjoying doing experiments, which is where I started out. It also requires many different skills and attributes including strong communication skills, both written and verbal, creativity, discipline and a tremendous amount of patience. I was fortunate to have had a terrific mentor to show me the way. This was my PhD supervisor Dr. Marian Packham, who is now a cherished colleague. She was recently awarded the Order of Canada for her seminal work in platelet research.

11. What does the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning mean to you?
It is an amazing opportunity for the SickKids research family to come together under one roof. We currently have people spread out in many different buildings. Bringing us all together can only enhance interactions and make us more efficient. We are already very good at what we do, and I think that the new Gilgan Centre will allow us to reach even greater heights.

September 2013

Scientific profile