Current Lab Members

Senior Scientist

Dr. Rae Yeung

Dr. Rae Yeung is presently Associate Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto, Staff Rheumatologist in the Division of Rheumatology and Senior Scientist in Cell Biology Research at The Hospital For Sick Children. She obtained her medical degree at the University of Toronto, and trained in Paediatrics at The Hospital for Sick Children, prior to completing her PhD studies in Immunology at the Ontario Cancer Institute under the supervision of Dr. Tak Mak. Following her PhD studies, Rae obtained further training in Paediatric Rheumatology at The Hospital for Sick Children and started on faculty in 1998.

Rae’s research program is centered on studying the pathogenesis of Kawasaki disease, the most common cause of multi-system vasculitis in Canadian children. Understanding the etiology and pathogenesis of the inflammation of the coronary arteries is limited by the paucity of clinical samples from affected children. Rae has developed an animal model which accurately reflects the disease in young mice. Kawasaki disease is unique among diseases affecting the coronary arteries given it propensity for aneurysm formation. Rae’s research has helped us understand how systemic immune activation can lead to localized vessel damage and subsequent aneurysm formation. Rae’s research is supported by The Arthritis Society, The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, and The Canadian Institutes of Health Research. She currently holds a New Investigator Award from the Arthritis Society of Canada and Canadian Institutes of Health Research Partnership.

Research Associate

Trang Thi Duong, Ph.D

Trang Duong completed her graduate work at the University of Western Ontario in the department of Microbiology and Immunology. She did her post-doctoral training at The Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute in the department of Developmental Biology. She is now a research associate in the laboratory of Dr. Rae Yeung.

Although the etiology of Kawasaki disease (KD) is unknown, the epidemiologic and clinical features of the disease strongly suggest that an infectious agent is the cause or at least an inciting agent. It has been suggested that KD fits the spectrum between an infectious disease and a true autoimmune disease. Using the LCWE-induced coronary arteritis model, we have demonstrated that a superantigen present in the LCWE may act as an inciting agent that activates and expands autoreactive T cell subpopulations which lead to coronary arteritis. We are currently interested in studying the autoimune aspects of the disease, as well as identifying the autoantigen(s) responsible for immune-autoreactivities leading to inflammation and destruction of the coronary arteries. Identification of antigens important in the pathogenesis of KD is critical to the development of improved diagnosis, therapy and prevention.

Post-Doctoral Fellows

Nicholas Peake

Nicholas Peake

Nick studied in England, obtaining his PhD from the University of Newcastle looking at Matrix Metalloproteinases (MMPs) and pro-inflammatory cytokines in Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis using a variety of protein and enzymatic detection, antibody and immunoassay, cell culture and genetic approaches.

Nick’s project centres on the role of elastin peptides in Kawasaki Disease. Elastin breakdown is the hallmark of coronary aneurysm formation, and this breakdown liberates elastin-derived peptides (EDPs). These EDPs have been shown to promote MMP release, which is one of Nick’s key interests. They also promote other events with relevance to KD; T-cell chemotaxis, activation and proliferation, and Th1 polarization.

Nick’s work so far has concentrated on cell types found in artery vessel walls, investigating MMP production at mRNA and protein level. He is now working with immune cell cultures to investigate the effects of EDPs, as well as isolating the receptor responsible for mediating elastin signaling. Blocking these effects may represent an effective way to treat KD, as EDPs resulting from vessel damage may be an important feedback mechanism as they promote features associated with disease.

Vahid Khajoee

Vahid Khajoee

Vahid joined the lab as a post-doc after completing his PhD at Kyushu University in Japan. He received his medical school training at Tehran University, Iran. After graduation, he continued with residency training in Pediatrics in "Tehran University Children Hospital".

Kawasaki disease is an acute disease of childhood that causes inflammation of the coronary arteries. Adherence of leukocytes to endothelial cells is a key event in this inflammatory disease. The network of endothelial adhesion receptors and their specific ligands on circulating immune cells orchestrates the sequence of initial rolling, the subsequent firm adhesion, and ultimately the transendothelial migration of immune cells to the coronary arteries.

Vahid's research area involves the role of leukocyte-endothelial cellular adhesion molecules in Kawasaki disease. He is examining these processes using molecular study and functional assay in a mouse model. (Publication)

Roman Jurencak

Roman obtained his medical degree from Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic in 2001. There after he worked in the Department of Pediatrics at Palacky University Hospital, Olomouc where he also became Board Certified in Pediatrics in 2005. Since July 2006, he has worked as Clinical Fellow at the Division of Rheumatology at the Hospital for Sick Children.

Roman’s research is focused on the role of IL-17 in Juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Presumably, IL-17 might be one of the key cytokines leading to structural joint damage in the course of the disease and there a potential therapeutic target.

Graduate Students

Andrew Lau

Andrew Lau did his undergraduate studies in the Toxicology Specialist Program within the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Toronto. He is currently a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy.

An important unanswered question in Kawasaki disease is the events leading to coronary artery lesion formation and aneurysm. In other aneurysmal cardiovascular conditions such as abdominal aortic aneurysm and giant cell arteritis, the overexpression matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) have been implicated in destruction of elastin in the vessel wall, which is the hallmark of aneurysm formation. The MMPs are a family of endopeptidases that play an important role in remodeling of the extracellular matrix under normal physiological conditions. In particular, MMP-2 and MMP-9, harbour elastolytic properties, and while MMP-2 is expressed constitutively is most tissues, MMP-9 is highly inducible upon inflammatory signals. We are interested in the role of MMP-9 in the pathogenesis of coronary artery lesions in our model of Kawasaki disease.

Ken Little

Ken Little

Ken completed his undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia in Microbiology and Immunology. He is currently a Master's student in the Department of Immunology.

Ken's project involves identifying the pathogenic subset of T cells responsible for directing persistent inflammation and damage to the coronary artery. In our model, LCWE, a superantigen is the disease inducing agent. Superantigens result in a polyclonal T cell response. However, we have found that the T cell infiltrate in the inflamed coronary artery is oligoclonal. Thus, it is our hypothesis that a subset of LCWE expanded T cells are being rescued by an auto-antigen.

Ken is working towards characterizing this rescued T cell population and adoptively transferring them into young mice to determine whether they can induce disease.

Yasmin Moolani

Yasmin Moolani

Yasmin completed her Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and Immunology at McGill University in 2005. She is currently working toward her Master’s degree within the Institute of Medical Science under the supervision of Dr. Rae Yeung.

LCWE is a novel superantigen directly responsible for inducing a systemic inflammatory T cell response characteristic of Kawasaki Disease, as well as the long-term heart disease that follows. One of the hallmarks of superantigen infection is a massive proliferation of T cells followed by programmed cell death. Concurrent peptide presentation rescues cells from superantigen-induced apoptosis, and notably, up-regulates co-stimulatory molecules. Thus, we are looking at the role of co-stimulation in the persistence of the pathogenic T cell population in Kawasaki Disease.

Shawn Blankier

Shawn Blankier

Shawn Blankier completed his undergraduate education at the University of Western Ontario where he obtained a Bachelor of Medical Sciences Degree. Shawn is currently pursuing a Masters Degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Toronto. Shawn is conducting his research on 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A (HMG-CoA) reductase inhibitors (statins) to determine if they have a preventative role in coronary artery inflammation and aneurysm formation in an animal model of Kawasaki disease.

Research Technologists

Andrea Mazarova

Andrea Mazarova

Andrea Mazarova graduated from medical school in Bratislava (Slovakia) in 2001. She then completed the residency program in the Department of Cardiology at the University Hospital in Olomouc (Czech Republic).

Currently she works as a technologist in Dr. Rae Yeung’s lab. She is responsible for extraction of Lactobacillus Casei cell wall extract (LCWE). LCWE induces coronary arteritis in mice which is our Kawasaki Disease model. Her next responsibility includes assessing the histological changes of the cardiovascular system of mice previously injected with LCWE.

Devina Ramsaroop, M.Sc.

Devina Ramsaroop

Devina completed her Bachelor of Science in Human Biology and Master's in Physiology at the University of Toronto.  She is currently a Research Technologist in the Yeung lab.

As a research technologist, Devina is responsible for preparing and testing LCWE for use in the lab, assisting lab members with their projects, and lab maintenance duties.

Clinical Research Assistant

Chantal Lavallee

Chantal completed her undergraduate studies at McGill University in Montreal, where she obtained a Bachelor's degree in Anatomy and Cell Biology. As a clinical research project assistant in our laboratory, Chantal’s responsibilities include coordinating REACCH OUT, one of many of Dr. Yeung’s clinical studies. REACCH OUT (REsearch on Arthritis in Canadian CHildren, Emphasizing OUTcomes) is a Canadian multi-centre collaborative outcome study of JIA.

The purpose of this study is to establish a cohort of children with new onset JIA. This will allow for an evaluation of clinical and biological factors which can a) Lead to a better understanding of early events in disease, and b) Determine relationship of clinical outcome to HRQoL.

Undergraduate Students

Lyndon Chung

Lyndon Chung

Lyndon is a third year student from the University of British Columbia. He is completing his Bachelor of Science degree in Cell Biology & Genetics and his minor in Commerce. Lyndon works full time as a Research Student at Dr. Rae Yeung’s lab as part of his Co-op program.

Lyndon is investigating osteoprotegerin ligand (OPGL) upregulation in children with juvenile arthritis. OPGL is responsible for bone resorption leading to osteoporosis and calcification of the renal arteries and the aorta. Osteoprotegerin (OPG) acts as a decoy receptor preventing OPGL from binding to RANK and inducing a signal.

Lyndon also works on other projects including creating scannable forms for Dr. Yeung’s clinical studies. These forms allow paper-based questionnaires to be scanned and automatically converted to digital format with the use of mark, character and handwriting recognition. In addition, he also designed the new lab website.

Lisa Liang

Lisa Liang is a third year undergraduate student from the University of Toronto. She is currently completing a specialist program in Human Biology (Health and Disease). As a volunteer, Lisa assists in the production of LCWE.

Hunter Coblentz

Hunter is a new arrival at the lab, currently in a volunteer position. He graduated from high school in 2006 and has taken the year off to pursue various opportunities in music. His lab work now supplements his music related goals and he is involved in the production of LCWE along with other tasks within the lab.  Hunter is looking to pursue a science degree starting next fall and will be working in the lab three days a week.