A day in the life of a lab

A day in the life of a lab

Professor Milica Radisic’s vision is a cure for heart disease in our lifetime.
August 5, 2014

Professor Milica Radisic’s vision is simple: new therapies for heart disease in our lifetime.

The stakes are high: Nine out of 10 Canadians have at least one of the risk factors associated with heart disease and stroke, and these diseases impose $21 billion in direct costs on our health care system every year. With appointments in the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, Radisic directs the Laboratory for Functional Tissue Engineering. Along with her staff and students, she is working on developing biomaterials to heal heart tissue and on developing living, beating heart tissue on which to test drugs.

Six things you didn’t know about laboratory research

  1. There’s a small army at work in any given lab, even though the face of it might be a single researcher. Students make up the bulk of the work force, and they’re usually joined by some post-doctoral researchers and permanent staff members.
  2. Running a lab is like running a small business. Prof. Radisic meets with potential investors and industrial collaborators, shepherds results through the publication process, advises students, deals with HR issues and recruits new lab members.
  3. Lab research is a form of teaching. The students in Radisic’s lab are learning about cutting edge science, but they’re also learning how to be researchers. The problems that science is trying to solve require generations of effort, so training is essential.
  4. It’s not about the breakthrough. Radisic has a broad vision—a cure for heart disease in our lifetime—but her group moves toward that vision in small stages. Each lab member’s project is a piece of the overall puzzle.
  5. It never stops. Heart cells don’t take holidays like people do. The group must make arrangements to look after each other’s experiments when someone goes on vacation.
  6. It’s fun. Radisic’s group gets together every evening, after the day’s work is done, and chats about science.

This article, including the photos, originally appeared in the summer 2014 issue of Edge, a magazine about research and innovation at the University of Toronto.

Preparation of a scaffold for cardiac tissue engineering.
Scaffolds in tissue engineering are used to provide support
for cells so they can attach and develop.
Credit: Geoff George

PhD student Miles Montgomery assessing the integrity
of the scaffold under a microscope.
Credit: Geoff George

Preparation of a reagent for examination of proteins.
Credit: Geoff George

Research Associate Carol Lashinger analyzing protein
expression using a technique called “western blot,”
which helps detect proteins in a tissue sample.
Credit: Geoff George

Milica Radisic.
Credit: Geoff George

Samples for gene analysis.
Credit: Geoff George

Brainstorming meeting for a current project. Left to right:
PhD student Miles Montgomery, Milica Radisic, PhD
student Boyang Zhang, PhD student Yimu Zhao.
Credit: Geoff George

Milica Radisic being interviewed. She is active in promoting
science and helping the public understand her work.
Credit: Geoff George

PhD student Yun Xiao preparing samples for protein analysis.
Credit: Geoff George

PhD student Yimu Zhao retrieving cardiac cells that were
stored frozen in liquid nitrogen.
Credit: Geoff George