"I got to speak with the instructors more often because of the small class sizes. It was really important to me that I had already met and gotten to know my supervisor before I decided to apply to his lab."

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Student Profile: Kevin Rey

September 14, 2021
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Molecular Biology and Biochemistry doctoral student in the Faculty of Science

I just finished my PhD in Dr. Jonathan Choy's lab in the department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. I studied the relationship with the bacteria naturally found in the gut and how that influences the immune response that causes transplant rejection. Because of the pandemic, I had the opportunity to learn and apply some bioinformatic techniques, but most of my data is from histology and flow cytometry. I am more generally interested in how the immune system integrates signals from the gut microbiota and how this relationship can be leveraged to reduce the severity of conditions caused by the immune system, like transplant rejection.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COME TO SFU?

I had a great experience during my undergraduate degree at SFU. I was able to choose fourth-year courses that I was really interested in, and I got to speak with the instructors more often because of the small class sizes. It was really important to me that I had already met and gotten to know my supervisor before I decided to apply to his lab.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR RESEARCH OR YOUR PROGRAM TO A FAMILY MEMBER?

The immune system is a network of cells and structures in the body that takes in all sorts of information from the environment before deciding to treat something as dangerous or not. In this way, our immune system constantly receives information from the bacteria, fungi, and viruses that naturally coexist with us in our gut. In the case of an organ transplant, our immune system will recognize the new organ as foreign and try to destroy it, which means that transplant recipients will need to take life-long immunosuppressive drugs. Despite these drugs, nearly all grafts fail. Understanding how the immune system is regulated in powerful ways, like its relationship with the gut microbiota, may be important in determining how to best prevent transplant rejection. My research was based on determining whether the gut microbiota influenced the severity of transplant rejection, and which bacterial species or components were most important.

WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY ENJOYING ABOUT YOUR STUDIES/RESEARCH AT SFU?

Spending time in the Graduate Caucus (our department's version of a student union for graduate students) was an amazing opportunity to find new ways that me and my colleagues could support other students in their research and build a stronger community. By working with our department, we have put on some great events (pre-COVID), and been able to improve the resources available to graduate students. We were also involved in interviewing candidates for several new faculty hires, so I feel like we were able to have a lasting effect on the development of the department. It meant a lot when, as students, we had the freedom to discuss challenges with each other and then work out solutions to those problems with faculty.

HAVE YOU BEEN THE RECIPIENT OF ANY MAJOR OR DONOR-FUNDED AWARDS? IF SO, PLEASE TELL US WHICH ONES AND A LITTLE ABOUT HOW THE AWARDS HAVE IMPACTED YOUR STUDIES AND/OR RESEARCH.

I was very fortunate to receive the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Transplant Research Training Award when I started my program in 2014. I have also received the Weyerhauser Graduate Scholarship, President's Scholarship, and the SFU Big Data Hub Scholarship to support my research. CIHR has also supported my travel to various conferences via travel awards from the Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health, and the Canadian Society for Immunology has done the same. Each of these awards helped me focus on my research and refrain from taking on additional work. I am very grateful to these organizations, as well as BC Transplant, for their financial support.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE?

You can verify your decision to be a transplant donor at http://www.transplant.bc.ca/

 

Contact : kmr13@sfu.ca

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