Graduate aims to make a difference amid challenges of lab work on COVID-19 project
Abeline Watkins hopes the data she is discovering as part of SFU professor Peter Ruben’s Molecular Cardiac Physiology Group may one day make a difference in addressing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Watkins is investigating whether Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of cannabis sativa, can help to mitigate the negative side effects of taking Azithromycin, a drug that has been proposed to treat symptoms of COVID-19, particularly lung problems. The research is being funded by her second Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) for sciences, awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).
Life amid a pandemic means Watkins is carrying out her undergraduate research in isolation. To stay on top of things, the Burnaby resident—who will also celebrate her graduation this week during SFU’s June 11 virtual convocation ceremony—makes daily treks to the lab.
“Normally in my lab and the lab space we share, we work as a team,” says Watkins, who starts medical school at University of Alberta this fall. “This means we are around each other enough to help with trouble-shooting and even completing small parts of each other’s projects.
“So being alone means I can’t share the load on keeping the cell lines alive, or keeping the lab organized or get help. The easier part of being alone is that I have more freedom to work on my project as needed; I don’t have to schedule out equipment or wait for supplies.
“I also have to do each step myself, from start to finish, which makes me feel in complete control of my outcomes and my learning experiences.”
Watkins started working with Ruben in 2018 after securing her first USRA, and stayed on as a part-time research assistant in the lab while completing her degree. She already has two journal publications and a published poster abstract from her lab work to her credit.
“My career goal is to be a doctor, and while I’m open to most disciplines, I’m leaning towards cardiology because of my fascination with the cardiovascular system,” says Watkins, who recalls being inspired by those who work in the field when her brother required open-heart surgery as an infant.
And while celebrating graduation, given the limitations of a pandemic, may not be as exciting as she hoped, she says her accomplishment is all that really matters.
“I’ve still completed my degree, I’ve gotten into medical school, my biggest goal thus far, and my family and friends have already told me how excited and proud they are of my university accomplishment, and that is all that matters to me. I don't have to walk across a stage to know my five years of hard work paid off.”