3MT 2022 Finalist Liliana Vertel

Liliana Vertel

Medical Genetics, College of Health Sciences

Vote for Liliana

Understanding Osteoarthritis

Introduce yourself...

I'm a second year Master's student with an undergraduate degree in Biology. I was fortunate to be able to put my first degree to good use in Colombia, my home country, prior to immigrating to Canada. Since arriving here, I am grateful to have had excellent opportunities to continue my development as a researcher in genetics, which I really enjoy. I have two young daughters, who are the best gift that Canada could have given me, and my interests, other than science, include Latin-American music and dance.

What are you researching and what do you hope comes out of your research?

I am researching a skeletal/cartilage disease which causes affected individuals to develop premature osteoarthritis. Currently, obtaining patient samples is highly invasive, thus preventing our study of the disease. Therefore, I intend to use Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, derived from skin samples, as a way to grow human cartilage in the laboratory. I will use CRISPR-Cas technology, which acts as “genetic scissors”, to introduce specific, disease-causing mutations to healthy cells. My model can act as the framework by which the study of many human cartilage diseases, and novel therapeutic interventions, can be conducted.

How did presenting a Three Minute Thesis (3MT) help explain your research to the public?

I drew people's attention to one everyday object to which we can all relate. My slide shows a worn-out sole of a shoe and is an analogy of the cartilage degradation that occurs in someone suffering from osteoarthritis. I believe that I was able to simplify the complex concepts and expected outcomes of each experiment whereby I aim to grow human cartilage in the laboratory. At the end of the presentation, I was excited to explain to the audience that this cartilage could solve one of the major problems for preventing the study of the disease, namely the difficulty of obtaining patient samples.

What inspires you to do research?

I am always interested in learning new things and when it comes to genetics and biology I like having a complete and deep knowledge of the subject. I appreciate how each scientific publication builds on the principles of each topic. My dream is to contribute to the knowledge about a basic science aspect that can be further applied into revealing a disease mechanism, and in finding a treatment for the condition.

What are three keywords important to your 3MT?

Cartilage, Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, CRISPR

How does your research impact local, provincial, or global communities at large?

Osteoarthritis affects more than 500 million people worldwide. In Canada, approximately 14% of adults are diagnosed with the condition representing a significant expense of healthcare resources due to the need for joint replacement surgeries, in addition to the billions of dollars lost due to a lack of productivity. Yet what causes osteoarthritis is not completely clear. Providing a laboratory-made human cartilage to study skeletal conditions that develop osteoarthritis offers an alternative research approach for a condition for which prevalence is rising considerably with our ageing population.

If you had to dedicate your research to anyone from the past, present, or future—who would it be and why?

I would like to dedicate my research to my husband, Stewart, and to my Supervisor Dr. Peter Kannu. Stewart has been the most incredible support, empowering me to pursue my dreams. He is my love, my rock. Dr. Kannu has always believed in me and in my research passion and potential. Even when I was a newcomer to Canada, he gave me the opportunity to be part of his research team and gain knowledge and experience. To both of these men I will be forever grateful.

3MT Image Description - Worn-out sole of a shoe in a big frame on the left. On the right, four laboratory dishes showing first: cells, second: lab-made cartilage, third: scissors cutting DNA in the cartilage and fourth: sick looking cartilage

Watch Liliana's Three Minute Thesis