Trainee at GlycoNet: Olivia Liu

Posted: November 19, 2020

Where do you work, what is your position and who is your advisor?

I am currently a M.Sc. student in the Faculty of Medicine and Life Sciences at McGill University, working in the lab of Dr. Bastien Castagner.

Tell us about the project you’re working on.

My project aims to characterize glycan metabolism by gut bacteria using metabolic labeling with fluorescent glycans, fluorescence activated cell sorting, and 16S rDNA sequencing. With this method, we hope to answer better the fundamental question: “who eats what?” by identifying the bacteria that can take up a specific glycan structure. We are further applying this method to test the effects of α-amylase inhibitors (e.g. acarbose) on gut bacterial glycan metabolism.

How is glycomics research helping society and healthcare?

Obtaining a comprehensive understanding of the structure and function of the glycans in a biological system can pave the way to better therapeutic treatments, vaccines, and diagnostic tools. Such innovations can improve the quality of life for many. From Parkinson’s disease to breast cancer to HIV, the applications of glycomics research extends to a plethora of fields in medicine and healthcare. 

What other areas of research do you think is important in advancing healthcare and why?

Biomedical engineering is a really cool and important area of research that enables healthcare to be delivered more efficiently and effectively through better diagnostic tools, medical devices, and digital health monitoring (which is especially impactful in low-resource settings). 

Tell us an “Eureka!” moment in the lab.

I don’t have a “Eureka!” moment yet, but I’ve been getting some pretty mind-boggling results from my recent experiments so I look forward to the moment I can piece everything together and finally say “Eureka!”

How do you fight procrastination and stress?

I often procrastinate when I have a big, daunting task looming in front of me. It helps to break it down into smaller, easily achievable tasks and also creates a schedule for me to follow in terms of when I should take breaks. To deal with stress, going on walks, doing an intense workout, yoga and breathing techniques usually help to clear my mind.

If you had to choose a completely different career path, what would it be?

A food critic!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I hope to start a company that can translate research on gut microbiota glycan metabolism into medical devices used for diagnosis or treatment, or develop drug therapies for diseases like IBD, obesity, and diabetes. 

About Olivia

Olivia was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. She attended McGill University for her B.Sc. in Honours Pharmacology and graduated in May of 2020. She is now a M.Sc. student in the laboratory of Dr. Bastien Castagner in the department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics at McGill University. Her research focuses on understanding gut microbiota glycan metabolism.

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