Q: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from?
A: I was born in Bangladesh and came to Canada when I was one year old. Although I moved around a lot when I was younger, I spent most of my life in Hamilton and attended McMaster University for my undergraduate degree in Psychology and Neuroscience before joining the University of Toronto in 2011 as part of the combined MD/PhD program. I am completing my PhD within the Institute of Medical Science (IMS) under the supervision of Dr. Brian Levine at the Rotman Research Institute (Baycrest). I am also mentored by my unofficial co-supervisor, Dr. Sandra Black (Sunnybrook).
Q: What compelled you to pursue stroke research?
A: I have long been interested in learning about the brain, and I found the study of neuroplasticity in the context of recovery from brain injury extremely fascinating. In light of our aging population and increasing number of stroke survivors, I decided relatively early on that stroke would be a valuable field to enter given growing demand for stroke prevention and rehabilitation. What also drew me to the field is the complexity and heterogeneity of stroke, its interaction with neurodegenerative disorders and the multidisciplinary approach used to study it.
Q: What is the focus of your research?
A: My research focuses on studying the relationship between cognitive impairment and mild to moderate cerebral small vessel disease (CSVD) in older adults. CSVD sometimes referred to as “silent strokes” is a disorder of the brain’s small vessels that on imaging is characterized by the presence of widespread white matter damage and small subcortical (deep brain) infarcts referred to as lacunes. CSVD is among the most common causes of vascular cognitive impairment in the community and is associated with deficits in executive function and processing speed. How individuals are affected by CSVD can vary substantially as not all individuals with CSVD present with deficits. That said, my project focuses on using both advanced structural and functional neuroimaging techniques combined with comprehensive behavioural testing to explore factors contributing to individual differences in cognitive performance. I’m trying to answer the question as to why some individuals are better able to cope with CSVD compared to others after adjusting to age, education and lesion burden? The results of this investigation, I hope, will inform development and assessment of cognitive rehabilitation programs directed at this patient population.
Q: At what stage are you in your research, and what are your future plans?
A: I am currently in my 6th year of the combined MD/PhD program at the University of Toronto. Weaving in and out of medical school, I have so far completed 2 years of my medical training and am currently in my 4th year of PhD studies. Data collection for my dissertation was recently completed and I am currently working on writing my dissertation. After finishing my PhD, I plan to return to medical school to finish my clinical rotations. After graduating, I plan to pursue residency in a speciality that will enable me to continue my research in neurorehabilitation. I am currently considering neurology and physiatry (PM&R) but this could change as I make my way through the rest of medical school. Ultimately, I would like to become a clinician-scientist as part of a multidisciplinary team working to help improve the lives of stroke and brain injury survivors.
Q: How do you and others benefit from being part of the National Trainee Association?
A: Over the years, I have attended many events hosted by the NTA across the country. I found each of these experiences very insightful as it exposed me to the breadth of stroke research that is occurring across the country. It also provided me the opportunity to develop friendships with like-minded trainees across Canada – some of which I am in regular contact with still.
Q: What other interests do you have?
A: I have multiple interests outside of academia including a love of travel and photography, and an interest in quality improvement and refugee health. With respect to the former, I aim to travel somewhere new at least two or three times a year. Many years ago I came up with a list of 101 places to visit of which I am over a third of the way through. Travel highlights include my visits to Japan and Greece in recent years. In an attempt to merge my interest in photography with my interest in rehabilitation, I recently launched an introduction to photography workshop series for patients at Toronto Rehabilitation, which I run approximately once a month. At Toronto Rehab, I am also involved in a quality improvement project aimed at improving communication of medication lists between patients and clinicians. Finally with respect to refugee health, I co-founded a U of T medical student run group in 2011 called IREACH aimed at improving healthcare accessibility for new immigrants through creation of small wallet-sized health history cards. The group has been in operation for over five years now in collaboration with the Toronto District School Board.