School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Jesse Lai

Ph.D candidate, Pathology & Molecular Medicine

Jesse Lai

Jesse Lai in his lab at Queen's

Off to the Netherlands to continue his Hemostasis research

by Deni Ogunrinde
September 2015

Jesse Lai, currently in the 3rd year of his Ph.D in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, is a vibrant graduate student who takes a genuine delight in learning.

 He completed his undergraduate degree in Queen’s Life Science in 2013, taking on the major, he says, simply because he “liked learning about biology and generally enjoyed the sciences.” The 3rd year of his undergraduate degree is when he came upon the topic that he would ultimately take on as his Ph.D thesis.

            After taking an introductory pathology course in his 3rd year, (PATH310: Pathology & Molecular Medicine), Jesse took interest in the area and ended up pursuing an undergraduate thesis in Dr. David Lillicrap’s lab in the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, studying molecular aspects of the hemostatic (coagulation) system. Fortunately, Jesse liked his undergraduate thesis project enough to transfer into an M.Sc in the Lillicrap lab, from which he then transferred into his Ph.D.

Jesse’s Ph.D thesis is focused on the innate immune response to factor VIII in hemophilia A. Hemophilia A results in the inability to form stable blood clots. Although most patients respond well to treatment, “25-30% of people develop an immune response to the drug treatment,” in other words, they develop anti-drug antibodies. Now that hemophilia A is treatable and manageable, the only issue, Jesse says, is the development of these immune responses, “if you develop this immune response, treatment is rendered inefficacious.” In an effort to better understand anti-hemophilia A drug antibody production, Jesse’s Ph.D thesis focuses on three main objectives: 1) developing insight into the micro-environment in which factor VIII immunity occurs, 2) better understanding what happens in the cellular environment and determining what types of cells are involved, and 3) uncovering some of the qualities of the factor VIII protein itself i.e. the components of the recombinant protein that contribute to the development of immunity.

Hemophilia A drug immunity is a field of research that Jesse describes as “a black box.” No one really knows why it is occurring and there are “probably only a handful of people studying what this is,” which Jesse finds exciting. In addition, “anti-drug antibodies are not exclusive to hemophilia A,” he says. Some people develop immunity against insulin or some anti-viral treatments, so Jesse is optimistic that his research can someday be applied to treatments for multiple conditions.

Next month, Jesse will be going to Amsterdam to the Sanquin research centre for 4-5 months, where he has the opportunity to carry on his research under a surrogate supervisor. Jesse informed me that the Netherlands are “a big area for hemostasis research” and he is excited for the opportunity to foster international lab connections and to work towards joint-lab publications. International collaborations allow you to “teach other people, and learn as well.” Jesse believes that these international opportunities are ‘almost like networking’ and in graduate school, that is important for getting to know people and for excelling in your career.

Overall, Jesse says he has enjoyed graduate school thus far, bordering on education and work experience, it has given him time to figure out what he wants to do long term. In the short term, he said, he doesn’t have as much time for activities, like squash, that he enjoys, but from speaking with him, he seems quite happy with his research and at the prospect of his term on exchange in Amsterdam in the fall. After meeting Jesse I can tell his genuine enjoyment in learning and networking, combined with his bright disposition, will take him far wherever he decides to go in the future.