School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Sarah Rampersad

Ph.D candidate, Pathology & Molecular Medicine

Sarah Rampersad

Ph.D. candidate Sarah Rampersad

Understanding the Exchange of Bio-Messages

by Natalia Mukhina, August 2015

Sarah Rampersad, a fourth-year PhD candidate at Queen’s, investigates peculiar substances that simply do not exist for most people, because they cannot be seen with the naked eye. “Generally, my research is related to the problem of atherosclerosis, which can result in heart attacks and strokes, unfortunately”, Sarah says, “and I examine such threatening conditions through the lens of biochemistry and cell biology.”

Atherosclerosis, as a chronic inflammatory disease of the blood vessel wall, is one of the greatest scourges of our times, Rampersad argues. To cope with it, it is necessary to draw from specialists from different areas of science. “It is a highly multidisciplinary area, definitely.”

Rampersad performs as a graduate student at the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences (DBMS), studying cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), which signals in vascular endothelial cells to modulate shear-stress-induced atheroprotective changes. “It might sound a bit vague for non-specialists,” she laughs.

To prevent atherosclerosis, we have to go down to the cellular level, and understand how the exchange of bio-messages happens. “Cyclic AMP is a so-called ‘second messenger’ that takes part in intracellular signal transduction,” explains Sarah. “It is responsible for a lot of different signaling pathways, and can regulate how a cell migrates, proliferates, and adheres.” The next step for researchers is to manage such processes in terms of achieving therapeutic effects.

“What I am currently working on is how blood-flow can affect endothelial cells,” Rampersad says. These cells line the surfaces of blood vessels, and regulate blood vessel function by altering vessel contractility, providing a barrier between blood components and extravascular tissue. They coordinate inflammatory cell recruitment and provide an antithrombotic surface. During atherosclerosis, these normal protective properties of the endothelium are lost, resulting in a state generally termed endothelial cell dysfunction.

Inspired by her topic, Rampersad has the valuable skill of distilling research ideas in a clear way. Sometimes Sarah’s narrative sounds like fascinating science-fiction, in the style of Isaak Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage. “The interesting thing about blood flow is that endothelial cells – because they are in direct contact with the blood! – actually can ‘sense’ how the blood is flowing, and they change their behaviour.” Fortunately, Sarah Rampersad's research is not fiction, but another step in the fight against atherosclerosis.

“I’ve always been passionate about science,” Sarah recalls. “Biology was my favourite topic at school, and during my undergraduate years. I am happy to realize that the results of my research might be used in many fields, both in industry and academia, as well as in clinical medicine, pharmacology, and even regenerative medicine. I like the air of scientific labs. I like doing research and I am happy to have Dr. Donald Maurice as my supervisor. Undoubtedly, Queen’s University is a great place to do science!”

Asked about what she would do in Kingston, having an entirely free day, Sarah reacts instantly: “I would like doing intramurals, running or playing beach volleyball. I even run the half-marathon distance. For me, this is the perfect distance race. I am afraid I would never run the full marathon,” Sarah smiles. Looking at Sarah, who is so close to obtaining the PhD in such a challenging field as biomedical sciences, it is easy to believe that she will actually cope with the full marathon distance. Some day.