BIG 19

BIG 2018


180 participants 98 posters 11 speakers



Speakers at BIG18 will be highlighting the role of model systems (be those in situ or in silico!) in furthering our understanding of  biological mechanisms - in sickness and in health. Our speakers are researchers representing a diverse range of areas under this umbrella, from C. elegans knock-outs to Markov models.

For a full schedule of last years’ events, click here.






Dr. Waterston worked jointly with Dr. John Sulston to commandeer the initial sequencing of the C.elegans worm genome in 1989. This culminated in the first published genome of a multicellular organism - C. elegans - 9 years later, in 1998. Concurrently, Dr. Waterston & Dr. Sulston played key roles in the sequencing of the first human genome. In fact, Dr. Waterston's research group contributed more of the finished human genome sequence than any other American laboratory.



10:45-11:45, rooms 2301 / 2311 / 2314

Cancer as a dynamic disease: challenges and opportunities, Dr. Sohrab Shah (PhD)

Room 2301, UBC Nest  |  In this talk I will show how my research laboratory is studying the evolutionary properties of cancer under the well accepted rubric that tumour have dynamic properties that change over time. In particular I will  show how spatio-temporal analysis of cancers is fundamental to understanding progression.  Then I will show how genomic instability and consequences of aberrant DNA repair constitute a ‘genome as a biomarker’ approach to targeting.  I will illustrate how whole genome single cell methods provide a direct route to clonal decomposition without significant loss of information, and finally discuss how these approaches pave the way toward population genetic approaches to studying tumor progression as a fundamental basis for treatment resistance, metastasis and immune response.

Building functional living tissues using a unique 3D bioprinting technology, Dr. Sam Wadsworth (PhD)

Room 2314, UBC Nest  |  Aspect Biosystems Ltd. is a privately held biotechnology company operating at the leading edge of 3D bioprinting and tissue engineering. Their vision is a future where drugs are developed without the use of animals, where doctors know how a patient will react to a drug before prescribing it, and where lifesaving transplant organs are created, not harvested. The company is built on over 10 years of research and development and formed through a collaboration between world-class research groups in Engineering and Medicine at the University of British Columbia. Aspect’s proprietary Lab-on-a-PrinterTM platform technology is enabling advances in understanding fundamental biology, disease research, development of novel therapeutics, and regenerative medicine. They are focused on strategically partnering with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, as well as academic researchers, to create physiologically and commercially relevant tissues. These tissues are used to advance and accelerate drug discovery and development, and enable the creation of cutting-edge tissue therapies of the future.

Sam is the Chief Scientific Officer at Aspect and is responsible for their tissue innovation and development. He has over 10 years of experience leading world-class tissue engineering R&D and currently leads the technical efforts in developing bioprinted tissue applications, both internally and with external partners.

Kemp laboratory of cancer biology and functional precision medicine, Dr. Chris Kemp (PhD)

Room 2311, UBC Nest  |  A major goal of precision oncology is to use tumor genomics to guide therapy. However, many commonly mutated cancer genes are difficult to target with drugs and even for genes that might be targetable, it is not clear which one should be prioritized or which drug would be effective for any given patient. Tumors are genetically heterogeneous and the uniqueness of each patient’s tumor can affect drug responses in unpredictable ways. Another challenge is the shortage of drug gable targets and associated therapeutic agents. Even in cases where genome guided targeted therapy works, development of resistance is common, further highlighting the need for additional targeted agents and effective drug combinations. 

To address these challenges, we have developed an integrated platform whose main innovation is the use functional profiling in patient-derived tumor models. By combining high throughput functional testing with cancer genomics in the autologous patient derived cells, we can prioritize driver genetic events, discover new synthetic lethal gene targets, and identify effective drug combinations. Prioritized targets are confirmed with orthogonal assays, in increasingly complex patient relevant cancer models, and across tumor types. To date, we have functionally profiled dozens of solid tumors and have identified several high value synthetic lethal gene targets, which have generated drug discovery efforts


16:00-17:00, rooms 2301 / 2311 / 2314

2 model organisms, 1 process: Understanding cell development using worms and flies, Dr. Nancy Hawkins (PhD) and Dr. Esther Verheyen (PhD)

Room 2301, UBC Nest  |  The Wnt signaling pathway is an evolutionarily conserved pathway that regulates development, and has important implications in human diseases like cancer. The Verheyen lab uses D. melanogaster to understand how tissues grow and form distinct cellular patterns. The Hawkins lab uses C. elegans to understand what causes new cells to take on different fates after cell division. Spot a link yet? If not, come to the workshop to understand what the Wnt pathway does and why you should care about it. If yes, sign up to find out how independent research on these two model organisms comes together to provide a cohesive picture of the same set of essential developmental processes in worms, flies, and humans!

Going from bench to business and how ECOSCOPE can help
, Dr. Kim Dill McFarland (PhD)

Room 2311, UBC Nest  |  Graduating soon and want to be your own employer? Got some cool ideas that you think will make you the next big Illumina or Roche? Attend this workshop to understand how your biological research can tie into industry.

Kim is an EDUCE teaching and learning fellow at ECOSCOPE. This workshop will be a mini-panel around translating academic research to industry impact, with a secondary focus on highlighting what an industry startup in biological research looks like. For this, Kim will be joined by two ECOSCOPE trainees, one with experience in starting their own company and another who completed an industry internship in a startup as part of their Masters degree.

Cancer discovery with patient-derived xenograft models, Dr. Yuzhuo Wang (PhD)

Room 2314, UBC Nest  |  At the Living Tumor Laboratory (, we have developed a routine procedure for successfully grafting and serially transplanting primary human cancer tissues into immuno-deficient SCID mice. It is based on grafting patients’ biopsy or excised primary cancer tissue into the subrenal capsule graft site. The high vascularity of this site, compared to subcutaneous and orthotopic sites, allows more adequate supply of nutrients to the graft important for maintaining tumor heterogeneity. Using the effective xenografting methodology, the group has developed over 300 transplantable patient-derived “high fidelity” xenograft models. These xenografts retain all the salient features of the donor tumor.  These features include pathology, growth dynamics, global gene expression, genome structure, and response to therapy including the development of resistance.  Consequently, these high fidelity models can be used for gaining detailed knowledge of human cancer development, progression and metastasis. The xenografts are powerful tools for development of novel therapeutics, cancer discovery and personalized cancer therapy. In this workshop, foci will be on the properties of such next generation models and examples of their applications.



Marco Marra, OBC, PhD, FRS(C), FCAHS

Marco Marra, OBC, PhD, FRS(C), FCAHS

Sharon M. Gorski, PhD

Sharon M. Gorski, PhD

Peter Stirling, PhD

Peter Stirling, PhD

Chris Kemp, PhD

Chris Kemp, PhD



Click here to see members of the organizing committee for BIG 2018.

Thank you to all of the 2018 participants, speakers, and sponsors!