Featured Trainee

Amanda Oakie


Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine,Western University; Children’s Health Research Institute, Victoria Hospital


 aoakie2 [at] uwo [dot] ca


Amanda graduated from the University of Guelph in 2012 with her B.Sc. (Bio-Medical Sciences, Honours), and joined the lab of Dr. Rennian Wang the same year to pursue her M.Sc. degree (Physiology and Pharmacology). Her M.Sc. project, which examined the activity of aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) during human pancreatic development, was completed in 2014. Amanda is currently working towards her Ph.D. studies in Dr. Wang’s lab within the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Her research topics include: (1) Examining the effect of chronic receptor c-Kit overexpression (specific to β-cells) during aging in murine islets; and (2) Determining the interplay of receptors c-Kit and insulin receptor on β-cell function and survival in mice with a temporally –induced β-cell knockout model. To date, Amanda has co-authored three peer-reviewed journal articles and has presented her research, with published abstracts, at both local and international conferences. 


How did you choose your research field?

I have known since high school that I wanted to work in the life sciences field, but I didn’t make the decision to pursue a career in research until the third year of my undergraduate degree. The courses that I had taken dealt with many topics that were of high interest to me, but none were as engaging as my endocrinology lectures.  From there I decided to focus on the topic of the pancreatic Islets of Langerhans, which mediates blood glucose levels through the secretion of hormones. My main interests lie with how β-cells (the insulin-producing cells of the islet) develop during pancreatic organogenesis and how β-cells function under normal and diabetic conditions. The different aspects of islet research that we conduct in our lab, from β-cell interactions with the extracellular matrix to in-depth analyses of receptor functions, provides me with the opportunity to examine and work on a variety of topics that are critical for understanding β-cell biology. 

What do you like most about working at Children's Health Research Institute?

I am a very big supporter of the open lab concept that the CHRI provides. It allows for labs across different disciplines to talk about their research and exchange ideas. The CHRI also gives trainees the opportunity to discuss their results with their fellow graduate students via Trainee Seminars, which often provides valuable feedback and advice for future experiments.  

What is your most successful project at Children's Health Research Institute?

My first completed project at the CHRI examined the activity of the intracellular enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) during pancreatic and endocrine cell commitment in the developing human pancreas, and determined the co-localization of surface stem cell markers with ALDH –expressing cells. In summary, our lab found that isolated cells that had high ALDH activity during human pancreatic development contain a higher population of cells that display factors required for endocrine differentiation, and also co-expressed the putative stem cell marker CD133. As such, these results may be a promising contribution to the design of future stem cell studies that target β-cell generation and commitment. 

Research Interests

My broad research interests focus on the development and functional capacity of endocrine islet cells in pancreatic tissue, and the pathogenesis of β-cell dysfunction in patients with insulin –dependent and –independent forms of diabetes. Specifically, my current interests include:

1) Differentiation and commitment of β-cell populations during pancreatic development

2) The role of receptor c-Kit on β-cell function and survival, and the interplay between receptor c-Kit and other receptors on β-cells

3) The temporally –mediated effects of receptor activity during β-cell development, maturation, and adult function on mediating glucose homeostasis