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Catching up with Dr. Agnes Lau


ALS DOUBLE PLAY:

Hi Agnes, it’s so great to connect. How have you been during the last six months of the pandemic?

Agnes:

Hi Cherrie, the past six months have definitely been a change, but I’ve been good overall.

ALS DOUBLE PLAY:

I’m glad to hear you’ve been well. We’ve heard many stories of people learning to bake bread, or upping their baking game. Other people learned how to knit, did you pick up any new hobbies or learn something new during the pandemic?

Agnes:

During the pandemic, I’ve been one of those people trying new recipes. For example, I learned how to make empanadas from scratch. I also used phyllo dough for the first time to make some apple strudel. So, pretty much doing experiments in the kitchen.


Here are a couple of recipes I enjoyed:

Apple Strudel recipe

Chili Mac & Cheese recipe

ALS DOUBLE PLAY:

And what has your work life been like? What happened with the lab? Was it shut down? How were you able to continue you work?

Agnes:

At the start of the pandemic, only essential people were allowed in the lab. Eventually, we reopened and were working shifts with a lower overall capacity of people in the lab to allow for physical distancing.

Currently, we’re working in shifts at 50% capacity, which means our lab has been split into morning and afternoon shifts. How we work with our team members and collaborators is definitely different, as we have to communicate more online versus in person, which alters the dynamics. We’re hoping that as the situation changes, we will be able to move closer to a normal work schedule.

Even with these different working conditions, we’ve been able to continue our work. We’ve been really careful with planning experiments to maximize productivity for the time we have in the lab. Outside of the lab, we continue to plan experiments and read publications from other researchers, which is critical when thinking about our own work. Overall, we’re still able to make progress with our projects.

ALS DOUBLE PLAY:

Actually. Let’s back up for a second. Can we remind everyone how you came to the University of Toronto and what led you to ALS?

Agnes:

I completed my PhD at the University of Alberta in Edmonton and I had further training at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and at Johns Hopkins in the US.

I’m from the GTA and when I was looking for a research opportunity, I came across Janice Robertson’s lab at the University of Toronto. All of my previous training has been in neurodegenerative diseases and there are many aspects that are shared with ALS. I wanted to apply what I had learned previously to ALS to make a difference and Janice’s group was the perfect place to do so.

ALS DOUBLE PLAY:

Can you tell us about what you are focusing on now with your research?

Agnes:

I’m working on understanding more about the protein TDP-43 because over 95% of ALS cases

have TDP-43 pathology and its role in disease is not fully understood.

A shorter form of TDP-43 called TDP-35 is also important because it can be found in ALS cases as well.

We want to identify proteins that are interacting partners of TDP-43 and TDP-35, which will be important in learning how TDP-43 and TDP-35 function and will help pinpoint what might be going wrong in ALS.

ALS DOUBLE PLAY

Agnes, we’re hearing a lot now about potential treatments for ALS. Can you tell us how your research could be related to potential treatment or even a cure for ALS?

Agnes:

ALS is a complex disease and we need to understand how the disease is happening to find treatments or a cure.

With the research we are doing, we are looking at the very basics to learn more about how TDP-43 functions.

If we can identify how TDP-43 contributes to the development of ALS, we can specify targets for treatments and eventually find a cure for ALS.

ALS DOUBLE PLAY:

What do you find is most meaningful in your research? Do you have anything you’d like to share with our friends and supporters?

Agnes:

Research is a dynamic process, you never know when something will be found. Something that seems minor at first could turn into something really significant that makes an impact. This is what drives us in the lab every day, the thought that today could be the day we find that critical piece that will lead to a treatment or cure for ALS.

ALS DOUBLE PLAY:

We certainly hope that that day will come soon! Thank you for all you do to help make ALS history Agnes!

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