Grace Parraga, Professor and Graduate Chair, Department of Medical Biophysics
Why I Became a Scientist
As a child, I was curious and deeply sceptical about the material I was taught, and I was driven to “prove it to myself” when provided information as a young learner (which proved to be very hard on my parents and teachers). I also had an opportunity to work with patients as a young teenager and continued to do so for many summers and this drove my curiosity about human disease. I continue to be challenged to explain why, what, how and how to fix. Now that I’m training the next generation of scientists, many of whom are driven by the same scepticism and curiosity, it is both stimulating and rewarding – I can’t wait to get up in the morning and get in to work!
We are fascinated by the interactions of lung growth and development with lung aging and disease. The lungs are central to life so that without optimal lung structure and function, all other systems in humans are compromised and eventually fail. Paradoxically, lung abnormalities are expressed “silently” until disease is well-established or irreversible because fundamentally, the respiratory system is over-engineered for day to day tasks. This makes detection and a deep understanding of lung disease and its mechanisms extremely challenging. We think that lung function can be understood and explained by exploring the interplay between the airways and airspaces as they develop and adapt in response to the external environment. Therefore, research in our laboratory is directed towards a detailed understanding of lung structure and function, with an emphasis on the development of human medical imaging tools. We describe this in more detail at: www.imaging.robarts.ca/~gep.
Research Questions and Disease Implications
Can imaging measurements of smoking-related lung disease be used to predict patient outcomes?
We are developing MRI-based measurements of asthma and COPD to better understand disease and to track patients over time and in response to treatment. This will help us understand why some patients do better than others.
Do some patients with smoking-related lung disease have a dominant disease type that can be used to help guide therapy?
We are developing a way to phenotype COPD patients using imaging to help guide personalized therapy and to help to improve long term outcomes.
How does the lung age in healthy non-smokers and are there differences between men and women?
MRI helps provide clues about diseased and aging lungs and why some disease is apparently worse in women than in men.
Dr. Parraga completed her BSc (Hon) and MSc in Biochemistry at The University of Western Ontario. She then completed her PhD training in Dr. Rachel E Klevit’s lab in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Washington, in Seattle. Her thesis work was published in Science, PNAS and Methods in Enzymology.
• PhD, University of Washington Seattle USA (Biochemistry)
• MSc, The University of Western Ontario London Canada (Biochemistry)
• BSc (Hons), The University of Western Ontario London Canada (Biochemistry)
After completing post-doctoral studies at the Biozentrum, University of Basel, (Switzerland), Dr. Parraga joined F. Hoffman La Roche AG as a Scientist in Pharma Research and Development. In 2004, she returned to academic research at Robarts Research Institute, at the University of Western Ontario.
• Post-doctoral Fellowship Biozentrum, University of Basel, Basel Switzerland
Dr. Parraga currently holds a CIHR New Investigator Award and leads the Imaging platform of the Canadian Respiratory Research Network, recently funded by CIHR. Dr. Parraga also Co-Chairs the Canadian Lung Association RENASCENT Training and Mentorship Committee responsible for generating a national training framework for respiratory research training in Canada.
Dr. Parraga is Professor (with tenure) and Graduate Chair in the Department of Medical Biophysics, Western University and she is also appointed in the Departments of Medical Imaging, Oncology and the Graduate Program in Biomedical Engineering at Western. She is adjunct Professor in Physics at Dalhousie University. Ongoing research funding is provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, CIHR Operating, Network and Team Grants and Cystic Fibrosis Canada.
• CIHR New Investigator Award 2010 - 2015
• RSNA Trainee Prize 2009, 2011
• Western University Teaching Honour Roll
Dr. Parraga’s research has been published in numerous high impact journals including Circulation, BMJ, Radiology, Thorax, Medical Physics, New England Journal of Medicine and the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.