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Aaron Phillips

A native of Grimsby, Ontario, Phillips has been a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the Faculty of Medicine since 2013. Under the supervision of Dr. Andrei V. Krassiokov and Dr. Philip N. Ainslie, he works with the Vancouver-based International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD) and the Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health.

Picture for Aaron Phillips
Home town
Research location
Centre for Heart, Lung and Vascular Health
Dr. Andrei V. Krassiokov, Dr. Philip N. Ainslie
Year PDF started

Research topic

Cerebrovascular and Cognitive Health Issues Associated with Neurological Conditions

Research Description

Through extensive collaboration, I have developed a truly translational research program, where I apply preclincal models to determine the mechanisms underlying dysfunction, as well as test experimental therapies, and then translate them into clinical studies and practice.

Some of my specific findings include:

  1. Spinal cord injury results in profribrotic remodelling of cerebrovasculature (predisposing to stroke), which is accompanied by vascular-cognitive impairment
  2. Severe hypotension after spinal cord injury impairs cerebrovascular and cognitive function, but can be partially restored with a targeted pharmacological intervention
  3. Autonomic dysfunction after spinal cord injury plays a primary role in cerebrovascular dysfunction after spinal cord injury, and routine physical activity may not be able to abrogate this decline.

We have just secured funding from the Heart and Stroke Foundation to look into these issues further over the next three years using both preclinical and clinical models.

A few examples of specific tools that I utilize in my research include:

  • MRI and ultrasound to image the brain and brain vasculature
  • myography for isolated vessel assessments
  • invasive and non-invasive hemodynamic assessment techniques
  • numerous preclinical surgical approaches
  • and a diverse array of preclinical and clinical cognitive assessments.

Why did you decide to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC? Did you consider other opportunities?

I came to work with two global leaders in their respective fields. Dr. Andrei Krassioukov (Fellow of Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, Chair in Rehabilitation) is an internationally recognized physician and scientist who has spent 30 years understanding and managing autonomic conditions after spinal cord injury (SCI). His lab is extremely successful and well-funded. He encouraged me to develop a preclincal model of cerebrovascular dysfunction after SCI in his lab. Through his mentorship, we have secured more than $650,000 in research and fellowship support to better understand the brain after SCI (Craig H. Nielsen Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, Heart and Stroke Grants-in-Aid, Rick Hansen Institute Clinical Outcomes). I’ve also had the opportunity to work with other world experts, such as Drs Wolf Tetzlaff, Ismail Laher, and Stacy Elliott.

Dr. Philip Ainslie was a crucial mentor of mine through my PhD, and the opportunity to work with him directly was a major draw of UBC. Dr. Ainslie (Canada Research Chair) is a world-renowned expert on cerebrovascular physiology who has single-handedly advanced our understanding of how the brain functions. Under his mentorship, we have published numerous papers, launched a new software for neurovascular coupling in humans, and performed a clinical trial assessing the role of brain calcium channels. Under his supervision, I have also been fortunate to secure the Heart and Stroke Foundation Research Fellowship, and NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship.

What advice do you have for new postdoctoral fellows?

As a postdoc is by definition a transition position, the most important issue is to define one's primary professional goal and decide on deliverables. Questions to ask: What job do I want? What deliverables do I need for that job? How do I attain these deliverables? Once these become clear, one can develop strategies for implementing the plan (e.g., key collaborations to develop, increasing writing output, teaching development etc.).

What does receiving this award mean for your career?

It is a true honour to be a Killam Laureate, which is considered one of the most prestigious research recognitions across Canada. This award is hopefully an indication that my research is considered among the highest quality of that taking place at UBC. This is most certainly the result of my mentors, collaborators, and junior trainees working under my mentorship. I believe that this award will also help in securing future funding and advance my goal of an independent faculty position.

What do you hope to accomplish with your current work?

I'm intensively dedicated to understanding, preventing, and managing strokes as well as other cerebrovascular conditions such as vascular-cognitive decline. The primary clinical population I focus on is those with spinal cord injury, due to the devastating affect this condition exerts on not only motor and sensory function, but also the autonomic nervous system. For example, the risk of stroke after a spinal cord injury increases 300-400% and numerous cognitive issues often develop. Over my career I hope to better identify the causes of these issues, and develop interventions and prevention strategies to improve the quality and quantity of life for people with neurological conditions such as spinal cord injury.

What research related or academic event coming up in the near future are you most excited about?

On June 1st 2016, some of the most prolific experts on spinal cord injury and cerebrovascular health will come to Vancouver from around the world, for the 2016 International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries - Trainee Symposium. These include Drs Reggie Edgerton (> 450 published manuscripts), Mary Bunge, (>200 published manuscripts), and Philip Ainslie (>200 published manuscripts). As chair of the symposium, I believe this meeting will be a critical step in better understanding cerebrovascular and cognitive issues after spinal cord injury.

For you, what was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

Certainly, I was impressed by how well-funded and supportive UBC is, as a whole. There are so many opportunities to secure awards and funding, and advance my research. For example, within my centre, the International Collaboration on Repair Discoverers, we have annual travel awards, seed grants, visiting scholar/project awards (as well as other opportunities) that help to provide financial support for research endeavors. I have benefited from each of these directly, and can say that have certainly accelerated my research program to where it is today.