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.
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:
- Spinal cord injury results in profribrotic remodelling of cerebrovasculature (predisposing to stroke), which is accompanied by vascular-cognitive impairment
- Severe hypotension after spinal cord injury impairs cerebrovascular and cognitive function, but can be partially restored with a targeted pharmacological intervention
- 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.