Meet the Researcher: Dr. Christian Kastrup

By Morgan Alford, Graduate Student, Hancock Lab                           

I had the pleasure to meet Dr. Christian Kastrup at a convening of the NanoMedicines Innovation Network (NMIN), a national association drawn from academia, industry and other enterprises to leverage Canada as a global leader in developing next-generation therapeutics. I soon learned that, aside from his involvement in NMIN, Dr. Kastrup is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a member of the Centre for Blood Research (CBR) amongst others. His cutting-edge research is primarily concerned with understanding mechanisms of blood clot formation and degradation. More recently, he has become interested in developing nanoparticle therapies for hemostasis and thrombosis. With 10 patent applications filed, Dr. Kastrup is a highly innovative researcher whom we were fortunate to interview for this edition of “Meet the Researcher.”

Photo Credit: UBC Michael Smith Laboratories

Can you tell us a bit more about your research background?

My background is in chemistry, but I first started participating in research through farming. I worked on cattle and horticulture farms growing up, and these led me into studying plant biology at University and working at the University’s Horticulture Research Farm. After taking organic chemistry I switched to be a chemistry major and started working in a lab doing computational simulations and photochemistry. The experiments didn’t taste as good as they did on the research farm, but I got fewer sunburns so I stuck with it. During grad school, while working to identify new uses for microfluidic systems, I became passionate about blood clotting.

What was your best/worst experience as a trainee at the University of Chicago?

I used to love staying in the lab all night looking at blood clots under the microscope. I would work for 34 hours straight and then go to Ultimate Frisbee practice. It was great. I got a first-author paper published in PNAS, and thought everything was going awesome…. but then I failed my comprehensive exam. That was super embarrassing! But then I studied and passed it the next time.

What advice would you have for emerging researchers?

Talk science — any science, but particularly the opportunities and challenges you face — with the people sitting next to you, the people across the lab, people down the hall, the people in other offices, and to your friends and family. This will help you solve your problems and probably make science even more fun and rewarding.

Photo Credit: UBC Michael Smith Laboratories

What is the most rewarding role you serve in the UBC community?

Enabling undergraduates to do research is a contribution that is extra rewarding. There are relatively limited opportunities for undergraduates to do publication-quality research, given their busy schedules and the limitations faced by research labs. We accept as many undergraduates as possible into my lab, where they then get mentorship by me as well as through graduate students. This is also important mentoring and managing experience for the graduate students. In the last seven years, 40 undergraduates have been members of my lab, and 25 of them have already been co-authors on papers, and I am proud of that. None have been a first-author yet, but I hope we will achieve that soon!

What excites you most about your current research?

We have several projects now where I believe we are on the brink of creating new medicines. Although in the past I have been a part of projects that have had great potential of leading to new therapies, there is no drug being used in humans right now that is mine. We are still several years or more away from beginning clinical trials with any of the technologies we are developing, but I have a lot of confidence that the results we are seeing in our advanced models will be translated to people. Specifically, both the technologies we are developing to halt hemorrhage in trauma and the RNA-based gene therapy approaches we are developing for hemostasis are working extremely well in models and have relatively clear paths to clinical trials and approval.

What motivated you to join the NanoMedicines Innovation Network?

I joined the NMIN and the Research Management Committee because I see nearly limitless potential for gene therapy in modulating diseases of the blood and beyond. This is particularly true for the non-viral approaches to gene therapy that is a focus of the network. Lipid-based nanomedicines can be used to knockdown almost any blood protein made in the liver, and can also be used to express proteins in the liver – turning the liver into a bioreactor. Since most coagulation proteins are made in the liver, there is tremendous opportunity to create agents that modulate clotting, and thus bleeding, heart attack, stroke and other conditions.

Photo Credit: UBC Michael Smith Laboratories

What do you hope to be a legacy of your research?

I hope that the students I train will go on to solve the biggest scientific problems that society faces.  Within my own lab, I expect that the tools we create to modulate clotting will be useful for us and other labs to uncover the mechanisms behind clotting-related diseases; I hope that this will lead to one or more therapies for thrombosis, severe hemorrhage or rare bleeding disorders.

What is your favourite “wild-type” (AKA non-academic) activity?

I enjoy fishing. I like all kinds of fishing, but fishing in streams for trout is my favorite. I especially enjoy it with my daughters (ages 5 and 8), who have both been fishing regularly with me since they were infants.