Dr. Xiao-Yan Wen is an assistant professor of medicine at U of T and a member of the Keenan Research Centre at St. Michael’s Hospital. Wen is also the director of Zebrafish Centre for Advanced Drug Discovery, and a renowned scientist. He contributed to the Ontario Science Centre’s (OSC) permanent exhibit by helping design a zebrafish display as a demonstration of the hereditary nature of genetic traits and embryonic development.

This, however, was not Wen’s first collaboration with the OSC; two years ago, he gave a lecture and organized a science competition at the OSC Science School, which resulted in his acceptance of a grade 12 student into his lab for a summer internship. The goal of this science outreach program was to educate scientifically-inclined students and give them an opportunity to learn advanced life science knowledge, which would help them in their career development. Over the past three years, Wen’s lab has trained seven high school students.

Part of the research that these students performed involved nutrigenomic studies to determine preventative or therapeutic effects of commonly consumed fruits and vegetables in chronic diseases, such as diabetes, while further projects involved zebrafish disease model development.

In an interview with The Varsity, Wen explained why he chose to work with zebrafish as opposed to a variety of other possible model organisms. With a wry chuckle,  he describes how he originally completed a PhD in mouse transgenics at the U of T, Wen switched to zebrafish research immediately upon obtaining his faculty position in 2005.  Some of the reasons for this switch included the zebrafish’s fast and external embryonic development, the ability to perform large-scale genetic and chemical screens, and most importantly, Wen’s childhood passion for fish and fishing.

While his graduate students mainly work on cardiovascular disease models, he is currently establishing multiple collaborations in creating zebrafish neurodegenerative disease models for drug screens.

Funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, his lab has also recently built a robotic automated high-throughput drug screening platform for direct drug screening on developing zebrafish embryos.

In addition, Wen continues to actively promote the zebrafish model in scientific research communities.  Over the past few years, he has organized two zebrafish workshops: one on mutagenesis in 2011, and the other on chemical biology in 2012. He also successfully organized the first (International) Zebrafish for Personalized/Precision Medicine Conference in Toronto in 2013, which featured leading zebrafish experts from around the world through various lectures and presentations.  He is currently planning the second conference for 2015, and will surely further promote the advancement of innovative research to combat the medical challenges that we face today.