Providence Research Profiles: Dr. Tillie Hackett

In an effort to shine a light on our many notable researchers, Providence Research is profiling the careers of those who work within our inspiring research community.

Lung Profile | Grace Jenkins

Dr. Tillie Hackett

In an effort to shine a light on our many notable researchers, Providence Research is profiling the careers of those who work within our inspiring research community. This month, we are profiling Dr. Tillie Hackett, a Principle Investigator with the Centre for Heart Lung Innovation, a Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of British Columbia, and a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Asthma and COPD Pathobiology and Therapeutics. She recently received the Mentoring Research Award from AllerGen for her outstanding work as an educator and researcher dedicated to improving the lives of patients living with asthma and COPD.

Dr. Hackett’s research focuses on airway remodeling in people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Both of these conditions can cause damage and scarring of the lungs, which reduces lung function.

“What we want to try and do is see how we can reverse that scarring, so we can make sure that people can breathe easily every day,” says Dr. Hackett. 

Research ranges the spectrum from diagnosis to treatment

Dr. Hackett is an international leader in using ultra-resolution imaging to investigate asthma and COPD. In 2008, she and her team used this technology to show that by the time a person is diagnosed with the earliest form of COPD, they have already lost over forty-one per cent of the smallest airways in the lung. Now, Dr. Hackett is investigating how to use ultra-resolution imaging to identify people who will develop asthma and COPD earlier, and develop treatments that could change the course of this scarring.

Dr. Hackett has also done a significant amount of work in single-cell imaging and ‘omics. By looking down at the single-cell level, she and her team are trying to understand what differences are present in the lungs and cells of a person with asthma or COPD. 

Another aspect of Dr. Hackett’s research involves testing cell models to discover effective treatments. Cell samples taken from asthma and COPD patients are grown into models that mimic the lung environment. Dr. Hackett and her team are then able to test different drugs on these cells to understand what treatments could be used to improve how the lung functions. 

 “We are a translational lab. We are trying to diagnose the patient earlier, we are trying to understand what happens to cells in disease using our ultra-resolution imaging, and then we are trying to use our human-cell models to try and better treat those diseases. By doing all of this, we hope to find better treatments to improve the lives of patients,” says Dr. Hackett.

Helping the next generation get their start

Dr. Hackett wanted to be a scientist ever since she hear the word ‘biochemistry’ at school when she was seven, and thought that it sounded cool. When she was able to do her first research project as a student at the University of Southampton in the UK, she was inspired by the process of experimentation and research. That is a common thread she has seen in the trainees that have come through her lab.

“That first summer student or co-op project, where you really actually get to do research, is what excites everyone to join research later on,” says Dr. Hackett.

Dr. Hackett appreciates the opportunity to train the students and trainees in her lab. 

“They are the people who, after me, are going to continue this research. Playing a big part in how they shape their lives and their careers is very inspiring,” says Dr. Hackett.

While many of us may take the ability to breathe for granted, there are millions of people worldwide who are impacted by asthma and COPD and who struggle to breathe every day. Dr. Hackett’s research aims to change that. 

“I think what drives me is that I want to make sure that people can have treatments to help them breathe more easily every day. It’s quite a thing, when you take a breath, and it’s not relieving,” says Dr. Hackett.