Doctor by day, nanotoxicologist by night

Doctor by day, nanotoxicologist by night
By Suzanne Bowness

Dr. Shane Journeay balances a full life as a medical resident and nanotoxicology researcher.

Dr. Shane Journeay

Talking to Dr. Shane Journeay (PhD’08) makes you realize he probably spends a lot of his time explaining the complex things he does with his life.

Currently, he works by day at Toronto Western Hospital, where he’s about halfway through a five-year residency in his specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation, a broad discipline involving internal medicine and surgery focused on disorders of the neuro-musculoskeletal system such as spinal cord injuries, stroke and traumatic brain injuries.

And if you think that sounds like a complex field, wait until he explains nanotoxicology.

If you imagine the sort of person for whom being a medical resident is a day job, and who still has the energy to be an entrepreneur in the off hours, you’re getting a clearer picture of Dr. Journeay.

Originally from Nova Scotia, Dr. Journeay completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Ottawa. He was attracted to the nanotoxicology program at the U of S for its reputation as well as its proximity to the National Institute for Nanotechnology in Edmonton. While he was a graduate student, he played hockey at the university and in the city, and since his lab was in the veterinary college, he made lasting friendships with students there as well as in his own community.

Four days after defending his federallyfunded PhD thesis to complete his studies at the University of Saskatchewan’s Toxicology Centre, he was off to get his medical degree at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.

While he’d always planned to go to medical school, his interest in research remained strong, so he also started a consultancy called Nanotechnology Toxicology Consulting & Training.

What’s nanotechnology and nanotoxicology? Again, it’s a question Dr. Journeay has had significant practice handling thanks to his experience in giving media interviews for the likes of The Huffington Post and radio stations all across the United States.

“Nanotechnology is the science and application of small levels of matter,” explained Dr. Journeay. “Scientists have found that when you manipulate properties at the nano scale, those products change, giving new and exciting products. But from a toxicology standpoint, when we make tiny particles, we don’t know how they behave in the environment or in the human body, whether there’s a potential downfall.”

Our lack of knowledge is made even more serious by the fact that nanotechnology—while very new and very small (a nanometre is a billionth of a metre)—is already in so many products, including cosmetics, drugs, industrial processes and paint.

Dr. Journeay expanded on this last example to illustrate. Many paints now contain nanoparticles designed to help it stick to wood better and last longer than ever before. The trouble is, that while the benefits are apparent, the risks are less so. What consequences will these artificial particles have on the people who handle them or on the environment in the longterm?Like some genetically modified foods, we don’t yet comprehend the full effect.

Another comparison makes the point even more strongly. “To take it way back, we know from air pollution that ultra-fine particles in cities like L.A. and Toronto are associated with adverse health effects. Well, now we’re creating brand new particles at that size which change everything we know about how much we’re being exposed to,” said Dr. Journeay.

While he wants to promote awareness, Dr. Journeay said he also wants to avoid being alarmist, emphasizing that some particles could be just fine, while others may have risks. The important point is that more research and expert consultation is needed in order to figure out which particles fall into which category.

Even though Dr. Journeay is good at explaining what he does, he doesn’t have as ready an answer as to how he fits it all in. His days generally begin at 6 am, and his workday at the hospital doesn’t end until 6 pm. And yet he manages to incorporate consulting work for clients like Health Canada and industry, regular speaking engagements and academic conferences, as well as a role on the editorial board of the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology.

Perhaps his ease with these multiple commitments stems from the fact that he’s always been successful at fitting things into his life, from the consulting projects he took on while still a grad student at the U of S, to a stint spent as a representative for Canada at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France working on a project on nanotechnology in space.

In that same realm last fall, he won a scholarship and spent a month at NASA. He’s even had dinner with that other guy with an interest in space. “Chris Hadfield carries an intensity and focus, yet is so nice and personable, that it doesn’t surprise me that he’s where he’s at today,” recalled Dr. Journeay of his meeting with the Canadian astronaut who is now commander of the International Space Station.

While his life has moved forward rapidly since his time at the University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Journeay recalls his time at the university clearly. He describes a very positive relationship with his supervisor Dr. Baljit Singh, professor and associate dean at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, as well as support from toxicology graduate co-ordinator Dr. Barry Blakely, professor and head of veterinary biomedical sciences at the U of S, who played a big role in his choosing the school.

So what’s ahead for Dr. Journeay? “Nanotechnology is so exciting I never want to leave it, but at the same time I also have commitments as a physician,” he mused. The two-and-a-half years left in his medical residency will keep him in Toronto for now, but he said he’s open to continuing to try new places and challenges down the road, from applied research at an academic institution to further medical work.

Back to Top