Meet The Team – Rachel Syme Program Director, Research

Rachel Syme sitting down on a big red chair with a small dog on her lap smiling

JULY 21, 2023

Tell us about yourself. What would you like the Cystic Fibrosis Canada community to know about you? 

I am so pleased to be joining the Cystic Fibrosis Canada family as Program Director, Research. I have a PhD in Microbiology and Infectious Diseases and a Master’s in Medical Genetics and, after early years of bench research, have devoted most of my career to advocating for research and researchers. 

I am based in Calgary, married with two amazing kids, and share the house with our dog and cat. I am an avid reader and enjoy travel and being active playing golf, field hockey, and curling. 

What interested you about Cystic Fibrosis? How did you choose a role in this field? 

Cystic Fibrosis is a devastating disease. It is also an inspiring example of how research can make a transformative difference. Strides made by CF researchers in recent years have been amazing. It is an exciting opportunity to be a part of this passionate community and to have a role in moving research further. In this role, my personal goal is to develop opportunities that facilitate CF research success and maximize the potential of this remarkable community.  

Can you talk briefly about your previous experience at the Institute of Cancer Research and how you will use that expertise in your role as Program Director, Research at CF Canada? 

I came to this new role after serving as the Assistant Director for the Institute of Cancer Research with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. My experience there was a rich training-ground for understanding the health research funding ecosystem. During my tenure I got to think strategically about research programs/investments, create and implement funding opportunities, develop partnerships internally, externally, and internationally and work on patient engagement and capacity building activities. I was fortunate to meet researchers from across the country, experiencing and appreciating the strength of research across all pillars. Over the course of my career, I feel very fortunate to have worked as a researcher and as a funder. I look forward to bringing these perspectives to my role here at Cystic Fibrosis Canada. 

As someone with a strong interest in clinical trials and an ongoing involvement with teaching in that domain, can you talk about the importance of clinical trials to our community? 

Clinical trials are a critical part of evidence-based medicine, testing safety, efficacy, and how new treatments, tests etc. will work. Clinical trials provide options for patients to gain access to leading-edge treatments, be a critical part of research, and potentially help future generations. This is how we make progress, change, and improve clinical practice. What we study in today’s trial could be tomorrow’s next CF treatment or cure.   

What initially sparked your interest in clinical trials and what continues to inspire you about this area of study? 

During both my Doctoral and Post-Doctoral positions my supervisors were clinicians where I got to directly see the impact and importance of research to patients and their families. During this time, I developed a strong interest in and appreciation for clinical research, eventually becoming Manager of the Clinical Trials Unit at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. Seeing firsthand the impact research has on the lives of patients when a new treatment becomes available is amazing and inspiring. I want to continue to bring that opportunity to all patients and ensure that we have a robust clinical trials environment for cystic fibrosis in Canada. 

I am fortunate to sit on the Board of Directors for the Network of Networks (N2), a national alliance of Canadian research networks and organizations working to enhance national clinical research capability and capacity. The dedication of trials community in Canada inspires me every day. Working together across therapeutic areas and with our regulator Health Canada. Teaching clinical trials at the University of Calgary’s Master’s of Biomedical Technology program is another way I get to share my passion for clinical trials and hopefully motivate the next generation of trialists.  

As the Program Director, Research can you tell us a bit about your role at CF Canada? 

A critical priority for me will be directing and ensuring research dollars are spent on priority areas for people living with CF and partnering with other organizations to maximize impact. I want to work toward building more capacity and sustainability in CF research – helping to train and support the next generation of CF researchers. Acting as an advocate and ambassador for Cystic Fibrosis Canada, and the CF research community.  

What aspect of your role at CF Canada are you looking forward to the most? 

Learning more about this amazing community! I’ve already begun to see and appreciate their passion and commitment and I’m looking forward to learning how to best support them – really helping Cystic Fibrosis Canada go further.   

What are you passionate about outside of work? 

I’m a voracious reader, in two book clubs, and love to share books with others, giving, lending, and stocking my Little Free Library. I also spend a lot of time improving my French. 

What does going further for cystic fibrosis mean to you? 

Ensuring that no one is left behind. We want to leverage the great work that has been done, support current initiatives, and plan for an exciting future for CF research and the best outcomes for those living with CF.