Gillis Lab


Principle Investigator


Dr. Todd Gillis got his BSc and MSc from the University of Guelph and his PhD from Simon Fraser University. Dr. Gillis then worked in the Department of Bioengineering in the School of Medicine at the University of Washington as an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Gillis joined the University of Guelph as an Assistant Professor in 2005. The work in the Gillis Lab is focused upon the vertebrate heart and the mechanisms that regulate its function. Please take a look at the research pages for further detail.

[email protected]


Post Doctoral Researchers


Dr. Georgina Cox My research interests broadly center on cardiovascular responses to physiological and abiotic stress. I use a comparative approach to look for commonalities in how cardiovascular systems in animals that inhabit heterogeneous environments overcome these various stressors. Currently I am investigating the spectacular anoxia (no oxygen) tolerance of a phylogenetically ancient species of hagfish. By integrating biochemical analysis and innovative surgical techniques I aim to understand how hagfish can persist for hours to days in an environment that is lethal to most animals within minutes. The unifying goal of my research is to make fundamental discoveries on cardiovascular function and apply them to further our understanding of species’ underlying physiology. To learn more about my research please visit

Graduate Students


Elizabeth Johnston I completed a B.Sc. in Marine and Freshwater Biology at the University of Guelph before taking an extra year to immerse myself in an undergraduate thesis project with Dr. Todd Gillis. This experience with research allowed me to segue into a M.Sc. degree in Dr. Gillis’ lab, where after a year of study I decided to transfer into a Ph.D. program in order to expand upon several research questions.

My main area of interest lies in the molecular mechanisms that regulate tissue remodeling in the hearts of rainbow trout. During thermal acclimation, the ventricles of male trout undergo significant changes in muscle fibre bundle area and extracellular connective tissue deposition. Currently I am focusing on the response of ventricular fibroblast cells to cytokine signaling and post-transcriptional mRNA modification. In the future I will look at both hormonal and mechanical factors that may play a role in initiating and maintaining the signals necessary for cardiac remodeling.

Calli Freedman    

Yuwen Ding

Sean Avey My research is investigating the impact that diluted bitumen exposure has on juvenile Atlantic salmon, and how their ability to migrate may be limited. This project aims to determine the physiological responses to diluted bitumen at i) the whole animal level, using a standardized swimming test to assess aerobic performance, ii) the tissue level, using histological methods to look at muscle cell and tissue damage, iii) the biochemical level, using enzyme assays to determine the metabolic pathways that are being used at rest and during exercise, and iv) at the molecular level, using qPCR to look at markers of cytotoxicity in various tissues.

Undergraduate Researchers


Melissa Fanti-Cocco



Post Doctoral Fellows

Dr. Sarah Alderman, 2018

Project: Physiological consequence of bitumen on Atlantic and Pacific salmon. Current Position: Adjunct Faculty, University of Guelph

Dr. Laura Dindia, 2014

Project: Identification of serum biomarkers in salmonids to detect cardiac and skeletal damage to improve the monitor of salmonid health in farmed and wild populations

Graduate Students

Ms Calli Freeman, MSc 2017-2019 Thesis Title:  Current Position: Veterinary Student, Ontario Veterinary College

Dr. Elizabeth Johnston, PhD 2012-2019 Thesis Title:   Current Position: Research Scientist, FInless

Dr. Sarah Schorno, PhD 2013-2018 Thesis title: Biogenesis of Hagfish Slime: Timing and Process of Slime Gland Refilling in Hagfishes (Eptatretus stoutii and Myxine glutinosa) Current positon: Lab Instructor, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph

Ms. Lauren Gatrell, MSc. 2015-2017 Thesis title:The role of glycerol in supporting energy production in the hagfish heart during anoxia exposure Current Position: Veterinary technician

Ms. Elizabeth Sears, MSc 2011-2014
Thesis title. Evolution of cardiac troponin function in vertebrates
Current position Research technician, Biodiversity institute of Ontario

Dr. Jordan Klaiman, PhD, 2007- 2013
Thesis title: The effects of thermal acclimation on the functional properties of the trout myocardium
Current position: Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada PDF, Department of Bioengineering, University of Washington, Seattle WA.

Ms. Nicole Pinto, MSc, 2010-2012, Co-supervisor: Dr. Doug Fudge
Thesis title. Production of a bio-polymer from recombinant vimentin
Current position: PhD Student, Western University

Ms. Silvana Miller
, MSc, 2008-2010, Co-supervisor: Dr. Pat Wright
Thesis title: Effect of hypoxia exposure on the development of the cardio-respiratory system in rainbow trout
Current position: Research Associate, Humber College

Ms. Kelly Kirkpatrick, MSc 2006-2009
Thesis Title: Cloning and functional characterization of trout cardiac troponin I
Current position: Lab Instructor, Bishop Straughn High School Toronto


Undergraduate Thesis Students Supervised

** = thesis published in peer reviewed journal

Ms. Allegra Pearce, 2017-2018 title: Fuel utilization by the anoxic hagfish heart.

**Ms. Sierra Sutcliffe, 2016-2017 title: Actin expression in the zebrafish heart during embryonic development

**Mr. Sean Avey, 2014-2016, title:Consequence of Green florescent protein expression on the metabolic rate and aerobic fitness of zebrafish.

Mr. Craig Jurkiewicz, 2014-2016, title:The effects of chronic diurnal hypoxia and exercise training on the cardiovascular system of rainbow trout (Onycorhychus mykiss).

Ms. Laura Shaw, 2014-2016, title:The effects of diurnal hypoxia and exercise on neuroplasticity in juvenile rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss).

Mr. David Bakker, 2014-2015,  title: Influence of cold acclimation on the metabolism of swimming zebrafish.

Ms. Ariana Bonder,  2014-2015,  title: Role of TGF-b in the regulation of trout cardiac fibroblasts

Mr. Abiran Sritharan, 2013-2014 title: Influence of cold acclimation on the aerobic fitness of zebrafish.
Current Position, MSc Student, University of Guelph

**Ms. Amy Johnston, 2013,  title: Influence of cold acclimation on the histology and connective tissue content of the zebrafish heart.
Current Position: PhD Student University of Alberta

Ms. Melanie Barry, 2013,  title: Influence of cold acclimation on the expression and phosphorylation of SERCA and phospholamban in the hearts of the burbot and crucean carp

**Ms. Elizabeth Johnston2013-2014,  title: Influence of hypoxia exposure during embryonic development on the aerobic capacity of trout fry. 2011-2012
Current Position: PhD Student Guelph

Ms. Elizabeth Sears, 2012-2013,  title: Influence of chronic hypoxia exposure on the expression of the cardiac contractile proteins during ontogeny of the rainbow trout.
Current position Research technician Biodiversity institute of Ontario

**Ms. Courtney Deck, 2012-2013,  title: Influence of Cold Acclimation on TnI expression in the cardiac, slow skeletal, and fast skeletal muscle of the rainbow trout.
Current position: PhD Student U Ottawa.

Ms. Nicole Pinto, 2011-2012,  title: Cloning of cardiac troponin T from the trout.
Current position: PhD Student, Western University

**Mr. Andrew Robertson,  2011-2012,  title: Role of PKA phosphorylation in the regulation of cardiac troponin function 2009-2010
Current position: Medical Doctor, University of Toronto

Ms. Emily Van de Laar, 2011-2012,  title: Application of DIGE to studying contractile protein phosphorylation.
Completed MSc University of Guelph

**Ms. Silvana Miller, 2007-2008, title: Influence of chronic hypoxia exposure on the metabolic rate of salmonid embryos during development.
Completed MSc University of Guelph

Ms. Caley Nadon, 2007-2008 title: Changes in the expression of troponin I mRNA during development.
Current position: Dentist, Toronto

Ms. Brechan McGooey, 2006-2007 title: Changes in heart rate of rainbow trout embryos during hypoxia exposure.
Current position: High school science teacher, Toronto

Ms. Heather Freamo, 2005-2006, title: Ca2+ sensitivity of actin myosin activity in the trout heart.
Completed MSc, University of Guelph