Risini Weeratna was born in Sri Lanka, but always knew she wanted to travel and explore the world. After completing her undergraduate studies, a Fulbright scholarship took her to the University of Wisconsin‑Madison, where she obtained her Masters in Bacteriology. When it came time for her doctoral, she again wanted to experience another country, and wound up choosing Dalhousie University in Halifax, where she completed her PhD in microbiology studying the molecular pathogenesis of Legionella pneumophila, the bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease.
Weeratna is now based in Ottawa, where she’s a Senior Research Officer with the Human Health Therapeutics Research Centre. Before joining the NRC in 2016, Risini worked at Coley Pharmaceutical Group, and Pfizer Vaccine Research, where she directed research and development for vaccines and immunotherapeutics. She’s spent her career working on therapies for the improvement of human health, so it’s important to her that we have a strong understanding not only of how a treatment works in theory, but what makes it safe and effective in practice.
“A lot of early screening for new therapies is done in the laboratory using computer models, or cells in a dish, but ultimately we need to understand how these therapies work in a living body, which is far more complex than the sum of its parts,” underscores Weeratna. “It’s simply not yet possible to replace the use of living animals in research with alternative methods. In this regard, establishing strict humane and ethical guidelines to ensure proper use and care of animals used in research is extremely important”.
With the above in-mind, Weeratna is Chair of the Human Health Therapeutics Research Centre’s Animal Care Committee which oversees the ethical treatment of experimental animals used in NRC research. She’s also the Research Centre’s Team Lead for cancer immunology, as well as the cell therapy Theme Lead under the Disruptive Technology Solutions for Cell and Gene Therapy Challenge program.