Aiman Ali

From Refugee to Research Lab Manager

How Dentistry’s Aiman Ali overcame obstacles to land a job at U of T

By Rachel Boutet

When Aiman Ali and his family came to Canada in June 2016, they were fleeing the Syrian war in hopes of a better life. Flash forward to today, Ali is the manager of the Faculty’s Histopathology Research Unit.

“I came here on a Visiting Scholar Visa for six months – our transition to Canada was extremely arduous and we faced many financial difficulties at the beginning,” says Ali. “We were living cheque to cheque and it wasn’t easy to make ends meet.”

This job has not only provided my family with better financial stability, but it appreciates my background and qualifications.

Ali, who has his DDS and a PhD in oral cancer, says he could not find a job that appreciated his qualifications. After working part-time between the Faculty of Dentistry and Mount Sinai Hospital, he recently became the manager and lab coordinator for the Histopathology Research facility. 

“This job has not only provided my family with better financial stability, but it appreciates my background and qualifications.” 

As manager, Ali is responsible for everything in the lab including experiments, ordering materials and chemicals, and training students and researchers to use the machines. 

The lab itself used to be quite dated with older equipment. Upon his arrival, Ali made it a priority to make necessary updates in order to provide more services. This includes adding the capability to perform immunostains experiments and a full soft and hard tissues services for anything related to histopathology and immunohistochemistry.

Histopathology is the study of diseases including how the disease develops and what happens in the body tissues when you have a disease. The lab works on both human and animal samples and do precise experiments in order to discover specific proteins in cells and the role of these proteins in the progression of diseases and cancer. Prior to the update, the lab provided small services and people would have to go elsewhere to get the rest of the work completed.

“Now researchers are sending us work from Sinai and MARS because we can do it all in house,” he says. “Having the ability to deal with dental implants, mineralized tissue in the teeth, bone and jaw puts us at an advantage as it’s difficult for a lot of other labs to complete.”

Aiman Ali using machine
Ali programming one of the automated machines in the Histopathology Research Unit (Jeff Comber)

Ali is excited to continue using the lab’s new equipment and share its offering with researchers in and outside of Canada. He says the new equipment has allowed for greater efficiency amongst his team, including automatic processes versus manual ones, saving time and allowing for more accurate samples.

“Our lab is an example of the way forward in histopathology – I’m excited to see what the future holds for this type of research.”

Photo: Aiman Ali (Jeff Comber)