BMI Graduate Program Excellence Awards

Posted on Thursday, January 10, 2019

 BMI Graduate Program Excellence Awards

The Biochemistry and the Microbiology and Immunology graduate programs offer awards to recognize the outstanding achievements of their graduate students. Both programs offer awards for excellence and for best thesis at the Masters and Doctoral levels. Both programs nominate candidates for the Faculty of Medicine Graduate Student Mentorship award and for the Faculty of Medicine award for excellence in post-doctoral studies. The two graduate programs also recognize leadership in the context of the BMI graduate student association. The 2018 award winners are:

Biochemistry Program (BCH)


BCH Award of Excellence - MSc

Caitlin Lazurko (Supervisor, Dr. Emilio Alarcon)

Caitlin Lazurko


Caitlin Lazurko, MSc Student of Dr. Alarcon’s working in the BEaTS laboratory, is studying the application of anti-bacterial nanoparticles and regenerative collagen hydrogels as a treatment for diabetic foot ulcers. Diabetes is a growing problem in Canada and around the world. There are many serious adverse events associated with the disease, one of the most common being diabetic foot ulcers. Foot ulcers are difficult to treat due to infection, inflammation, and poor circulation surrounding the wound, and currently therapies are very limited. In this project, Caitlin has optimized the collagen hydrogel formulation and developed and tested in vitro and vivo models for determining the wound healing properties of this formulation. Therefore, this work aims to combine peptide stabilized silver nanoparticles with a collagen hydrogel to prevent and fight infection while promoting wound healing.



BCH Award of Excellence - PhD

Andrew Sulaiman (Supervisor, Dr. Lisheng Wang)

Andrew Sulaiman


Andrew Sulaiman is a PhD student in Dr. Lisheng Wang’s lab. His research focuses on targeting the underlying mechanisms of both bulk tumor and cancer stem cells within triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) in order to develop a clinically translatable combinational treatment. TNBC accounts for ~15% of all breast cancer diagnoses, but has the worst prognosis in comparison with other subtypes. Importantly, his worked was centered around clinical translatability through his utilization of clinical patient tumors, clinical databases and patient-derived xenografts (PDX) models, in vitro and in vivo. Over the last four years, Andrew has been involved in multiple projects and has published six peer-reviewed manuscripts as first author.



BCH Award of Excellence - PhD

Sabina Sarvan (Supervisor, Dr. Jean-François Couture)

Sabina Sarvan

Dr. Sarvan’s PhD work in Dr. Jean-François Couture’s laboratory focused on structural and functional characterization of Campylobacter jejuni Ferric uptake regulator (CjFur). Fur protein is a master regulator of iron homeostasis in bacteria and it also regulates the expression of proteins implicated in DNA synthesis, energy metabolism, flagella biosynthesis, acid and oxidative stress defense and biofilm development. Therefore, Fur protein is an important factor contributing to bacterial pathogenicity. During Dr. Sarvan’s graduate studies, she solved the first crystal structure of apo-Fur protein and identified a set of unique interactions stabilizing this protein conformation. She showed that CjFur employs the same evolutionary conserved positively charged region to regulate gene expression in presence as well as in the absence of the regulatory metal ion. She also demonstrated the interplay between the CjFur metal binding sites and their importance in maximizing DNA binding activity, the regulation of gene expression and colonization of chick colon. Finally, she showed that the addition of a tag at the N-terminus of CjFur protein affects its ability to bind metal ions and DNA. Altogether, Dr. Sarvan’s PhD research increased our understanding of the mechanistic basis underlying the Fur regulation of gene expression in C. jejuni and further research into CjFur function could lead to a development of therapeutic molecules for the treatment of C. jejuni enteric infections.

BCH Best Thesis - MSc

Danny Jomaa (Supervisor, Dr. Ian Lorimer)

Danny Jomaa


Danny completed his Master's in Dr. Ian Lorimer's lab at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre, where he used CRISPR/Cas9 to study the role of PI3K signaling proteins in glioblastoma tumor invasion. Danny performed CRISPR/Cas9-based knockouts of PREX1, a Rac-GEF, to study its involvement in tumor cell motility and invasion. He also characterized the growth and function of tumor microtubes in glioblastoma. These membranous extensions connect cells together, allow them to communicate, and support tumor growth, survival, and treatment resistance.





BCH Best Thesis - PhD

Laura McDonell (Supervisors, Drs. Kim Boycott and Denis Bulman)

Laura McDonell

Disruption of Ras-MAPK signalling in human neurocutaneous disorders

Dr. McDonell is an MD/PhD graduate who completed her doctoral work in the lab of Drs. Boycott and Bulman. Her work focused on identifying the genetic etiologies and elucidating the biochemical pathways underlying a cohort of genetic disorders sharing cutaneous, neurological and cardiac features. Her thesis identified mutations in STAM-binding protein (STAMBP) in a cohort of individuals with microcephaly-capillary malformation syndrome using whole-exome sequencing (WES). STAMBP encodes a deubiquitinating isopeptidase that regulates cell surface receptor-mediated endocytosis and sorting. Cell lines of affected individuals showed reduced STAMBP expression, associated with accumulation of ubiquitinated protein aggregates, increased apoptosis and constitutive activation of the Ras-MAPK and PI3K-AKT pathways. WES also enabled the identification of post-zygotic mutations within the tyrosine kinase domain of fibroblast growth factor receptor 1 (FGFR1) in individuals with encephalocraniocutaneous lipomatosis. Fibroblasts from affected individuals showed increased phosphorylation of the FGFRs consistent with receptor activation as well as insensitive signal transduction through the Ras-MAPK pathway. These findings expand the spectrum of Ras-associated disorders while providing novel pathomechanistic insights into the regulation of cellular proliferation and survival during development.

Microbiology and Immunology Program (MIC)


MIC Award of Excellence - MSc

Jonathan James Hodgins (Supervisor, Dr. Michele Ardolino)

Jonathan James Hodgins


Jonathan is an MSc student in Dr. Michele Ardolino’s lab at OHRI. He studies inhibitory checkpoint receptors, a group of proteins which inhibit the activity of immune cells, ultimately dampening the immune response. In particular, he works on characterizing novel functions of these checkpoint receptors. Today, there are numerous therapies targeting checkpoint receptors (referred to as checkpoint blockade therapy), most often for cancer treatment. Hopefully, an improved understanding of these proteins will lead to optimal use of checkpoint blockade therapy, and better insight into their role in the immune system.




MIC Award of Excellence - PhD

Clayton Wallace Hall (Supervisor, Dr. Thien-Fah Mah)

Clayton Wallace Hall


Clayton Hall is an MD/PhD candidate and Vanier Scholar in Dr. Thien-Fah Mah’s laboratory. Clayton’s work investigates the identification and regulation of antibiotic resistance and tolerance genes in the bacterial pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa. P. aeruginosa causes chronic infections (for instance, in cystic fibrosis patients) that are extremely challenging to treat with conventional antibiotic treatment regimens. Understanding the genetic mechanisms that enable P. aeruginosa to survive antibiotic treatment may help identify novel strategies to render P. aeruginosa susceptible to antibiotics. In addition to his work in the laboratory, Clayton is actively involved in the community. He mentors fellow students and has served on the executive editorial team of the University of Ottawa Journal of Medicine. He also plays curling and coaches people who are new to the sport.


MIC Best Thesis - MSc

Dikchha Rijal (Supervisor, Dr. Subash Sad)

Dikchha Rijal

Cell death signaling complexes during macrophage differentiation

Dikchha is an MSc graduate who completed her master’s in Dr. Subash Sad’s lab. Monocytes migrate to various tissues and differentiate to macrophages and mediate early control of pathogens. Various alternative pathways of cell death have been discovered which have been shown to play a key role in host survival. Dikchha investigated the impact of differentiation of monocytes to macrophages on their susceptibility to two distinct cell death inducing complexes, ripoptosome and necrosome. Her results indicate that differentiation of macrophages results in resistance to ripoptosome- but not necrosome-induced cell death. Additional experiments indicated that the resistance to ripoptosome signaling correlated with reduced caspase activation and enhanced expression of anti-apoptotic mediators XIAP and cFLIPL. Her results also reveal the contradictory roles of p38 MAPK/MK2 in stimulating (phosphorylating RipK1) or inhibiting (reducing TNF-α expression and caspase 8 activation) ripoptosome signaling. These findings reveal novel mechanistic insights that can be exploited for development of therapeutics.

BMIGSA Leadership Awards

Andrew Sulaiman (Supervisor, Dr. Lisheng Wang)

Andrew Sulaiman


Andrew was elected as the President of the BMIGSA in May 2018 and has taken an active role in the organization of events/workshops/seminars to both inform graduate students and to create a warm, inviting environment to allow students to come together. He has also volunteered at The Ottawa Hospital since 2015.







BMIGSA Leadership Awards

Kevin Mercurio (Supervisor, Dr. Kristin Baetz)

Kevin Mercurio


Kevin is a M.Sc. Candidate in Biochemistry working in Dr. Kristin Baetz's lab. He is part of the new TechnoMiSE program, a NSERC-CREATE initiative that focuses on training new professionals in the field of microbiome research. Outside of the lab, Kevin is also VP Academic for the BMI Department's Graduate Student Association (BMIGSA). His main roles include organizing skills workshops, networking events, and scientific seminars throughout the school year. He also represents graduate students at the departmental and faculty level regarding academic affairs in education and research.




Faculty of Medicine Awards


Faculty of Medicine Award for Graduate Mentorship

Nicolas Leblond (Supervisor, Dr. Morgan Fullerton)



As a PhD student within the Fullerton Lab, Nicolas studies the effects of regulating metabolism within the immune system in a therapeutic context. Macrophages are a key player within innate immune responses, which participate in the clearance of foreign pathogens and promote wound healing. In the context of atherosclerosis, macrophages can form fatty plaques within the artery wall after the uptake of ‘bad cholesterol’ that can further lead to more severe cardiovascular complications. Nicolas’ research aims to selectively target and manage macrophage metabolism to help the removal of cholesterol from plaque-macrophages clear it from the body to lessen plaque size/burden to prevent and treat atherosclerosis.


Faculty of Medicine Award for Excellence in Post-doctoral Studies

David Patten (Supervisor, Dr. Mary-Ellen Harper)

David Patten


Dr. Patten is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Mary-Ellen Harper’s Mitochondrial Bioenergetics laboratory since August 2015, and co-supervised by Dr. Richard Richardson at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (August 2015-August 2018). Together, they are investigating different aspects of mitochondrial biology. Projects include: the regulation of electron transport chain function through their higher-order associations (supercomplexes); adaptive mitochondrial mechanisms to stressors in stem cells; and the metabolic regulation of antioxidant pathways. As part of a highly collaborative group, David has worked with groups studying different metabolic implications in the fields of neuroscience, cancer research, muscle metabolism, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. David is an active member, and ex co-president, of the Faculty of Medicine’s Postdoctoral Association, and is also the program coordinator of the Metabolomics Advanced Training and International Exchange Program (MATRIX), an NSERC-CREATE training program. 

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