BMI Graduate program excellence awards
Both the Biochemistry and the Microbiology and Immunology graduate programs offer awards to recognize the outstanding achievements of our graduate students. Both programs offer awards for excellence, best thesis, and leadership at both the Masters and Doctoral levels. The programs also sponsor a post-doctoral fellow for the Faculty of Medicine award for excellence in post-doctoral studies. The 2017 award winners are:
Best PhD Thesis – Microbiology
Meghan Tu (Dr. Andrew Makrigiannis’s Lab)
Meghan Tu (Dr. Andrew Makrigiannis’s Lab)
Megan Tu’s Ph.D. work in the lab of Dr. Andrew Makrigiannis focused on the study of natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells are part of the innate immune response, and get their name ‘natural killer’ due to their unique ability to recognize and kill aberrant cells without prior sensitization. In this thesis, the duality of educated and uneducated NK cells in the control of virally-infected and cancerous cells (Tu et al., Frontiers in Immunology 2016) is highlighted, and goes on to explore the interactions and binding capacity of MHC-I molecules with different members of the Ly49 receptor family on NK cells (McFall, Tu et al., Journal of Immunology 2013). The clinical importance of NK cells is further characterized, detailing their critical role in cancer immunosurveillance and immunoediting (Tu et al., Cancer Research 2014; Tu et al., Cancer Immunology Research 2017).
Best PhD Thesis – Biochemistry
Dr. Dana Foss (formerly Danielson) (Dr. John Pezacki’s Lab)
Developing the p19 protein as a tool for studying small RNAs
The RNA silencing pathway serves to regulate gene expression in a variety of organisms and it plays a critical role in human disease and viral infections. The pathway is engaged by small RNA molecules which allow potent inhibition of gene expression. Because these small RNA molecules are of high interest for their gene regulatory abilities and potential as human therapeutics, my doctoral research focused on developing tools with which we can better understand and modulate their function. These tools are based on a protein, p19, which binds small RNA molecules of any sequence with very high affinity. Through protein engineering, we were able to increase p19s ability to bind a human microRNA, miR-122, which plays an important role during Hepatitis C viral infection. We also developed a chemical biology approach to inhibiting the RNA silencing pathway in human cells with p19 and small molecules. Lastly, through modifying p19 with a peptide that allows cell-entry, we engineered p19 as an siRNA delivery agent, allowing knockdown of gene expression in human cells. The unique properties of the p19 protein make it an ideal platform for sequestering, modulating, and delivering small RNA molecules, giving us new strategies for understanding and modulating the role of small RNAs in biology, thereby increasing their therapeutic potential.
Best MSc Thesis – Microbiology
Emmanuelle Ametepe (Dr. Subash Sad’s Lab)
During my graduate studies in Dr. Subash Sad’s laboratory, I have studied the impact of a transcription factor, FoxO3a, on the innate immune response upon bacterial infection. For that purpose, macrophages were infected with Salmonella Typhimurium. Results revealed that FoxO3a signaling promotes the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines including IL12 and TNFα, while inhibiting the expression of IL10, an anti-inflammatory cytokine. These results provide new insights into the role of FoxO3a signaling in inflammatory responses, which are critical during infection with virulent intracellular pathogens.
Award for Excellence in Graduate Studies (PhD) Microbiology
Tyler Renner (Dr. Marc-André Langlois’s Lab)
Developing Techniques for Antigenic Profiling of Virions by NanoFlow Cytometry: Elucidating the Cellular Reservoirs for HIV Latency and Beyond
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has been plaguing lives for decades. In spite of developments in therapeutics, there has been no success in the development of a vaccine or cure. The persistence of this pathogen is accredited to its capacity to integrate into the host’s genome in a dormant state, generating a latent reservoir of infected cells. While some of these reservoir cells are recognized, the identity, magnitude and localization of the remainder are unknown. This highlights the importance of identification of the entire reservoir of HIV latency before any progress can be made towards an effective cure. With recent innovations in flow cytometry technology, we now have the capability to analyze virions at the single-particle level. While relatively new in the field, nanoflow cytometry has been shown to be over 1000-fold more sensitive than ELISA for the detection of viral particles. This brings new analytical potential, such as the identification of the antigenic composition of individual virions. The profiling of cells by membrane proteins in flow cytometry is a widely used and accepted form of characterization. We hypothesize that the membrane protein composition of HIV particles will define their parental origin. Given analysis of samples from patients on cART, this may be a key analytical method in identifying the remaining unknown members of the HIV latent reservoir. While this project is HIV focused, we have already illustrated that this technique has huge potential along other avenues, such as vaccine validations. If successful, this research will lead to more sensitive clinical diagnosis techniques and likely the development of specific, reservoir cell targeted HIV therapies. Consequently, this technology has the potential to impact prevention, diagnosis and therapeutics of a wide variety of diseases.
Award for Excellence in Graduate Studies (PhD) Biochemistry
Mohammed Selman (Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo`s Lab)
Mohammed Selman is a PhD candidate in biochemistry. His thesis research involves the development of novel cancer therapies using oncolytic viruses. With a particular focus on the chemical modulation of antiviral pathways, to boost efficacy of oncolytic virotherapy. He as identify vanadium-based phosphatase inhibitors as potentiators of oncolytic virotherapy, which subverts the antiviral type I IFN response towards a death-inducing and proinflammatory type II IFN response.
Award for Excellence in Graduate Studies (MSc) Microbiology
Sarwat Khan (Dr. Rebecca Auer`s Lab)
Sarwat Khan, MSc Student in Dr. Rebecca Auer’s lab, is studying novel oncolytic virus-based whole cell cancer vaccines in treating murine models of peritoneal carcinomatosis. More precisely, Sarwat is characterizing the immune response (including T-cell and APC activation and infiltration) to these immune-stimulating vaccines to elucidate how to overcome tumor-mediated immune suppression and enhance the efficacy of these promising vaccines in more difficult-to-treat models of cancer.
Award for Excellence in Graduate Studies (MSc) Biochemistry
Jaimee Domville (Dr. John Baenziger`s Lab)
I study how mutations in the muscle-type nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) lead to diseases collectively referred to as Congenital Myasthenic Syndromes (CMSs). Many of these mutations alter channel gating kinetics leading to an abnormal neuromuscular response, muscle weakness, and in severe cases death. The aim of my project is to elucidate the allosteric mechanisms by which these amino acid substitutions lead to altered gating. This work provides insight into the underlying mechanisms of function of these important ligand-gated ion channels, but also serves as a basis for the design of targeted allosteric modulators to treat nAChR-related diseases, such as CMSs.
Award for Leadership in VP Communications
Patrick Taylor (Dr. Thien-Fah Mah`s Lab)
As a PhD candidate I am studying the genetics of antibiotic resistance in biofilms of the opportunistic pathogenic bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa. I am also a council member of BMI’s graduate student association. I have served positions of Vice President Internal and Vice President Communications. While being on council I have been active in organizing events like barbeques, waffle breakfasts, Hallowe’en parties – everything to bring our students together in a welcoming, social environment. While serving as Vice President Internal I was able to be the representative of our graduate student council to the faculty council and was able to join initiatives such as our health and wellness committee. Most recently, as Vice President Communications I have had the opportunity to be our public voice and outreach through managing our social media accounts as well as being part of our departmental communications action committee.
Award for Leadership in VP Academic
Danny Jomaa (Dr. Ian Lorimer`s Lab)
Danny is a Master's student in Dr. Ian Lorimer's lab at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre, where he studies cellular mechanisms of glioblastoma invasion. This year, Danny was involved in the Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology Graduate Students Association as VP Academic. In this position, he organizes academic and networking opportunities for graduate students in the Faculty of Medicine to learn about careers in and out of academia, and ways that they can use their graduate degree.
Award of Excellence for Postdoctoral fellow
Manuel Ahumada (Dr. Emilio Alarcon`s Lab)
I believe that being awarded the post-doctoral excellence is also a recognition to my labmates and supervisor. Dr. Alarcon received me in his laboratory during 2015 when I was an awardee for an Emerging Leader for the Americas Program (ELAP) doctoral student exchange fellowship. I returned to Ottawa as a Postdoctoral fellow in May 2016. Since then, I have grown in the field of nanotechnology and translational biomaterials. In Dr. Alarcon’s laboratory, I learned the real concept of working in a multidisciplinary environment and the importance of being a team leader and mentor. During my postdoctoral time, I have been involved in several projects including (1) Anti-bacterial/biofilm spray-treatment for skin wounds; (2) light activated technologies for wound closure; (3) in situ repairing of cornea repair, and (4) electro-conductive patching of myocardial infarction. In the last 2-years in Dr. Alarcon’s laboratory, I have published seven peer-reviewed manuscripts and three book chapters; filled two patent applications plus other articles in the pipeline either submitted or in the last stages for submission.