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Current Students

Laura Mantella

Laura Mantella

Class of 2023

Previous Education:

  • MSc (Pharmacology and Toxicology) - University of Toronto
  • BSc (Molecular Biology and Genetics) - McMaster University

Department: Biomedical and Molecular Sciences

Email: lmantella@qmed.ca

Supervisor: Amer Johri, MD, MSc

Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. It is the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes, costing Canadians $20.9 billion each year. Laura’s research at the Cardiovascular Imaging Network at Queen’s (CINQ) involves the use of contrast-enhanced ultrasound to link carotid plaque neovascularization with the severity of coronary artery disease and future cardiovascular events. This novel approach to plaque assessment has the potential to become an important tool for the early detection and risk-stratification of patients with heart disease. Laura’s research is supported by a Frederick Banting and Charles Best CGS Doctoral Award.

Helena (Ellen) Janse van Rensburg

Helena (Ellen) Janse van Rensburg

Class of 2020

Previous Education:

  • BSc (Molecular Biology and Genetics) - McMaster University

Department: Pathology and Molecular Medicine

Email: 8vrhjj@queensu.ca

Supervisor: Xiaolong Yang, PhD

Breast cancer is the most common and second most fatal cancer affecting Canadian women. Despite recent advances in treatment, approximately 1 in 5 women with breast cancer will die from their disease. Ellen’s research explores the oncogenic functions of the Hippo pathway component TAZ in human breast cancer cells. Her identification of novel transcriptional targets of TAZ has provided insights into the roles of Hippo signaling in neoplastic and non-neoplastic disease processes and highlights the need for future studies investigating TAZ as a therapeutic target in breast cancer.

Allen Anthony Champagne

Allen Anthony Champagne

Class of 2024

Previous Education:

  • BSc (Biology and Chemistry minor) & BA (Exercise and Sport Science) -The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Department: Neuroscience

Email: a.champagne@queensu.ca

Twitter/IG: @theFBscientist

Supervisor: Douglas J. Cook, MD, PhD

Allen is a former Tar Heel from UNC Chapel Hill where he played football as a full back and defensive lineman. His research focuses on studying the effects of sport-related concussion and repeated sub-concussive impacts on cerebrovascular physiology. Allen also has a special interest for the relationship between impact biomechanics and sport-specific mechanisms of injury in athletes. His project integrates neuroimaging, helmet accelerometers, film analysis and motion capture to characterize the effects of head trauma in football, with hopes to develop proper biomarkers for head injuries, and design evidence-based behavior modification interventions that will promote safer playing fields.

 

Jina Nanayakkara

Jina Nanayakkara

Class of 2025

Previous Education:

  • BSc (Biological Sciences) - Brock University

Department: Pathology and Molecular Medicine

Email: jina.nanayakkara@queensu.ca

Supervisor: Neil Renwick, MBChB, PhD

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small RNA molecules that negatively regulate gene expression. Due to their abundance, stability and cell-type and disease-stage specificity, miRNAs are excellent biomarkers. However, the computational and statistical analysis of miRNAs and sequence annotation errors in public databases present challenges to the field. Jina’s research will contribute to the verification of all human miRNA sequences and the generation of an updated atlas of human miRNA expression. Tissue-specific miRNAs will be further investigated as biomarkers for clinical use and as functional molecules in disease pathogenesis. Jina is particularly interested in studying the contribution of miRNAs to rare genetic diseases and cancers through the application of bioinformatics techniques.

Robert Glenn Wither

Robert Glenn Wither

Class of 2021

Previous Education:

  • BSc (Life Sciences: Neurosciences) - Queen’s University
  • MSc (Physiology) - University of Toronto

Department: Centre for Neuroscience Studies

Email: rwither@qmed.ca

Supervisor: Douglas Munoz, PhD

Despite being the most common neurodegenerative disease worldwide, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) currently has limited therapeutic options. Many of the promising studies coming out of preclinical rodent studies have failed to translate to clinical trial success, suggesting a translational gap between rodent models and human patients. To bridge this gap, Rob’s research is aiming to development a non-human primate model of AD. Rob’s specific role in this project is categorizing the behavioural deficits associated with intraventricular amyloid-beta injections and establishing behavioural endpoints which can be used to assess the effectiveness of targeted anti-AD therapies. The end goal of this project is to have developed an NHP AD model and behavioural platform that will allow for high throughput anti-AD therapeutic testing and fast-tracking any promising therapies to human clinical trials.

Christine Moon

Christine Moon

Class of 2025

Previous Education:

  • A.B. Honors (Anthropology) -- Brown University
  • M.Sc. (Medical Science) -- University of Toronto

Department: Sociocultural Studies of Health, Sport, and the Body, at the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies

Email: christine.moon@queensu.ca

Supervisor: Samantha King, PhD.

Death is not simply a biological fact, but a social phenomenon. Thus the very act of dying is not only physical but social; through the process of dying, individuals influence their social spheres through more than just the changing of their bodies. Medical assistance in dying (MAID) has recently been legalized in Canada. Christine’s dissertation research will explore experiences of racialized Canadians with MAID. Her proposed doctoral work will help us understand what assisted dying means to racialized Canadians, who are often left out of local and national discourses. It will provide a previously unexplored, qualitative and in-depth look at how assisted dying plays out in everyday lives of people who are thinking about, requesting, or receiving assisted dying. Christine’s research will comprise the first ethnographic analysis of assisted dying in Canada. By studying MAID she will not only study the direct phenomena of assisted dying, but also the social processes of death in general. It is her intent that my research will contribute both to Canadian public policy and everyday lived experiences of Canadians.

 

Hannah Dies

Hannah Dies

Class of 2021

Previous Education:

  • BSc (Integrated Science + Physics) McMaster University

Department: Chemical Engineering (Biomedical Engineering stream)

Email: 9hed@queensu.ca

Supervisor: Aristides Docoslis, PhD and Carlos Escobedo, PhD

There is a global need for more sensitive and cost-effective devices to detect biochemical molecules in fluid systems, with applications including, but not limited to the detection of illicit drugs in physiological fluids, therapeutic monitoring, and early detection of disease via identification of relevant biomarkers at low concentrations. Hannah’s PhD work involves the design and fabrication of a microscale sensor, formed from precious metal nanoparticles. By applying strong electric fields to these nanoparticles, she has been able to assemble nanostructures with functional optical and plasmonic properties that enable sensing through surface-enhanced Raman scattering. This sensor has, so far, been applied for the detection of hazardous chemicals in food products and illicit drugs in saliva. Hannah’s next steps are to apply the sensor for the detection of larger physiologic molecules including DNA and/or proteins. Hannah’s research is supported by an NSERC Vanier CGS.

 

Sharon Yeung

Sharon Yeung

Class of 2021

Previous Education:

  • BHSc. (Global Health) – McMaster University

Department: Epidemiology, Public Health Sciences 

Email: sharon.yeung@queensu.ca

Supervisor: Heather Castleden, PhD

As attention has been drawn to the health inequities faced by Indigenous peoples, an outpouring of efforts to document and display them in academic and popular discourse has ensued. However, much of this research utilizes a damage-centred research paradigm, which, intentional or not, has led to a designation of Indigenous communities as fundamentally deficient and dependent. These characterizations ultimately perpetuate colonialist Indigenous-settler relations and obstruct genuine reconciliation and healing. Sharon’s thesis research explores the resilience and strengths of Indigenous communities across Canada and examines the relationship between positive social determinants and health and well-being outcomes. Her work utilizes a mixed-methods approach to describe, in both quantitative and qualitative terms, the social strengths of Indigenous community, and aims to bring more empowering voices to health research that has thus far largely focused on health disparity. Sharon’s research is supported financially by a Frederick Banting and Charles Best CGS Master’s Award and importantly, by the priceless time and energy of the Indigenous communities that have guided her journey.

 

Jasmine Khan

Jasmine Khan

Class of 2025

Previous Education:

  • BSc (Biomedical Science) - University of Ottawa

Department: Neuroscience

Email: jasmine.khan@queensu.ca

Supervisor: J. Gordon Boyd, MD, PhD

Delirium is a severe disturbance in cognitive function that frequently affects the critically ill, with up to 80% of patients developing delirium in the ICU. Surprisingly, delirium commonly affects those without neurological trauma or impairments and is associated with long-term cognitive dysfunction. Jasmine will be leading a national multi-centre clinical trial using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to investigate the role of cerebral oxygenation in the development of delirium and cognitive dysfunction. Jasmine’s goal is to determine whether low cerebral oxygenation is a significant risk factor and whether cerebral perfusion can be clinically targeted to treat and prevent delirium and long-term cognitive impairment in ICU survivors.

 

Maria Georgescu

Maria Georgescu

Class of 2020

Previous Education:

  • BScH (Biochemistry) - Queen’s University

Department: Pathology and Molecular Medicine

Email: mgeorgescu@qmed.ca

Supervisor: Dr. David Lillicrap, MD

Hemophilia A is a bleeding disorder characterized by defects or deficiencies in factor VIII (FVIII), an essential protein co-factor of the coagulation cascade. Patients affected by this condition experience prolonged provoked hemorrhages, and in severe cases spontaneous bleeds into the joints and soft tissues. These symptoms can be ameliorated using FVIII replacement therapy, but 30% of severe hemophilia A patients develop neutralizing antibodies (inhibitors) to the therapeutic. Current re-tolerization methods are difficult and expensive to administer and are only ~80% effective. Maria’s research focuses on the development of novel FVIII tolerance induction methods using hemophilia A mouse models. Her approaches are targeted towards both prevention of inhibitor development through danger signal suppression and transplacental tolerance induction as well as improvement of current methods through more efficient B cell suppression.

 

Daniel Newsted

Daniel Newsted

Previous Education:

  • B.Sc (Biochemistry Co-op - Biotechnology Specialization) - McMaster University

Department: Biomedical and Molecular Sciences

Email: 9dwn@queensu.ca

Supervisor: Andrew Craig, PhD

Metastasis accounts for 90% of all cancer-related deaths. Despite significant improvements in the treatment of primary tumours, there are few tools that have demonstrated utility against metastatic cancers. Dan is engaged in a collaborative project aiming to develop synthetic inhibitory antibodies that disrupt autocrine and paracrine signaling networks in the tumour microenvironment. Specifically, he is working to block the transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta) signaling pathway in tumour cells and stromal cells by specific inhibition of TGF-beta receptor II. Working predominantly with ovarian cancer models, his research has revealed that blocking TGF-beta signaling shifts immune cell phenotypes, impairs the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition in tumour cells and enhances the sensitivity of tumours to chemotherapy. The goal of his work is to characterize a novel immunotherapeutic agent that can be used in conjunction with standard therapies to ablate metastatic tumour cells and block tumour progression.

 

Lori Minassian

Lori Minassian

Class of 2022

Previous Education:

  • BSc (Integrated Science with a concentration in Biochemistry) - McMaster University

Department: Biomedical and Molecular Sciences

Email: lminassian@qmed.ca

Supervisor: Charles Graham, PhD

There are many barriers to successful cancer treatment, including the ability of cancer cells to resist immune destruction and chemotherapy. Normally, immune cells can recognize cancer cells and destroy them. However, tumour cells can evade immune-mediated death by

 

displaying molecules on their surface that inactivate these immune cells. Lori’s research is aimed at characterizing the interactions between immune cells and cancer cells, specifically the PD-1/PD-L1 interaction, in the hopes of identifying novel targets to halt cancer progression. Lori’s work is supported by a Frederick Banting and Charles Best CGS Doctoral Award.

 

Yining (Nancy) Chen

Yining (Nancy) Chen

Class of 2024

Previous Education:

  • B.Sc. (Biology) - McGill University
  • M.Sc. (Neuroscience) - McGill University

Department: Centre for Neuroscience Studies

Email: 1yc2@queensu.ca

Supervisor: Douglas J. Cook, MD, PhD

Stroke is a leading cause of death worldwide, and stroke survivors are frequently left with long-term disabilities that significantly diminish their autonomy and quality of life. Currently, there are an estimated 426,000 Canadians living with stroke disabilities, which costs the Canadian economy more than $3.6 billion a year. As such, there is an urgent need for therapies that improve stroke recovery to lessen both the staggering socioeconomic burden of stroke disability and the emotional and physical strain to patients and their families. Nancy’s research under Dr. DJ Cook involves studying the mechanisms of recovery following stroke in a non-human primate model of chronic stroke in hopes of improving recovery in humans. Using behavioural robotic assessment tools and immunohistochemistry, she is investigating the ways in which motor function of the upper limbs recover and engage in compensatory movements following an ischemic stroke and the morphological changes at the level of individual neurons. Nancy’s research is supported by a Frederick Banting and Charles Best CGS Doctoral Award.

Alison Michels

Alison Michels

Class of 2021

Previous Education:

  • BScH (Life Sciences) - Queen’s University

Department: Pathology and Molecular Medicine

Email: 8am64@queensu.ca

Supervisor: Dr. David Lillicrap, MD

Thrombosis is the leading cause of death worldwide. The concept of “immunothrombosis” refers to the interaction between hemostasis and inflammation, which, when dysregulated, can lead to pathological clot formation (for example: atherothrombosis, venous thromboembolism, disseminated intravascular coagulation). Alison’s research investigates the role of von Willebrand factor in immunothrombosis. Von Willebrand factor is a plasma protein involved in platelet and leukocyte recruitment during primary hemostasis and carries factor VIII in circulation. Using cellular, human and murine models, Alison is investigating the influence of inflammatory pathologies (aging, obesity and sepsis) on von Willebrand factor and the subsequent thrombotic consequence of this interaction. She hopes to identify new strategies for targeting this pathological cascade. Alison’s research is supported by a Frederick Banting and Charles Best CGS Doctoral Award.

Brian Laight

Brian Laight

Class of 2025

Previous Education:

  • HBSc (Honours with Specialization in Biochemistry) – University of Ottawa

Department: Pathology and Molecular Medicine

Email: Blaight@qmed.ca

Supervisor: Dr. Peter Greer, PhD

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada at ~30%. Approximately 90% of these deaths are due to the spread of cancer throughout the body, known as metastasis. Two drivers of metastases are the tyrosine kinases FES and FER. Brian will lead a project to elucidate and validate the metastasis-promoting mechanisms of these two tyrosine kinases using knockout in-vitro and in-vivo Triple Negative Breast Cancer models. In addition, Brian will conduct high throughput screening of large small-molecule-inhibitor libraries to not only find effective inhibitors of FES/FER and thus metastases, but also to find drugs that are synthetically lethal with FES/FER inhibition for pre-clinical testing and to hopefully set the stage for future clinical trials.

Vanessa Kay

Vanessa Kay

Class of 2020

Previous Education:

  • BHSc (Bachelor of Health Sciences, Honours) - McMaster University

Department: Biomedical and Molecular Sciences

Email: 8vrk@queensu.ca

Supervisor: Dr. Anne Croy, DVM, PhD and Dr. Chandra Tayade, DVM, PhD

Preeclampsia is a common complication of pregnancy, affecting 3-5% of women. Although preeclampsia is well-known to impact women’s cardiovascular health after pregnancy, epidemiological studies have suggested that the offspring of preeclamptic gestations are also affected by this developmental insult. Many pathophysiological mechanisms may underlie changes in brain development and cognition in these offspring. Vanessa’s work focused on the role of one growth factor, placental growth factor, on cerebrovascular development as this factor is inappropriately low during preeclampsia. She found that absence of placental growth factor adversely affected cerebrovasculature development, neuroanatomy and behaviour in a mouse model. In these mice, replacement of placental growth factor in the postnatal period altered adulthood neuroanatomy and behaviour. Although much work remains to be done, her data suggests that postnatal treatments may be able to ameliorate the cognitive impact of developmental insults. Vanessa’s research is supported by a Frederick Banting and Charles Best CGS Doctoral Award.

Lauren Mak

Lauren Mak

Class of 2021

Previous Education:

  • H.BSc (Life Sciences) - McMaster University
  • M.Sc (MiNDS, Neuroscience) - McMaster University

Department: Center for Neuroscience Studies

Email: lauren.mak@queensu.ca

Supervisor: Dr. Roumen Milev, MD, PhD

Lauren’s PhD work will be analyzing data from a subset of a large multisite Ontario Brain Institute study CANBIND1 and CANBIND4 (Canadian Biomarker Integration Network in Depression). Major depressive disorder (MDD) affects around 2 million Canadians a year and is the leading cause of absence from work. MDD is also a major cause of mortality through suicide and this is most prevalent in younger individuals. MDD does not discriminate and individuals of all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic classes are equally vulnerable. Further, MDD often worsens the outcome of co-existing medical conditions. Despite the huge burden of disease, there is limited understanding on what a susceptible or resilient individual to MDD “looks like”. It is of great interest and importance to identify individuals prior to the onset of disease to potentially intervene and prevent. Lauren’s study will assess the healthy controls of CANBIND1 and CANBIND4 to determine if there are markers that illustrate a subclinical resilient and susceptible population within a non-clinical sample. In particular, Lauren is analyzing whether early life stress and trauma can predict the presence of altered resting state functional-connectivity in the brain and altered physiological data that is often present with MDD.

Elina Cook

Elina Cook

Class of 2023

Previous Education:

  • MSc (Medical Biophysics) - University of Toronto
  • BSc (Hons) (Human Biology) - University of Toronto

Department: Pathology and Molecular Medicine

Email: elina.cook@queensu.ca

Supervisor: Michael Rauh, MD, PhD

Elina has a passion for discovery, and this led her to enter the MD/PhD program at Queen’s University. Her goals are to build on her grounding in biomedical research and to strive to advance medicine throughout her medical training. These are important to her future career aspirations as a physician-scientist. In her MSc, Elina researched a therapeutic to reduce the toxicities that arise during aggressive radiotherapy treatment in cancer. This interest led her to pursue a PhD project into the origins of leukemia, and also into reasons for poor treatment responses. In collaboration with several world-class research groups, she is looking into specific mutations and inflammatory cues that may underlie such pathogenesis. Elina’s research is supported by a CIHR Vanier Award.