Recipients of 2019 Outstanding Achievement Awards and BCCHR Studentships and Fellowships

BC Children's Hospital Research Institute is pleased to congratulate the recipients of the 2019 Outstanding Achievement Awards and the 2019 BCCHR Studentships and Fellowships.

Outstanding Achievement Awards

The Outstanding Achievement Awards recognize trainee achievements in research aimed at improving the health and well-being of children and families. This year's recipients are:

Outstanding Achievement Award by an Undergraduate Student
Jeff Holmes, Karakochuk Research Team

This award recognizes the outstanding achievement of an undergraduate or medical student whose research curiosity and engagement clearly demonstrate the individual’s potential as a valuable member of the scientific community. During his degree, Jeff worked with Dr. Crystal Karakochuk to assess oral iron supplementation and it’s interaction with micronutrients in Cambodian women. As part of this work, Jeff conducted a literature review, and contributed to the statistical analysis and writing of the project. As well as being an accomplished undergraduate student, Jeff has demonstrated impressive integrity and spirit along with a genuine eagerness to do good for his community.

Outstanding Achievement Award by a Master’s Student
Lindsay Richter, Lisonkova and Ting Research Teams

This award recognizes the outstanding achievement of a master's student whose research skills and analytical capacity clearly demonstrate the individual's potential as a productive member of the scientific community. Lindsay completed her Masters of Science degree under the supervision of Dr. Sarka Lisonkova in the Healthy Starts research theme. She distinguished herself as an outstanding academic and researcher in her studies of preterm birth and perinatal epidemiology and earned an outstanding grade on her thesis describing newborn health outcomes and the increasing number of clinician-initiated preterm births in North America. Lindsay published two first author papers, presented her work in over 25 meetings and her work was featured in UBC’s National Brand Campaign: “The potential is yours."

Outstanding Achievement by a Doctoral Student
Catriona Hippman, Austin Research Team

This award recognizes the outstanding achievement of a doctoral student whose demonstrated originality, research ability and capacity for critical thinking identify the individual as being likely to become a contributing member in the scientific community. Catriona Hippman will be finishing her PhD studies on improving reproductive and infant mental health within the year. She has proven to be an excellent academic and highly motivated and capable young researcher. During her studies, Catriona was awarded a prestigious Killam Doctoral Scholarship, and a CIHR Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship. She also published 24 peer reviewed publications, including 10 on which she is either first or last author.

Outstanding Achievement by a Postdoctoral Fellow
Emily Gardiner, Miller Research Team

This award recognizes the outstanding achievement of a postdoctoral fellow whose high academic achievements, personal leadership qualities and demonstrated research ability show promise of the individual becoming a future leader in health research. Dr. Gardiner has a distinguished and prolific academic record in the areas of autism spectrum disorder and neurodevelopmental disabilities and is a recognized leader in the field of childhood neurodisability. Her hard work has led to 20 peer-reviewed publications, 14 as a first author, in high impact academic journals and books. She has also delivered 46 conference presentations to academic, community and trainee audiences, including 14 invited talks.

Outstanding Achievement Award by a Resident
Brandon Chalazan, Lehman Research Team

This award recognizes the outstanding achievement of a resident whose scholarly activity, industry and commitment to the research endeavour are an example to other trainees, and who has contributed to advances in child, youth or women's health. In April 2018, Dr. Chalazan published a first author paper in PLoS One, describing a genetic basis for atrial fibrillation in a Hispanic / Latino population. He has also submitted a first author manuscript to Int J Obes, and co-authored papers in Nature and J Mol Cell Cardiol. Recently, he received the Friedman Award for Scholars in Health: A local award that will allow him to spend seven months in Boston at the Broad Institute, to refine his expertise in Cardiogenetics, and bring these skills and collaborations back to Vancouver. Dr. Chalazan looks forward to continuing to push boundaries in genetics and becoming a leader in the field of genetic cardiac anomalies in fetal, child and adult patients.

Canadian Child Health Clinician Scientist Program

Katelynn Boerner, Oberlander and Dhariwal Research Teams

The Canadian Child Health Clinician Scientist Program (CCHCSP) is a transdisciplinary training program for the next generation of clinician-scientists in child and youth health research in Canada. CCHCSP provides support for these highly qualified child health clinician candidates to develop their requisite knowledge and skills for a career as an independent scientist in child health research. Dr. Katelynn Boerner will be studying how somatic symptom disorders develop over time. These disorders are chronic unexplained physical health issues which can affect between eight and 12 per cent of the general population. Dr. Boerner will determine what clinical characteristics, such as gender or childhood mood disorders, are risk factors for somatic symptom disorders later in life. This information could help clinicians intervene earlier and arrive at more effective solutions.

BCCHR Studentships and Fellowships

These awards give exceptional trainees the opportunity to pursue leading-edge child health research projects under the supervision of BC Children's Hospital Investigators. BCCHR Studentships and Fellowships are made possible through the support of BC Children's Hospital Foundation.

Mining for Miracles Postdoctoral Fellowship
Dr. Amirah Aly, Hayden Research Team

Antisense oligonucleotide (ASOs) drugs are a group of medications that show promise for treating devastating inherited brain disorders, particularly in children. Dr. Amirah Aly will work with Dr. Michael Hayden’s research team to study a new strategy for delivering ASOs by using nanoparticles in a less invasive procedure. These are extremely small particles that are able to penetrate the barrier that separates the brain from the rest of the bloodstream.

Bertram Hoffmeister Postdoctoral Fellowship
Dr. Alejandra Wiedeman, Devlin Research Team

As part of Dr. Angela Devlin’s research team, Dr. Alejandra Wiedeman will investigate why children treated with anti-psychotic medication develop side effects such as excessive weight gain and other risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Finding new ways to identify which children are at risk for metabolic complications from anti-psychotics could help clinicians and families develop a treatment plan that gives each child the best chance of long-term physical and mental health. 

BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship
Dr. Dahai Zhang, Lynn Research Team

As a member of Dr. Francis Lynn’s research team, Dr. Dahai Zhang will use leading-edge technology to grow insulin-producing beta cells with rare genetic mutations that would lead to the development of diabetes in a patient. This will allow Dr. Zhang to study how these genetic changes can result in the failure of beta cells and the onset of diabetes. This work could help scientists develop new therapies that target these genes to either prevent or treat diabetes in children.

BC Children's Hospital Research Institute Graduate Studentship
Deema Alhusari, Taubert Research Team

Cells or tissues can activate specific stress-response genes to deal with stress, such as when cells are starved of nutrients or subject to low oxygen levels. Deema Alhusari is working in Dr. Stefan Taubert’s lab to better understand these stress response genes in different types of tissue using the nematode worm C. elegans as a model. This data could help determine whether drugs that target these stress response genes behave differently in different tissues, which could lead to possible side effects in pediatric patients.

Michael Cuccione Childhood Cancer Foundation Graduate Studentship 
Tanmaya Atre, Reid Research Team

Retargeting a child’s immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells has emerged as a powerful new tool for treating childhood blood cancers. Unfortunately, around half of kids treated with this technique will relapse. Working with Dr. Gregor Reid’s research team, Tanmaya Atre will be studying how to improve the effectiveness of this treatment. This could involve providing these re-engineered immune cells with additional molecular targets or recruiting other types of immune cells to help engage the cancer.

BC Children's Hospital Research Institute Sue Carruthers Graduate Studentship
Samantha Dziurdzik, Conibear Research Team

Childhood-onset spastic ataxia is a rare inherited disorder that involves the progressive weakness and stiffness of the limbs. As part of the Conibear research team, Samantha Dziurdzik will be investigating how the proteins VPS13C and VPS13D are involved in these neurological disorders. Understanding how these molecules bind together could be the key to unlocking how the disruption of this process leads to disease and to developing new therapies.

BC Children's Hospital Research Institute Jan M. Friedman Graduate Studentship
Hailey Findlay Black, Hayden Research Team

Working with Dr. Michael Hayden’s research team, Hailey Findlay Black is aiming to find better ways to deliver drugs for children with genetic brain diseases such as Huntington’s disease. The human brain is protected by a structure called the blood-brain barrier which prevents molecules in the blood from crossing into the brain. Hailey will be testing whether certain “Trojan Horse” molecules could be used to shuttle potential drugs across this barrier, improving treatment and reducing the need for riskier procedures such as injections into the spinal cord.

BC Children's Hospital Research Institute Graduate Studentship
Caroline Illmann, Harris Research Team

Around one in 100 children are born with a heart defect such as a missing chamber or abnormal blood vessels. While historically this would have been treated with surgery, recently cardiologists have instead begun threading long narrow tubes through a patient’s blood vessels to reach the heart. This new method is both effective and less invasive but it can be challenging to visualize where to place the catheter. Working with Dr. Kevin Harris’ research team, Caroline Illmann will be testing whether using a 3D model of a patient’s heart to practice before the actual procedure will help improve this technique.

BC Children's Hospital Childhood Diseases Graduate Studentship
Rana Minab, van den Elzen Research Team

With Dr. Peter van den Elzen’s research team, Rana Minab will study the role of the Epstein Barr virus (EBV) in the development of multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a potentially disabling central nervous system disorder that occurs when the immune system attacks myelin, the protective coating around nerves. Understanding how EBV triggers these immune processes could lead to new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent this currently incurable condition.

BC Children's Hospital Research Institute Graduate Studentship
Lauren St-Germain, Beristain Research Team

During pregnancy, bacterial infections can lead to serious health consequences for the developing fetus. As part of Dr. Alexander Beristain’s research team, Lauren St-Germain will study the most common immune cell in the uterus – the uterine natural killer cell (uNK) – to understand its role during uterine inflammation. Understanding how to reduce both inflammation and uNK activity could lead to new strategies to prevent infections before birth, better pregnancy outcomes and healthier babies.

Canucks for Kids Fund Childhood Diabetes Laboratories / BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute Graduate Studentship
Ji Soo (Samantha) Yoon, Lynn Research Team

Childhood obesity affects around one in three Canadian children and is a risk factor for other chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. As part of Dr. Francis Lynn’s research team, Ji Soo (Samantha) Yoon will be studying the genetic changes that occur in neurons of mice as they develop obesity. Understanding how the gene NPAS4 affects weight gain could lead to new ways to tackle obesity and prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

The awards were presented at the 2019 Outstanding Achievement Awards and the 2019 BCCHR Studentships and Fellowships at at the Research Institute’s 2019 Town Hall and awards celebration on October 2, 2019.

View the awards booklet