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Updates from the 2018 Discovery Awardees
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Updates from the 2018 Discovery Awardees

With generous support from donors and volunteers in 2018, we supported 9 outstanding early career researchers across Canada. These researchers have since made significant progress on their research projects, expanded their research teams, received additional honours and awards, and secured longer-term funding from other granting agencies! Here are some updates from the 2018 Discovery Awardees:

Ali Abdul-Sater, PhD

2018 Discovery Awardee

York University

The lab of Dr. Ali Abdul-Sater, 2018 Discovery Award recipient

Dissecting the role of TRAF1 in regulating inflammatory and autoimmune diseases

TRAF1 is an  immune signaling molecule associated with the development of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Dr. Abdul-Sater’s research group set out to understand how TRAF1 interacts with different immune pathways– results that will ultimately help the team devise a research model to specifically target TRAF1.

By employing a series of genetic and biochemical experiments, the team identified the residues of interaction between TRAF1 and cIAP2 as well as LUBAC components. With this preliminary data, Dr. Abdul-Sater was able to secure nearly 1.2 million dollars in funding from federal and other agencies and now has a robust research group composed of 10 highly qualified personnel.


Kyle Biggar, PhD

2018 Discovery Awardee

Carleton University

The lab of Dr. Kyle Biggar, 2018 Discovery Award recipient

Identification of new substrates of the histone regulator, SMYD3, and their implication in lung cancer development

In lung cancer patients, previous work showed that expression of the histone regulator SMYD3  predicted both progression and survival. To advance our understanding of how SYMD3 dysfunction drives cancer, Dr. Biggar’s team used modern biochemical approaches to identify new proteins that are modified by SMYD3. 

Dr. Biggar’s Discovery Award helped him train a team of two scientists, who successfully identified a new and functionally relevant substrate of SYMD3, which has  direct  implications in cancer cell migration.

As an early career laboratory, funding programs such as this one can often become critical in the future growth and success of research programs. For example, the research results from this project will directly result in a high-quality publication that will hopefully enable future collaboration and international opportunities.

– Dr. Kyle Biggar

Dylan Cooke, PhD

2018 Discovery Awardee

Simon Fraser University

The lab of Dr. Dylan Cooke, 2018 Discovery Award recipient

Accelerated mapping of individual variation in brain organization with online detection of EMG activity

Brain organization varies significantly between individuals, yet no studies have tested whether it is associated with skills like dexterity. Dr. Cooke’s research is focused on developing an automated brain mapping system—a fast method to measure the organization of the part of the brain that controls muscle activity.

The team has now successfully collected data which will crucially inform an algorithm to analyze muscle activity. This work will ultimately be used to answer questions such as: Are “natural athletes” aided by specific natural variations in the ways that brains control muscles?


Nomazulu Dlamini, MD PhD

Recipient of the 2018 Discovery Award supported by Dystonia Medical Research Foundation Canada

The Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto

Dr. Nomazulu Dlamini’s research group

Neural network reorganization and maladaptive plasticity in dystonia post childhood basal ganglia stroke

Dystonia is a disabling movement disorder common in children with basal ganglia stroke. Dr. Dlamini’s research group is examining pediatric stroke patients with and without post-stroke dystonia to asses the differences in their neural networks.

The team has successfully recruited several participants and began completing structural and functional imaging (MRI and MEG) and conducting a battery of cognitive and psychological tests. This data will improve our understanding of why, when, and in whom dystonia occurs, and help to identify potential targeted therapies.


Robert Huber, PhD

2018 Discovery Awardee

Trent University

The lab of Dr. Robert Huber, 2018 Discovery Award recipient

Using the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum to study Batten disease

Mutations in the CLN5 gene cause Batten disease, a rare and devastating neurological disorder. Dr. Huber’s research team is using a social amoeba as a model system to examine the function of CLN5 and the effects of CLN5-deficiency.

Their work has shown for the first time that CLN5 is an enzyme that processes sugar-containing molecules, providing insight into how mutated CLN5 could ultimately lead to neurodegeneration. Using this pilot data, Dr. Huber was able to secure longer-term funding from the federal government to continue to examine the mechanisms underlying Batten disease.


Salim Islam, PhD

2018 Discovery Awardee

INRS – Institut Armand-Frappier

The lab or Dr. Salim Islam, 2018 Discovery Award recipient

Understanding colonization and persistence in bacterial social networking

Dr. Islam’s research group examines the mechanisms used by bacteria to remodel their surfaces in order to generate connection tubes important for colonizing biological settings. To monitor the bacterial cell surface in live cells, the research team synthesized molecules to fluorescently label the cell surface.  This labeling allowed them to visualize the cell surface using florescence microscopy and collect preliminary data on the events taking place to produce cell-cell interactions. 

“The seed funding provided by the Banting Discovery Award has allowed me to launch a truly novel and innovative research project in my laboratory which has the potential to fundamentally change the way in which microbiologists study the surface of bacterial cells.”

– Dr. Salim Islam

Ian Rodrigue-Gervais, PhD

2018 Discovery Awardee

INRS – Institut Armand-Frappier, Université de Québec

The lab of Dr. Ian Rodrigue-Gervais, 2018 Discovery Award recipient

Examining the function of mitochondrial proteases in flu pathogenesis

The flu kills thousands of people annually, often as a result of tissue death, or necrosis, which occurs as the body attempts to clear the virus. Dr. Rodrigue-Gervais’ group is working to understand  how proteins control necrosis, which is a key step towards developing new methods to combat the flu.

His team of 5 student-researchers has made significant progress in understanding how the mitochondrial protease HtrA2 controls virus-induced necrosis. This work was published in Scientific Reports and let to a new avenue of research in Dr. Rodrigue-Gervais’ lab focused on how mitochondrial genetic risk is associated with mortality from severe flu disease.


Rebecca Shapiro, PhD

2018 Discovery Awardee

University of Guelph

The lab of Dr. Rebecca Shapiro, 2018 Discovery Award recipient

Using genetic and functional genomic analysis to study antifungal drug resistance in Candida auris

Candida auris is an emerging fungal pathogen that is highly resistant to antifungal drugs and a critical threat to public health. With the support of her Discovery Award, Dr. Shapiro’s research group developed a novel CRISPR repression system (CRISPRi) for applications in fungal pathogens. The group is continuing to discover how this system can be used for large-scale functional genomic screening of genes involved in resistance to antifungal drugs. Since receiving her Discovery Award, Dr. Shapiro’s group has published several papers on this subject and secured over 1.9 million dollars in research funding from federal and provincial agencies.


John Trant, PhD

2018 Discovery Awardee

University of Windsor

The lab of Dr. John Trant, 2018 Discovery Award recipient

Developing enzymatically-resistant carbohydrate vaccines for treating lung cancer

Certain sugars are found on most carcinomas but not on healthy cells, making them excellent targets for vaccine development. Dr. Trant’s research is focused on creating an effective vaccine against carcinomas by preparing stable forms of cancer-specific sugars that can be easily recognized by our immune systems.

The team has successfully prepared several artificial versions of cancer-specific sugars, and is now working to produce candidate vaccines.

“This is an absolutely career-changing program and is extremely important for Canadian Health Science.”

– Dr. John Trant