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Aug 29, 2013

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Competition highlights top summer research projects

By Eleni Kanavas

On August 22, 2013, Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI) hosted its annual Best Summer Research Project competition, concluding this year's D+H SRI Summer Student Research Program.

At 53 entries, this was the largest competition in recent years. The entries, representing diverse research topics, included 18 from Biological Sciences, 24 from Evaluative Clinical Sciences and 11 from Physical Sciences.

Students presented their work to judges and onlookers, and explained their findings through posters illustrating their methods, observations and results. The gathering also gave students an opportunity to see the work of their peers. The panel of judges was comprised of SRI scientists, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students from each platform.

"It's wonderful to see what all the students are doing and that they have a great grasp of the science. They seem to know the nuts and bolts of their research, as well as the rationale," said Dr. Michele Anderson, a senior scientist in Biological Sciences who was one of the judges.

The summer studentship program, made possible by a generous donation from D+H Corporation, aims to provide undergraduates from universities across Canada with an opportunity to conduct intensive research and be mentored by SRI scientists. The placements give students hands-on training and a unique hospital-based research experience that promotes the postgraduate field as a prospective career. Within the program, SRI also hosts an orientation and a weekly seminar series that showcases the research of scientists from across the platforms and programs.

Judges evaluated students based on the quality of their posters, communication skills and scientific merit of the project. They selected the top student from each platform. There were also second-place and third-place winners owing to the number of participants.

"We're here today to celebrate each one of you and the fruits of your summer research experience. I hope you had a wonderful time. I see many repeat faces, and I understand that there are more repeat faces yet to come," said Dr. Michael Julius, vice-president of research at Sunnybrook. Julius congratulated the students on their hard work and announced the winners at the end of the event.

Bob Noftall, executive vice-president of human resources at D+H, also attended the competition and presented the awards. "I want to thank you for your candour and your energy," he told the students. "My job in my company is to spot talent, and I wish I was in your field because I feel a lot of talent in the room."

Shahmir Sohail, who was supervised by Dr. Andrew Lim, placed first in Evaluative Clinical Sciences for his research on genes that affect the risk of developing Parkinson's disease. He found a common genetic variant that could be biologically plausible for being a Parkinson's risk gene from the associated biomarker for the disease.

Sohail, a third-year neuroscience student at McGill University, said the project was well suited to him because of his interest in bioinformatics and genetics.

"I like dealing with numbers, and it was a great learning experience. This was also my first time presenting in an academic setting," said Sohail, who will put the prize money toward his studies.

First-place winners received $500; second-place winners, $300; and third-place winners, $200. All winners received individualized awards; first-place winners will have their names engraved on display plaques at SRI.

A total of 187 summer students were hired this year through research administration.

Other award winners include:

 First place:

  • Michael Hynes (Physical Sciences, supervised by Dr. Stuart Foster): "Feasibility of mild ultrasound hyperthermia for the treatment of dry eye."
  • Ricardo Leon Letelier (Biological Sciences, supervised by Dr. Juan Carlos Zúñiga-Pflücker): "Functionality avidity of anti-melanoma T cells."

Second place:

  • Jeremy Devine (Physical Sciences, supervised by Dr. Anne Martel): "Automated histological tissue quantification: Detection of amyloid plaques in stained brain sections of mice with Alzheimer's disease."
  • Sharon May (Evaluative Clinical Sciences, supervised by Dr. Don Redelmeier): "Pregnancy and motor vehicle injury."
  • Ashton Trotman-Grant (Biological Sciences, supervised by Dr. Michele Anderson: "Changing partners in the dance towards lineage commitment: HEB proteins in T cell development." 

Third place:

  • Kim Blakely (Biological Sciences, supervised by Dr. Urban Emmenegger): "Biomarker identification to stratify response to temsirolimus maintenance therapy in a Phase 2 trial of castration-resistant prostate cancer."
  • Perakaa Sethukavalan (Evaluative Clinical Sciences, supervised by Dr. Andrew Loblaw): "Matched cohort study of low-risk prostate cancer treated with standard external beam radiotherapy versus stereotactic body radiotherapy." For more on the D+H SRI Summer Student Research Program, including profiles of some of this year's students and stories about past poster competitions, visit the education and training section of the website.

For more on the D+H SRI Summer Student Research Program, including profiles of some of this year's students and stories about past poster competitions, visit the education and training section of the website.

    Annual Best Summer Research Project competition