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Best in class: Sunnybrook Research Institute scholars recognized with national award

July 7, 2011

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By Eleni Kanavas

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) announced the winners of its 2011 Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarships, and the news is good for four graduate students at Sunnybrook Research Institute (SRI). This year's recipients are Stephanie Chiu, Rafal Janik, Sean Nestor and Florence Wu.

The scholarships provide doctoral students in a health-related field with recognition and funding early in their academic careers. The awards bring with them a stipend of $30,000 per year over two or three years, plus a $5,000 research allowance.

"I'm glad and very relieved to have received this award," said Chiu, a doctoral student in the lab of SRI associate imaging scientist Dr. Alan Moody. "And it's a great exercise to construct a cohesive research plan, and communicate it well, when applying for these scholarships."

Chiu is a graduate student in medical biophysics at the University of Toronto. She will receive $70,000 over two years to study the natural history of atherosclerotic intraplaque hemorrhage in a preclinical model.

For Wu, a doctoral student in molecular and cellular biology at SRI, and medical biophysics at U of T, winning any scholarship would have sufficed. But luck struck her twice-she is also a recipient of the 2011 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship from CIHR.

Wu, who works in the labs of senior scientists Drs. Dan Dumont and Robert Kerbel, will decline the Banting and Best award and instead receive $150,000 over three years via the Vanier award. She will investigate the use of a synthetic angiopoietin-1 mimetic compound for reducing the spread of cancer.

"I couldn't believe it," Wu said, recalling when she received the award letters by mail. "These scholarships are of tremendous value to graduate students. We can worry less about the financial aspect of our education and focus more on our training and research."

Wu and Nestor are classmates in the MD/PhD program at U of T. They said they hope to pursue careers as clinician-scientists. "One day I'm learning how to be a physician and the next I'm embedded in a research environment, working on neuroimaging software tools and development," said Nestor. "Working at the bedside and programming simultaneously is a unique experience."

Nestor is a student in the lab of SRI Brain Sciences Research Program director Dr. Sandra Black who is studying at the Institute of Medical Science at U of T. He will receive $105,000 over three years to study the interaction between cerebrovascular disease and Alzheimer's disease using multimodal neuroimaging, which involves using more than one magnetic resonance imaging technique to study the brain.

Janik, supervised by imaging scientists Drs. Bojana Stefanovic and Greg Stanisz, will pursue his PhD in 2012 with $105,000 in scholarship funding over three years. He studies the measurement of blood flow to the brain in preclinical models of Alzheimer's disease with multimodal imaging. Janik is also the manager of SRI's 7T magnetic resonance imaging facility.

"Sunnybrook is a fantastic place to work," said Janik. "There are very few places in Canada and probably in the world that provide such access to equipment, a clinical population, doctors and clinician-scientists."