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U of T scholars lead in prestigious graduate and post-doctoral research awards

Innovations range from injectable heart patches to HIV-battling chickenpox viruses

PhD candidate Miles Montgomery discusses his research with the Honourable Ed Holder (right) and the Honourable Peter Van Loan and Professor Milica Radisic (rear) during a tour of U of T's Institute for Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (photo by John

They’re trying to cure AIDS and cancer, improve teaching methods and mend damaged hearts. And they’ve just received some very prestigious support for their work.

The Government of Canada announced this year’s Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships and Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships August 14 and the list includes 34 doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows from the University of Toronto − the most in the country. 

New Vanier Scholar Miles Montgomery, who hopes his work “will save people’s lives 20 years from now” says the awards are an investment for all Canadians.

“Two hundred families are going to lose someone they love today – and the cost of heart failure to the health system will be an estimated $21 billion,” said Montgomery, whose work on live, beating heart tissue was showcased at the announcement. 

"That’s the reason I come into the lab every morning ready to work.”

Before announcing this year’s winners, the Honourable Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology) joined the Honourable Peter Van Loan (U of T alumnus and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons) to tour the cardiac tissue engineering lab led by Professor Milica Radisic. It’s where doctoral student Montgomery aims to overcome the challenges associated with creating an injectable patch of living, human tissue into patients with damaged hearts. (See a photo gallery of the tour.)

The Vanier Canada Graduate scholarships and Banting Fellowships were launched by the Government of Canada in 2008 and 2010 respectively to attract and retain world-class doctoral and post-doctoral talent. 

Considered the most prestigious awards of their kind, this year they represented a $34.7 million investment in research across the health sciences, natural sciences and engineering, social sciences and humanities. 

This year, 26 Vanier Scholarships and eight Banting Fellowships were awarded to U of T recipients, including:

  • Banting Fellow Santiago Rincon-Fallardo, who is exploring the large-scale incorporation of innovative teaching methods into educational institutions
  • Vanier Scholar Catia Perciani, who is conducting studies into the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster, or VZV) for its potential application to HIV/AIDS research
  • Banting Fellow Elizabeth Willis, who is studying the possibilities of a molecule called PSA as a cancer cell-targeting agent

“I’m proud that more than one in 10 of these awards has gone to the University of Toronto,” said Professor Locke Rowe, the University’s dean of graduate studies, who noted that U of T has received approximately 150 over the last five years. “These are core assets to the University and core assets to Canada.” 

The full list of University of Toronto recipients can be found below. 

Banting:
 
  • Ian Burgess for Colorimetric Biosensor Readout for Portable Low-Cost Disease Diagnosis (Materials Science and Technology)
  • Stuart Campbell for Origins of trait diversity in flowering plants: Understanding how mating systems shape the evolution of plant defence using genomic and experimental field studies of natural selection (Evolution and Ecology)
  • Jeremy Leconte for Understanding the extreme diversity of exoplanet atmospheric regimes: Linking new-generation 1D/3D climate models with observations (Astronomy and Astrophysics) 
  • Yunfeng Li for Nanofibrillar microgels as artificial microenvironments for stem cell studies (Polymer Chemistry)
  • Niels Niessen for Speculation: Realism in a Posthuman Age (Literature and Modern Languages)
  • Santiago Rincon-Gallardo for Bringing effective instructional innovation to scale: A multi-case study (Education)
  • Ryan Stevenson for It’s only a matter of time: Neural networks underlying multisensory perceptual binding (Sensory Systems and Perception)
  • Elizabeth Willis for A Chemical Biology Approach to the Study of Polysialic Acid in Cancer
 
Vanier: 
 
  • Daniel Anstett for Latitudinal Gradients in Herbivory and Plant Defence (Evolution and Ecology)
  • Jonathan Cook for Biophysical analysis of HIV-1 viral glycoprotein-mediated interleukin signal modulation (Virology)
  • Joe Curnow for Changing minds, changing communities: Learning racial justice in a community of practice (Education)
  • Michael DaSilva for The Legitimacy and Limits of Constitutional Health Rights (Societal & Cultural Dimensions)
  • Randle DeFalco for International Criminal Law, Human Rights and the Problem of Indirect Violence: An Interactional Account (Law)
  • Robyn Elphinstone for 'Pharmed' Red Blood Cells as Novel Therapeutics for Life Threatening-Infections (Immunology-Transplantation)
  • Daniel Felsky for Evaluating Gene-Gene Interactions for Detection of Risk for Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease using Established and Novel Neuroimaging Phenotypes (Genetics)
  • Amit Grinberg for Holding the Stick from the Middle - an Ethnography of Palestinians Employed as Fieldworkers by Israeli Human Rights NGO's (Anthropology)
  • Kathryn Hopperton for Amyloid beta induced inflammation and its resolution by omega-3 fatty acids in a mouse model of Alzheimer's Disease (Nutrition)
  • Rachel Keunen for Development of an Analytical Tool Utilizing Electrochemical Detection Methods For the Measuring of Protein Kinase Activity on a Protein Substrate Using Ferrocene-Adenosine Triphosphate (Fc-ATP) as a Co-substrate (Anyalytical Chemistry)
  • Natasha Lane for How should family physicians be paid to reduce socioeconomic disparities in heart failure outcomes? (Health Services Research)
  • Felix Leung for Integrating high-throughput technologies for the identification and validation of ovarian cancer biomarkers (Genomics, Proteomics, And Bioinformatics)
  • Katharina Maier for Half way to freedom? How female offenders rebuild their lives within the halfway house setting  (Criminology)
  • Jessica Mathie for The intersection of word formation, sentence structure and meaning in an Australian Aboriginal language  (Linguistics) 
  • Christina Matzen for Women's Prisons in Twentieth-Century Germany: Gendered Punishment from the Kaiser to the Cold War  (History)
  • Miles Montgomery for Designing an Elastic Scaffold with Shape-Memory for Functional Tissue Delivery (Biomedical Engineering)
  • Catia Perciani for Immunological Characterization of Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV) as a Replicating Viral Vector for an HIV Vaccine (Virology)
  • Cameron Ritchie for Performance of steel hollow structural sections, hollow and concrete-filled, subject to blast and impact loading (Structural Engineering)
  • Nardin Samuel  for Epigenetic analysis of Li-Fraumeni Syndrome cancers for identification of novel mechanisms of tumorigenesis in cancer susceptibility (Cancer)
  • Shrey Sindhwani for Nanomaterial based enrichment of blood proteins for cancer detection and monitoring (Cancer)
  • Etye Steinberg for The Concept of a Person and The Demands of Morality (Philosophy)
  • Lorraine Sugar for Data, Metrics, and Monitoring Systems for City-based Climate Action (Civil Engineering)
  • Sujata Thapa-Bhattarai for The right to mobility in the city: gender, transportation and urban public space in Kathmandu and Kabul (Urban and Regional Studies, Environmental Studies)
  • Simon Wisnovsky for Eliminating Platinum Chemotherapy-induced Peripheral Neuropathy through Subcellular Targeting of a Platinum Drug (Cancer)
  • You Wu for Characterizing the effects of human milk oligosaccharides and prebiotics on the intestinal epithelial barrier in the setting of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (Cell Biology)
  • Adam Zajdlik for Development of 1,1-boryl carbene-enabled boron transfer methodology (Organic Chemistry) 
Erin Vollick is a writer with IBBME at the University of Toronto; Shujanaa Mahendrarajah is a writer with U of T News.