Portrait images of six female student winners

Mitacs program supports projects and provides training in key research skills

By Eileen Hoftyzer

Six graduate students from the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy are among the recipients of a new national research award that supports innovative projects and helps students develop key skills for careers in industry and academia.

The Mitacs Research Training Award supports short-term research training internships for student-led projects. Mitacs, a national not-for-profit organization, fosters innovation and growth through partnerships between academia, industry and government. The $6,000 award, which includes $3,000 from Mitacs and matching funds from the institution, is designed to help prepare graduate students for a career by developing their skills and growing their professional networks.

Sana-Kay Whyte-Allman, a senior PhD student in Professor Reina Bendayan’s lab and one of the recipients of the award, says that the emphasis on skills and training sets the award apart from other funding opportunities.

“They provide opportunities to learn from experts geared toward skills development in different areas, such as leadership,” she says. “These opportunities will be beneficial as I transition out of graduate research to a career.”

Whyte-Allman is investigating the potential contribution of drug transporter proteins to harmful inflammation in people with HIV. She says that the funding from Mitacs will allow her to address an important knowledge gap in HIV research.

“The award is a great opportunity to pursue a new research direction,” she says. “As I near the end of my PhD, it will allow me to continue to do research in the lab and enhance my skills.”

Lie Yun Kok, who is nearing the end of her Master of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences degree and studying with Professor Christine Allen, also appreciates the experience she is gaining through her funded research project. Her work is focused on developing oral formulations of cannabidiol (CBD) to improve its water solubility, absorption in the body and shelf life, which may also have applications in the development of other drugs.

“The award gives me the opportunity to learn new skills that will be transferable to the pharmaceutical industry,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity to gain experience that will be helpful in my career.”

Training awards support range of student-led projects

Four other graduate students from the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy also received Mitacs Research Training Awards this year.

Natalia Konstantelos, supervised by Associate Professor Suzanne Cadarette, is examining treatment patterns of older adults who started the drug zoledronic acid as a second-line treatment for osteoporosis in Ontario from 2006 to 2020. The study will help fill gaps in evidence and inform clinical decisions related to second-line osteoporosis pharmacotherapy.

Jacinda Kwok, supervised by Professor Micheline Piquette-Miller, is studying the protein complex NF-kB and how it regulates placental transport proteins that protect the fetus from harmful substances and facilitate transport of essential nutrients.

Andrea Massey, supervised by Professor and Dean Lisa Dolovich, is conducting a needs assessment project to help improve U of T’s supporting resources for students dealing with complex mental health medication management issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. The project will provide an action plan for how the university can implement programs and resources to address specific mental health and well-being medication management needs.

Samantha Sernoskie, supervised by Professor Jack Uetrecht, is studying clozapine, a drug often used to treat schizophrenia, and its effects on the immune system. This project aims to reveal how clozapine may be involved in a serious immune condition called agranulocytosis, which increases a patient’s susceptibility to infection.

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