McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

2012 Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Awards

Fellows focus on advancing health — from epilepsy to cancer

Published: December 18, 2012
2012 Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Award winners (from left): Dr. Nora Fayed, Dr. Joseph McPhee, Dr. Grace Yim, Dr. Melissa Thomas and Dr. Parvez Vora
2012 Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Award winners (from left): Dr. Nora Fayed, Dr. Joseph McPhee, Dr. Grace Yim, Dr. Melissa Thomas and Dr. Parvez Vora.

Five scientists with a burning desire to improve people's health and well-being have been named the recipients of the Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Awards in two recent rounds of the competition.

Dr. Nora Fayed, a post-doctoral fellow with the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research, thinks it's a priority to involve patients and families in the evaluation of their own health care. She hopes to improve questionnaires provided to children with epilepsy and their families to assess their health and quality of life. Fayed's hope is that incorporating children and families into the evaluation process will improve patient-centred clinical decision-making by health care providers.

"The goal is to improve the quality of questionnaires so that they can be used with more confidence in clinical practice," she said.

Fayed completed her PhD in rehabilitation science at McMaster while spending part of her training at a research branch of the World Health Organization in Munich, Germany, where she formed the foundation for her post-doctoral work.

Dr. Joseph McPhee, of the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences who received his PhD from the University of British Columbia, is researching a strain of E. coli found in people with Crohn's disease. McPhee and colleagues have determined that this bacterium induces symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and they want to determine the reason.

"Complications from Crohn's disease often require surgical intervention; I hope this research leads to better non-surgical treatments," he said.

Dr. Melissa Thomas of the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, is examining the effects of high-fat diets on skeletal muscle health. She is studying how the diet affects muscle integrity; how muscle is able to withstand damage from exercise; and how it can repair itself.

"If we can try and keep the muscle healthy, that can help revert or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes," said Thomas, who obtained her PhD from the University of Calgary.

At the same time, Dr. Parvez Vora, who has a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Manitoba and is with McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, is examining a common primary brain tumour, called a glioblastoma, one of the most aggressive human cancers known for its near uniformly fatal prognosis. His work aims to understand the role of the master regulatory neural stem cell gene, called Bmi1, in the initiation and maintenance of glioblastoma.

Vora believes understanding the brain tumorigenesis may lead to future selective therapies to improve the survival and prognosis of adults and children with brain tumours.

"Alternatives to traditional treatment regimen are imperative if brain tumour patients are to have any realistic hopes of surviving," he said. " Understanding the tumour biology will lead us to new personalized targeted therapy. "

Meanwhile, Dr. Grace Yim, a post-doctoral fellow in biochemistry and biomedical sciences, is mixing and matching DNA from different antibiotic- producing bacteria to create stronger antibiotics critical for controlling infectious disease. She said the continual and incessant rise of resistant bacteria to any new antibiotic obliterates their usefulness over time.

"This so called 'arms race' between infectious disease and humans creates a need to develop not only new antibiotics but also new strategies for drug development," Yim said.

Yim came to McMaster, following her PhD studies in microbiology and immunology at the University of British Columbia.

The Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Awards were first awarded in 2008. The awards are funded through a portion of the Michael G. DeGroote Faculty of Health Sciences Development Fund, a $25-million endowment from Mr. DeGroote.

Successful candidates are awarded $50,000 ($40,000 from DeGroote funds and $10,000 in matching funds from their supervisor) to help develop a competitive research program.

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