McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

2014 Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Awards

Coveted fellowships bolster emerging research stars
Published: December 22, 2014
Mick Bhatia
Pictured outside of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery are the 2014 fellowship award winners: (from left) Brennan Smith, Kevin Foley, Nathan Evaniew and Ken Tang.

As recipients of one of the most coveted awards at McMaster, the four Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Award winners are poised to change the future face of healthcare.

Postdoctoral fellows Brennan Smith, Kenneth Tang, Kevin Foley and Nathan Evaniew conduct paradigm-busting work in some of McMaster's most advanced labs. Their supervisors are considered among the best in their fields, accomplishing their work in state-of-the-art facilities that enable progressive research designed to impact healthcare around the world.

Brennan Smith

Recipient Brennan Smith, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of professor Gregory Steinberg in the Department of Medicine, studies the ways pharmaceutical drugs elicit beneficial effects.

"For example, many different drugs can lower blood glucose and decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes; however, exactly how a drug promotes that beneficial outcome is where my research comes in," says Smith, adding this information allows researchers to evaluate potential side effects and hypothetically design other drugs that target a given pathway.

He hopes his research leads to a healthier population with a higher quality of life and personal well-being. "There is vast potential in this work to positively affect health at the population level in Canada. A role for how the body regulates energetic balance is beginning to gain significant traction across a host of chronic diseases and as such, the potential for this work to influence countless healthcare patients is apparent. I'm just excited to be playing a part."

Kenneth Tang

Kenneth Tang, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Joy MacDermid, assistant dean in the School of Rehabilitation Science, has similarly high ambitions for his research.

Tang's research looks at risk factors for developing upper-limb musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. He is also trying to understand why some workers recover better than others after an injury.

"Many jobs put a lot of stress on the shoulder, arm, and hand, so work-related injuries to the upper-limb are quite common," says Tang. "Also, recovery can be made difficult by the fact that work can sometimes aggravate an existing musculoskeletal injury making the problem 'chronic'. So my work is really about better understanding the interaction between work and musculoskeletal health."           

Identifying the risk factors for upper-limb injuries and poor recovery will be key for understanding where the intervention targets and opportunities lie, he says, noting that once this happens, his group will develop tools and interventions to help workers mitigate these risks. "Ultimately, the goal is workplace injury prevention and to help improve the management of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and overall worker health."

Kevin Foley

Kevin Foley, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Jonathan Schertzer, assistant professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences, focuses on how components of the immune system interact with the liver and adipose (or body fat) to cause pre-diabetes during obesity.

"In particular, I study how gut bacteria can stimulate the immune system to influence liver and adipose function, how obesity alters the gut bacteria, and how obesity driven changes to the gut bacteria contribute to pre-diabetes," says Foley.

The goal of his work is to determine the cause of inflammation in obesity and how this inflammation contributes to the deregulation of liver and adipose function. "The hope is that my research leads us to better understand how obesity leads to pre-diabetes, which in turn may contribute to the discovery of novel treatments to combat Type 2 diabetes in obese individuals."

Nathan Evaniew

Nathan Evaniew, a postdoctoral fellow working with Michelle Ghert, associate professor of surgery, finds inspiration in one of Canada's most recognizable names in Canadian research.

"Terry Fox, one of Canada's most inspiring and influential heroes, underwent above-knee amputation for a bone tumor in his femur in 1977," says Evaniew. "In our modern era, amputations are generally avoided by complex surgeries in which tumors are removed and patients' limbs are reconstructed with metallic implants. Unfortunately, the risk for infection after this type of surgery is very high and the outcomes can be devastating."

Evaniew's group is leading a pilot study for an international blinded randomized controlled trial called PARITY (Prophylactic Antibiotic Regimens in Tumor Surgery) that will determine whether a five-day regimen of post-operative antibiotics decreases the rate of infections in comparison to a standard 24-hour regimen. He says successful completion of this pilot study will lead to a rigorous and definitive large-scale international clinical trial and improve the quality of life for those cancer survivors who undergo complex lower limb reconstruction.

The fellowship awards are funded through a portion of the Faculty of Health Sciences Development Fund, part of Michael G. DeGroote's $105 million donation. The winners are chosen for their exemplary academic record and are awarded $50,000 ($40,000 from DeGroote funds and $10,000 in matching funds from their supervisor) to develop a competitive research program.

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