McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

2014/2015 Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Award Winners

Published: January 18, 2016
Dustin Little, Anne Gilsing, Bhargavi Duvvuri and Jaclyn Hurley
Pictured outside of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery are the 2014/15 fellowship award winners: (from left) Dustin Little, Anne Gilsing, Bhargavi Duvvuri and Jaclyn Hurley.

Fellows making a world of difference

From developing immunotherapy for rheumatoid arthritis, to assessing healthy weight and diet in the elderly, recipients of the Michael G. DeGroote Fellowship Awards are anxious to make a difference in the world. A generous boost from the Michael G. DeGroote Fellowships will allow them to do just that.

With this coveted funding, postdoctoral fellows Dustin Little, Anne Gilsing, Bhargavi Duvvuri and Jaclyn Hurley have access to some of the most state-of-the-art laboratory equipment in the country under the auspices of four brilliant McMaster research minds.

Jaclyn Hurley

Jaclyn Hurley was the Spring 2015 winner in the Clinical Research Category. With the funding, Hurley is working in the MacMobilize Laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Monica Maly where she has access to state-of-the-art biomechanical equipment. She also works collaboratively with the Imaging Research Centre at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton.

Hurley's research looks at mitigating pain and increasing the quality of life for those suffering from knee osteoarthritis, the most common arthritic condition faced by Canadians as they age. This "wear and tear" condition damages tissues inside the knee, causing pain and immobility.

"My research vision is to examine the impact of joint mechanics on the progression of human joint tissue damage," she says, adding she hopes this work will lead to the development of effective, biomechanically-sound intervention strategies to alleviate pain and improve mobility and quality of life.

Specifically, Hurley will identify an effective exercise program that can be used by the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who live with knee osteoarthritis. She says her research will study different exercise programs to identify the best type for reducing pain and immobility, while also ensuring no further knee damage is experienced.

"In doing so, this research will advance care for those affected by persistent, debilitating pain due to knee osteoarthritis."

She adds: "I am so grateful to have received the Michael G. DeGroote Postdoctoral Fellowship Award in Clinical Research to support my postdoctoral studies with Dr. Monica Maly. This mentorship will provide me with the unique opportunity to advance my current understanding of fundamental tissue mechanics and adaptations while also gaining knowledge of clinical interventions and advanced imaging techniques."

Bhargavi Duvvuri

Bhargavi Duvvuri, the Spring 2015 recipient in Basic Biomedical Science, is pursuing postdoctoral training with Dr. Mark Larché, an associate professor from the Department of Medicine.

In the Larché lab, Duvvuri is working on rheumatoid arthritis, a common chronic autoimmune disease associated with very significant morbidity and mortality.

"Human health, in large part, is the result of a functional and balanced immune system; an immune system that surveys and eliminates pathogens while preventing/minimizing harmful autoimmune reactions," she says. "However, for few known and largely unknown reasons, the immune system reacts to itself, leading to autoimmune diseases (ADs)."

She says her current and long-term research focus is to explore mechanisms underlying pathophysiology of ADs and apply that knowledge towards the development of disease-modifying and possibly preventive therapies for ADs.

"The DeGroote Fellowship provides me an opportunity to continue to progress in my area of research with Dr. Larché, who is a world-renowned scientist in the area of peptide immunotherapy," she says.

Anne Gilsing

Anne Gilsing, recently awarded a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from Maastricht University, was the Fall 2014 winner in the Clinical Research Category. She studies the role of nutrition in aging and obesity.

"I have been mentored by experts in the field of nutritional epidemiology at several renowned research institutes, and had the opportunity to utilize multiple observational study designs," she says, adding that throughout her doctoral studies she learned to appreciate the complexity of investigating lifestyle factors in cohorts of older people. "It strikes me that the BMI guidelines we widely use to classify the elderly according to their body composition are not age specific while it is evident that the standard BMI cut points for the adult population are not appropriate for seniors."

This furthered her interest in the controversy that exists about the definition of obesity in older people, "the obesity paradox", or the harm of being overweight in older age, and also the need for obesity treatment in the elderly.

To address these questions, Gilsing chose to continue her work as a nutritional epidemiologist in one of the world's leading and most comprehensive studies on the research of aging: the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA), led by Dr. Parminder Raina.

"As a Michael G. DeGroote postdoctoral fellow, I will use the wealth of information available in the CLSA to help define age-appropriate BMI cut points that more optimally reflect the health risks associated with overweight and obesity in the elderly," she says.

Dustin Little

Dustin Little is the winner of the Fall 2014 Basic Biomedical Science award. Working in the lab of Brian Coombes, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, his work focuses on characterizing the structure and function of the biosynthetic machinery required for the production, modification and export of a key gene involved in biofilm formation by numerous pathogenic bacteria.

"Over the past decade I have grown a passion for understanding antibiotic resistance, host-pathogen interactions, and searching for new ways to prevent infection and disease," says Little, who pursued his interest in bacterial infections under the doctoral supervision of Dr. P. Lynne Howell at the University of Toronto and The Hospital for Sick Children.

"Through these studies I gained extensive experience in molecular biology, protein biochemistry, and structural biology methods."

Little has authored seven research articles and one encyclopedia entry, where his publication in the journal PNAS was selected for a commentary. He has also presented five oral talks and four poster presentations at international conferences. He has received 14 awards through his doctoral studies.

"I chose the Coombes lab for postdoctoral studies as they are engaged in bacterial pathogenesis research and specialize in techniques that mimic human disease," he says, adding he is guiding his career to one day become a principal investigator in this research area. "This financial jumpstart, along with the expertise and guidance from Dr. Coombes, will give me the best possible opportunity to achieve this goal."

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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