Canada’s First Amgen Scholars Program at U of T

Jun 12, 2019
Amgen Scholars CanadaFor the first time, Amgen Foundation grant offers Canadian undergraduate students the opportunity to gain hands-on research experience with world-leading U of T researchers

Fifteen undergraduate students from across Canada arrived at the University of Toronto this week, marking the launch of the Amgen Scholars Canada Program.

These aspiring scientists will delve into leading biomedical research at U of T’s Faculty of Medicine and Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, through a fully-funded, 10-week hands-on research placement aimed at inspiring and equipping a new generation of health leaders and innovative researchers.

“We are pleased and proud to welcome students from across the country to the University of Toronto and the inaugural Amgen Scholars Canada program,” says Professor Vivek Goel, University of Toronto’s vice-president of research and innovation. “Bringing together exceptional students with world-class mentors offers a tremendous opportunity for collaboration, innovation and discovery. We are excited to help unleash the potential of these future innovators and scientists.”

“We are delighted that the Amgen Foundation continues to encourage leadership in science by nurturing the passion of the next generation of leaders in biomedical sciences and drawing on the depth of talent in Canada,” says Dr. Ponda Motsepe-Ditshego, executive medical director, Amgen Canada. “When we offer students research opportunities they may not have elsewhere, we open new doors and inspire new thinking and that is a tremendous accomplishment.”

Recognizing that inclusion, diversity and equity are essential components that foster excellence in 21st century science and health outcomes, a key focus of the U of T Amgen Scholars Canada Program is to actively engage motivated students who might face barriers to careers in science and medicine, whether due to socioeconomic status, geographical location, or belonging to historically marginalized groups.

“Investing in young scientists through programs like Amgen Scholars is key to tackling some of our most challenging global issues,” says Eduardo Cetlin, president, Amgen Foundation. “We are proud to work with the University of Toronto and other premier institutions around the world building upon our mission to advance excellence in science education and empower tomorrow’s innovative problem solvers.”

Meet Canada’s inaugural class of Amgen Scholars:

Allysia ChinAllysia Chin “Growing up as a biracial individual, my parents always instilled the importance of accepting and embracing people from all backgrounds. This mentality stuck with me throughout university, where I often found myself immersed in labs from a plethora of scientific backgrounds, such as physical chemistry, molecular biology and pathobiology. My current research interests involve chemically engineered hydrogels for studying cancer cell invasion, which I am excited to explore in the Shoichet Lab.”

— Allysia Chin, Chemical biology co-op student at McMaster University, (Supervisor: Professor Molly Shoichet)

Luke Ajay DavidLuke Ajay David “I was born in the coastal sea-town of Mount-Lavinia, Sri Lanka where I lived until I was 17 years old. Since my family moved to Canada in 2014, I have worked at Tim Hortons, the Toronto Police as a summer student and as a research assistant studying black widow spiders at UTSC. I aspire to work in the field of molecular biology with a particular focus on cellular regeneration. The Amgen program will provide an excellent opportunity to enhance my basic science skills, and also to meet and share experiences with other students.”

Luke Ajay David, Molecular biology and biotechnology co-op student at University of Toronto, Scarborough (UTSC), (Supervisor: Professor Carol J. Schuurmans)

Dushanthi DissanayakeDushanthi Dissanayake “After taking biology in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program during high school, I realized I had a true passion for the biomedical sciences and research. The opportunity to work with leading researchers at one of the most prestigious universities in North America will allow me to explore cutting-edge research first-hand. The laboratory experience and networking opportunities will definitely help in shaping my career in science and research.”

Dushanthi Dissanayake, Biochemistry/microbiology student at the University of Victoria (UVic), (Supervisor: Professor Peter Wells)

Linda GuoLinda Guo “I am originally from Fort McMurray and am currently studying at Western University. I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the impact that medical sciences and pharmaceuticals has on people and communities as a whole. My goal is to help develop translational drugs that improve patients' quality of life. The Amgen Scholars Program offers so many amazing opportunities. The support it provides allows us to focus on our passion for the medical sciences instead of our financial situations.”

Linda Guo, Physiology and pharmacology student at Western University, (Supervisor: Professor Brian Cox)

Alina HeckAlina Heck “I am a disabled student with a vested interest in improving outcomes for patients who have suffered Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The brain and brain health are very close to my heart, and this summer I am fortunate enough to be working under Dr. Anne Wheeler in TBI research. As a nursing student, it is difficult to find labs that are willing to work with you, as we do not get traditional laboratory experience in our degree. I'm excited to learn about advances being made in diagnosing and treating TBI, and to participate in research for the first time.”

Alina Heck, Nursing student at the University of Alberta, (Supervisor: Professor Anne Wheeler)

Karen MaoKaren Mao “Born in Edmonton, I have been living between two countries (China and Canada) and in six different cities (Edmonton, Hong Kong, Hangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, and Toronto). I am interested in translational cancer research and drug development and excited to gain hands-on research experience in the optimization of lead molecules for cancer therapies.”

Karen Mao, Pathobiology and sociology student at University of Toronto, (Supervisor: Professor Rima Al-awar )

Laura (Xiang Qi) MengLaura (Xiang Qi) Meng “I was born in Tianjin and grew up in Toronto, so I'm excited to be back this summer. My research interests include the neurobiological underpinnings of health and disease — specifically psychiatric and neurologic disorders. This summer, I will be working in the lab of Professor Michael Fehlings to develop neural transplantation models we hope will be viable in the clinical treatment of spinal cord injuries.”

Laura (Xiang Qi) Meng, Neuroscience student at McGill University, (Supervisor: Professor Michael Fehlings)

Maryanne OketchMaryanne Oketch “I was born in Karlsruhe, Germany, but raised in Canada. I have lived in many cities in Ontario, including London, Toronto, and Kingston, but I currently call Hamilton home. When entering university, I thought that I was going to focus my research in bacteria, but I decided to focus on something a little smaller: viruses! The Amgen Scholars Program will give me the opportunity to research in a full-time capacity, learn more about other people's passion in science and meet the future leaders across different scientific fields.”

Maryanne Oketch, Integrated science and biochemistry student at McMaster University, (Supervisor: Professor Lori Frappier)

Denis QeskaDenis Qeska “I am from Toronto and am passionate about science and its promotion, serving as an associate editor of the University of Ottawa Science Undergraduate Research Journal. I am interested in learning about the applications of drug nanoparticles in treating cancer. The Amgen Scholar's Program is an invaluable opportunity to develop skills critical to an aspiring researcher and to gain insights into research. I have a foundation of experimental techniques that I am eager to apply and tailor to novel situations. I would also learn specialized techniques, for example in cellular imaging, that I can apply to future projects.”

Denis Qeska, Biochemistry student at University of Ottawa, (Supervisor: Professor Molly Shoichet)

Megh RathodMegh Rathod “I have always been amazed by the wonders of the human body and its complexity. The Amgen Scholar Program is the ideal opportunity because it provides an access point and entry into a world I did not think I could be a part of. I never had any role models in academia, so it was hard to see myself pursuing a career in research. I am grateful to be working under Dr. Shaf Keshavjee. Organ transplant research is of interest to me because of how complex and interdisciplinary it is, but also the major impact he and his team have on improving the life of others.”

Megh Rathod, Integrated science and biology student at McMaster University, (Supervisor: Professor Shaf Keshavjee)

Anas SammanAnas Samman “As an aspiring clinician scientist, the Amgen Scholars program is an excellent opportunity to not only conduct research under the mentorship of a world-renowned clinician scientist, but also, to become part of a larger network of leading scientists. Under Dr. Chandran's mentorship, I am most looking forward to gaining a solid understanding of both the general structure of translational research, and its implementation within the context of psoriatic arthritis. I am especially interested in learning how results in the lab are used to improve and perhaps develop new therapies for patients in the clinic.”

Anas Samman, Pathobiology student at the University of Toronto, (Supervisor: Professor Vinod Chandran)

Ayni SharifAyni Sharif “Having been involved in different areas of research from chemistry to cancer research, I’m particularly interested in epidemiology with a focus on infectious diseases. I look forward to gaining both new theoretical knowledge as well as hands-on laboratory skills in Professor Leah Cowen’s lab. The Amgen Scholars Program is such a unique opportunity because of the exposure to research in state-of-the-art laboratories.”

Ayni Sharif, Biomedical sciences and languages and cultures student at the University of Ottawa, (Supervisor: Professor Leah Cowen)

Sabrina WangSabrina Wang “I have explored various fields of research including clinical pediatric research on the mechanisms of obesity in survivors of childhood brain tumours, and biochemistry research in Parkinson's Disease. I am excited to receive the opportunity to join Dr. Dowling's research team, his lab has done incredible research to help pioneer the use of the zebrafish as a model for pediatric neuromuscular disorders. The Amgen Scholars Program is an invaluable opportunity for me to be challenged and mentored by skilled scientists at the University of Toronto. I am thrilled to share my passion and curiosity for research and discovery with mentors and other Amgen Scholars.”

Sabrina Wang, Biochemistry student at McMaster University, (Supervisor: Professor James Dowling)

Noah WarnerNoah Warner “Born and raised in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, I am very excited to be doing research at the University of Toronto. I have always been interested in the medical field and my interest in physics was sparked by my high school teacher, who was very passionate about the subject. As a result, I am especially interested in medical physics research, specifically medical imaging in relation to the diagnosis and treatment of disease. I am excited that the Amgen Scholars Program gives me the opportunity to learn about how theoretical physics is applied in the laboratory.”

Noah Warner, Physics student at Mount Allison University, (Supervisor: Professor Ray Reilly)

Jenny ZhuJenny Zhu “I was born in Shijiazhuang, China and immigrated to Canada when I was six years old. I am interested in the field of oncology as a possible future career path, and want to expand upon my previous clinical research experience by learning more about the current cutting-edge laboratory research that is advancing the field. I'm looking forward to gaining more exposure to the field of oncology research by delving more deeply into the specific biochemical, genetic or molecular processes of such a vast and complex disease.”

Jenny (Jie Wei) Zhu, Physiology and pharmacology student at Western University, (Supervisor: Professor Mohammad Akbari)

U of T will begin accepting applications for the 2020 Amgen Scholars Canada Program in November 2019. For more information, visit the Amgen Scholars Canada Program at the University of Toronto page and follow us on Twitter at @uoftmedicine, Instagram at @ScienceTOu, @UofTPharmacy and @AmgenFoundation