LAB ALUMNI - Where are they now?

Michèle Loewen, PhD. Senior Research Officer, National Research Council Canada, Ottawa ON (more)

Sally Yu, MSc. Deputy Director, B100 APU Downstream, Sanofi Pasteur, Toronto ON (more)

Adam Middleton, PhD. Senior Research Fellow, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand (more)

Chris Garnham, PhD. Research Scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, London ON (more)

Koli Basu, PhD. Scientist at Frontier Medicines, CA, USA (more)

Sean Phippen, MSc. Protein Production and Characterization Associate, Phenomic AI, Toronto ON (more)

Tianjun Sun, PhD. Scientist at Amgen, Burnaby BC (more)

Gary Scott, Postdoctoral Fellow. Senior Scientist. Buck Institute, CA, USA (more)

Saeed Rismani Yazdi, PhD. Scientist. Abbott Point of Care, Ottawa ON (more)

Jason Baardsnes, PhD. Senior Research Officer, National Research Council Canada, Montréal QC (more)

Rachel Hanna, PhD. Biologist/Evaluator, Health Canada, Ottawa ON (more)

Derrick Rancourt, PhD. Professor, Depts Oncology, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Medical Genetics, U Calgary, AB (more)

Bernie Duncker, PhD. Associate Vice-President, Interdisciplinary Research, U Waterloo, ON (more)

Michèle Loewen, PhD
Senior Research Officer, National Research Council, Ottawa ON
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Hello from Michèle Loewen! I did my PhD in the lab from 1993 to 1997, studying fish antifreeze protein types I and II. However, windsurfing was another preoccupation (the 6th floor of Botterell Hall was a great vantage point to watch for wind on the lake), much to Peter’s consternation (or was it envy?)! After leaving the lab I did two PDFs, one at University of Basel (Switzerland) and a second at MIT (USA) studying bacterial rhodopsin with Nobel Laureate H G Khorana. In 2001, I joined the National Research council (NRC) in Saskatoon as a Research Officer to work on Crop Biotechnology and serve as a liaison to the Canadian Light Source.

Now my lab has moved to NRC-Ottawa in Canada’s ‘Temple of Science’ at 100 Sussex Drive where, among other topics, I work on aspects of food security like fungal disease resistance. I’m cross appointed at both Queen’s University https://dbms.queensu.ca/faculty/michele-loewen and University of Ottawa, and relish teaching BCHM841 (grad course on proteins) with Peter, as well as eating kale in his office. I have two sons, one husband and a bigger sailboat. In 2014 I re-named my boat ‘Basic Research’, a nod to Darwin, while also protesting the government’s undermining of fundamental science and muzzling of federal researchers.

Basic Research is what I am doing when I don’t know what I am doing’ – Wernher von Braun

Sally Yu, MSc
Deputy Director, B100 APU Downstream, Sanofi Pasteur, Toronto ON
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Hello everyone! I did my M.Sc. in the lab from 2007 to 2009, engineering antifreeze protein and studying ice recrystallization. Keeping a few fish in the lab along with Chris Garnham, Adam Middleton and Nelson Lin (who's my husband now :D ) was also a side hobby. After leaving the lab, I joined Sanofi Pasteur in Toronto where I made whooping cough vaccines. Over the next few years, I joined the management side of vaccine operation, and this role gave me the opportunity to build and lead a team in the antigen purification platform. In 2017, I joined the new vaccine facility project (Building 100) as a Component Pertussis Downstream Lead, to support the design, construction, commissioning and qualification of the various processing equipment and facility (I've become almost half an engineer from working with the Engineering team and vendors).  Now, I have moved to a new role to complete the project phase of the new facility and transition to routine operation. It feels great knowing that what I do everyday can help to protect everyone around me from certain infectious diseases (I made the vaccine batch that went into my son when he was 2 months old - proud mommy!).  

 

Adam Middleton, PhD
Senior Research Fellow, Univeristy of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
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I studied in Peter’s lab from 2006 until 2012 where I worked in the 'antifreeze protein half' of the lab. My primary research focus was an ice-binding protein from perennial ryegrass, Lolium perenne. Solving its crystal structure capped off my thesis. I had lots of fun in Peter’s lab where I learned basic molecular biology, was given good opportunities to mentor students and write manuscripts, and also learned some more esoteric things like how to grow enormous single ice crystals. I had a blast with my colleagues and have many good memories including the ‘Box of Feelings’, our many exciting trips to the synchrotron on Long Island, the late Carl and Carla, collecting inchworms in the dead of winter, and the Grad Club.

When I finished, my partner and I decided to travel and figured why not go as far away as we possibly could? So, we brought our 2-year-old daughter, Abby, to Dunedin New Zealand where I began my postdoc. After only signing an 18-month contract, I figured we would be back in Canada before we knew it, but we (and son, Angus) are still here 9+ years later! My independently funded current research investigates how ubiquitin transfer is regulated biochemically, and I have particular interests in E2 enzymes and developing new targeted protein degradation techniques. Dunedin is a beautiful place and I highly recommend coming for a visit – as Peter did for three months in 2015!

Chris Garnham, PhD
Research Scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, London ON
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"Greetings! I did my PhD from 2005-2010 in Peter’s lab, studying antifreeze protein structure and function, including one summer doing research in Sapporo, Japan. I also dabbled a little bit in calpain during my time in the lab (but don’t tell anyone!). I performed my post-doctoral studies at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda Maryland under the guidance of Dr. Antonina Roll-Mecak, where I investigated the structure:function relationship of a family of tubulin modifying enzymes. I am currently a research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in London, ON, where I primarily study mycotoxin biosynthesis and detoxification. My knowledge of mycotoxins was non-existent prior to starting my lab at AAFC. However, my biochemistry and structural biology skills that I first developed in Peter’s lab were instrumental in allowing me to collaborate with my new colleagues in London and join a team whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I got hooked on science in Peter’s lab after I made my first big discovery there – solving the X-ray crystal structure of a novel bacterial antifreeze protein that turned out to be an ice adhesin – and I’ve been chasing that high ever since. Some things never get old!"

Koli Basu, PhD
Scientist at Frontier Medicines, CA, USA
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Hello! I did my PhD studies in the Davies lab from 2010-2016. I had the opportunity to purify and characterize native antifreeze protein from the infamous Kingston midges. This proved to be a novel antifreeze type with an ice-binding site made up of stacked tyrosines. I'm pretty sure my PhD thesis was the 'coolest' of all time! Not only was the work incredibly interesting, but it also set me up for a career in protein science. My thesis project involved mass spectrometry, recombinant protein production, molecular biology, and structural biology. With the training I had in the Davies lab from Peter, Laurie, Sherry, Rob, Qilu, and my labmates, I am confident in my biochemistry foundations. After graduating from Queen's, I joined the Craik Lab at UCSF as a postdoc, where I continued to study interesting and challenging proteins. All the techniques I learned from my academic background are proving useful in my current role. I am a scientist in the Protein Science team at Frontier Medicines, a rapidly growing biotech company in the Bay Area. We are developing small molecule drugs for difficult but pertinent cancer proteins. I've been living in the Bay Area since 2016 with my husband and daughter and feel incredibly grateful to have such an interesting job as a scientist!

Sean Phippen, MSc
Protein Production and Characterization Associate, Phenomic AI, Toronto ON
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Hi there! After working in Peter’s lab as a summer student during my undergraduate studies at Queen’s, I stayed on to complete a Master’s degree from 2015-2017. My project focused on the multimerization of antifreeze proteins to increase their activity, which we accomplished by genetically fusing AFPs to the subunits of self-assembling protein cages produced by the David Baker lab at U. Wash.

I have worked in several roles in the biotech industry since finishing my degree at Queen’s, and it has never been a dull moment! Recently, I completed a stint as a consultant at Sanofi Pasteur, where I worked in the Manufacturing Technology department as a Study Lead. My projects focused on characterizing the manufacturing process for Bordetella pertussis antigens that Sanofi will generate in their new vaccine manufacturing facility.

I have also contributed to the drug discovery process at both Zymeworks Inc. and Phenomic AI, two biotech companies in Canada that are working to develop the next big cancer therapeutic. In my current role on the Protein Science team at Phenomic, I carry out the expression, purification, and characterization of proteins of interest so that they can be evaluated as potential therapeutics.

Tianjun Sun, PhD 
Scientist at Amgen, Burnaby BC
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Hello! I did my PhD studies in the Davies lab from 2010-2015, studying antifreeze protein structure and function. My primary research focus was a novel antifreeze protein from winter flounder. We called it “Maxi”. It was a challenging protein to work with since it is very thermolabile and had to be crystallized in the cold room. With the great support from Peter, Nelson, Rob. C., Sherry, and my other labmates, I eventually solved the crystal structure of “Maxi”. It was a four-helix bundle protein stabilized by ~400 internal waters, which we published in Science in 2014. After graduating from Queen's, I continued pursuing structural biology and joined Natalie Strynadka’s lab at UBC as a postdoc, where I had an opportunity to express and a purify membrane protein and solve its structure using cryo-EM. After my postdoc training, I decided to move to industry. Currently, I am a Scientist in the Protein Technology team at Amgen Canada in Burnaby, BC. My job focus is to design and produce protein targets for drug discovery. However, my biochemistry background in protein characterization and structural biology helps me to work effectively in a drug discovery team. I am very grateful to live in Vancouver with my wife and son and have a job that I am passionate about. 

Gary Scott, Postdoctoral Fellow
Senior Scientist, Buck Institute, CA, USA
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Following completion of my PhD in Physics at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby Canada in 1983 plus some generous Molecular Biology mentoring from members of the Simon Fraser Biology Department I was extremely fortunate in 1984 to be offered a position in lab of Peter Davies where the preeminent issue was the cloning of the type I antifreeze protein (AFP) genes from the Winter Flounder.  These were truly exciting times as the amplified structure of the flounder’s antifreeze gene locus gave birth to the idea that AFP gene amplification was driven by the rapid cooling of the oceans induced by Cenozoic glaciation.  Resolving the evolutionary consequences of Cenozoic glaciation on AFP gene evolution remains an active area of research particularly in the Davies’ lab and while the temptation to remain with Peter was strong I did head west to San Francisco in 1986 to join a lab at UCSF studying breast cancer.  In 2000 our UCSF lab relocated to the Buck Institute, a newly opened Institute in Marin County dedicated to the problems of aging.  Currently, as a Senior Scientist, my studies have explored various topics such as estrogen receptor activation and ERBB2 messenger RNA stability but the early days with Peter pondering Cenozoic glaciation and consequences for AFP gene evolution remains a career highlight.     

Saeed Rismani Yazdi, PhD

Scientist. Abbott Point of Care, Ottawa ON

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I did my PhD at Queen’s from 2015-2019. My projects were focused on developing microfluidic devices to study the microscale behavior of magnetotactic bacteria, oil-degrading bacteria, and bacteria with ice-binding protein, and their interaction with the surrounding environment. Working in Peter’s lab was an amazing and unforgettable experience.

In 2019, I joined Abbott Point of Care as Scientist. Since then, I have supported the development of a new immunoassay cartridge to measure cardiac troponin I (cTnI), which significantly improves the diagnosis and treatment of heart attack (myocardial infarction) at the early stages. I am passionate about working on innovative technologies that can advance human health, and help people live longer and better.

Apart from the technical skills needed to excel in such projects that are heavily multidisciplinary, I found that serving as a TA and mentoring students for their thesis projects during my MSc and PhD studies helped me a lot in successfully managing responsibilities in my current role. So, any experience and skill you gain might come in handy at some point.

I am blessed to have a wonderful wife and son, which make me the happiest man – at least in our home.

Jason Baardsnes, PhD

Senior Research Officer, National Research Council Canada, Montréal QC

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Salut! I did my PhD in Peter’s lab between 1996 and 2001 where we mapped the ice binding face of type I and type III antifreeze proteins using structure – function analysis.  I did my undergraduate and MSc at Simon Fraser University, after which I packed up my small Civic and drove across Canada to join the lab upon a recommendation of a friend who did his undergraduate in Biochemistry at Queen’s.  Kingston is a great place to go to school, there is lots to do and I met many people within the program and on campus who I will be friends with for life. I am a bit of a music nerd, so it was a gas to be able to have my own campus radio show for many years.  I also played on the Biochemistry department softball team, and met my future wife on a competing team, so you never know where things will take you!  I had a good foundation in all things biochemistry from my work in the group, so it wasn’t a stretch to go from antifreeze proteins to yeast protease expression systems as a post-doc at the NRC in Montreal.  I was fortunate to be able to become a Research Officer here.  I currently aid a lot of Canadian and international biotechnology companies with analytical assessment of their therapeutic candidates, and I work with the Molecular Modelling team and Mouse Monoclonal team at the NRC Montreal for the development, testing and screening of biotherapeutic candidates internally. The last few years have been all things COVID in conjunction with the new GMP plant at the Montreal site, now assessment of the quality attributes of spike protein and COVID therapeutics is currently a top priority. The job description is always shifting with the type of work that comes to us, so it is always interesting and new!

Rachel Hanna, PhD

Biologist/Evaluator, Health Canada, Ottawa ON

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Hello! I first started in Peter’s lab in 2003 as a fourth-year thesis project student, and continued on as a PhD student from 2004-2010 studying the enzyme calpain and its inhibitor calpastatin. I really enjoyed protein structure-function studies and protein preps! My big breakthrough was co-crystallizing calpain-2 with a calpastatin inhibitory domain bound to it. This gave us the calcium-activated structure of calpain and its mechanism of inhibition by calpastatin, which we published in a 2008 Nature paper. After completing my thesis, I pursued protein structure-function studies as a PDF at the University of Toronto on phage-display used for antibody engineering. From there I worked as a Research Associate at The Hospital for Sick Children before joining Health Canada as a Biologist/Evaluator. Now, I work in the Biologic and Radiopharmaceutical Drugs Directorate, which regulates biological drugs, vaccines, radiopharmaceuticals, cells, tissues, and organs for human use. I evaluate the chemistry and manufacturing data for biologic drugs - no protein structure function studies and protein preps! I live in Ottawa with my family, and I am very appreciative of all the outdoor toddler-friendly activities Ottawa has to offer.

Derrick Rancourt, PhD

Professor, Depts Oncology, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Medical Genetics, U Calgary, AB

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Early on in my PhD (’83-’89) I knew I wanted to become a ‘genetic engineer’. I followed with interest the early efforts of the Davies, Fletcher and Hew labs in making freeze-resistant transgenic Atlantic salmon using a flounder antifreeze protein gene. My project involved expressing flounder and wolffish AFP genes in Drosophila melanogaster as a model system and was jointly supervised by Virginia Walker in the Department of Biology (My wife, Sue, was Virginia’s first PhD student. Married for 38.5 years, both of our daughters and our first grandson live in Nova Scotia). After postdoc training in Mario Capecchi’s lab, I established the University of Calgary’s Genome Engineering Facility. My team originally used embryonic stem cells (ESCs) as a conduit to generate genetically engineered mouse models. That experience also led us to deriving human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells. About 10 years ago, we pivoted to CRISPR and have extended our genetic engineering to human cell lines, to rats, and, in the near future, to pigs.    

Bernie Duncker, PhD

Associate Vice-President, Interdisciplinary Research, U Waterloo, ON

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Hello! I was a grad student at Queen’s from 1988 to 1995, initially an M.Sc. candidate then transferred to Ph.D. studies. I had the benefit of TWO great supervisors - Peter and Virginia Walker - for my project, optimizing transgenic expression of fish antifreeze protein, using Drosophila as a model organism (try explaining that to non-scientists!). I then moved to Lausanne for a Postdoc with Susan Gasser at the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research, using budding yeast to study the molecular mechanisms regulating the initiation of DNA replication. Much skiing, chocolate, cheese and data later I returned to Canada in 2000 to start up my own group in the Department of Biology at the University of Waterloo, continuing with yeast studies of DNA replication, and cell cycle checkpoints – with a few rainbow trout checkpoint protein investigations for good measure! In recent years I’ve taken on some administrative roles at UW, serving as Associate Dean of Science for Research (2013-18), and currently as Associate Vice-President, Interdisciplinary Research. Along the way, I have also become an avid runner … highly recommended to destress after a challenging day and a great way to experience new locales when travelling!