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Announcing 2018’s IIDR Summer Student Fellowship Recipients!

Back Row: Christine Chow (Dr. Michael Surette), Hanu Chaudhari (Dr. Matthew Miller), Peter Zeng (Dr. Matthew Miller), Zain Cheema (Dr. Michael Surette), Aaron De Jong (Dr. Eric Brown), Tammy Lau (Dr. Andrew McArthur). Front Row: Judy Chen (Dr. David Earn), Sommer Chou (Dr. Gerry Wright), Pardis Balari (Dr. Sara Andres), Joseph Chon (Dr. Dawn Bowdish). Missing from photo: Michael Chong (Dr. David Earn).

Congratulations to our eleven 2018 IIDR Summer Student Fellowship recipients!

This prestigious award – now in its sixth year – is worth $1,000, and designed to support students working in the labs of IIDR members during their summer practicum.

Our eleven undergraduate students were selected this year based on their personal leadership, extracurricular involvement, and academic achievement, and their project’s potential impact and contribution to the field of infectious disease research.

Find out more about this year’s recipients and their diverse research projects below.

Name: Pardis Balari
Area of Focus: Biochemistry
Supervisor: Dr. Sara Andres, Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences
Research: Pardis’ research focus is on understanding the molecular details of non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) as a repair mechanism used to promote bacterial survival after DNA damage, including exposure to antimicrobials. She will specifically be exploring the interaction of the two main proteins involved in the process, Ku and LigD.

“I’m beyond grateful for having been given the opportunity to join the IIDR as a trainee and to work with inspiring individuals on cutting-edge research. The IIDR Summer Student Fellowship Award is allowing me to start off strong with my involvement in this institution and I look forward to seeing where this journey is going to take me.”



Name: Hanu Chaudhari
Area of Focus: Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization
Supervisor: Dr. Matthew Miller, Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences
Research: Hanu’s research is focused on the development of a broadly-neutralizing antibody drug that can prevent Influenza A virus infections.

“This award reminds me that professors and staff are enthusiastic about helping mentor the next generation of scientists. As well, it reinforces the link between basic science and drug discovery – motivating me to continue in this field for the future.”




Name: Zain Cheema
Area of Focus: Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization
Supervisor: Dr. Michael Surette, Medicine
Research: Despite our improved understanding of the role of intestinal microbiota in the development of several medical conditions, little is known if gut-derived bacteria play a role in the pathogenesis of mental illness. Over the next few months, Zain will focus on establishing improved methods for identifying specific bacterial isolates by complete sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene and whole genome sequencing. Characterization of these bacteria will allow for studies on causation and identify functional activities that could be exploited to develop new therapeutics. More specifically, Zain will investigate the role of Alistipes, an important part of the intestinal bacterial population, in the pathogenesis of mental illnesses.

“As an IIDR trainee, not only am I given the opportunity to participate in groundbreaking research but also to learn from the best in the field. I am really excited and look forward to what the next few months have to bring.”


Name: Judy Chen
Area of Focus: Health Sciences, Mathematical Biology
Supervisor: Dr. David Earn, Mathematics and Statistics
Research: Judy is creating an R package that implements statistical methods such as the Serfling Method for estimating annual influenza mortality. Her work will be available publicly as open-source software, and will be extremely useful for current influenza epidemiologists. Judy’s work will shed light on how the burden of influenza has changed over time, and will furthermore help inform national and international public health decision making.

“The intersection between mathematics and biology has always been something that I have sought out given my deep interest in both subjects. This award has not only given me the opportunity to find and explore this interdisciplinary area of research this summer but has also given recognition to this often overlooked field of study. I am extremely honoured to help facilitate this endeavour under the mentorship of the many highly talented and passionate research professionals at the IIDR, and excited to see where my research takes me!”


Name: Joseph Chon
Area of Focus: Biomedical Sciences, Immunology
Supervisor: Dr. Dawn Bowdish, Pathology and Molecular Medicine
Research: Joseph is investigating why ageing macrophages are less able to kill Streptococcus pneumoniae compared to their younger counterparts. He aims to characterize how tumour necrosis factor alpha – an age-associated proinflammatory cytokine – causes defects in the intracellular bacterial killing mechanism of macrophages using a bead-based, real-time spectrofluorometric technique that characterizes dynamics of phagosomal luminal biology. The information from this project will provide greater insight into the mechanisms underlying the age-associated increase in susceptibility to pneumonia in elderly populations.

“I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to build upon my senior thesis project during the summer months. Being an IIDR trainee for 2 years has greatly enriched my undergraduate education. The exposure to thoughtful mentors and peers in this institution has helped me lay down the foundations of critical thinking, perseverance, and professionalism.”



Name: Michael Chong
Area of Focus: Mathematical Epidemiology
Supervisor: Dr. David Earn, Mathematics and Statistics
Research: This summer, Michael will continue using mathematical tools to understand the 1918 influenza epidemic in Ontario. This will involve constructing compartmental models to fit a detailed dataset from that time to better understand the factors affecting the transmission of influenza.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the IIDR’s support of student researchers. It gives me the opportunity to develop interdisciplinary research skills in a welcoming environment, and learn from the passionate researchers we have at McMaster. I’m encouraged by this award to continue pursuing and sharing impactful scientific research.”



Name: Sommer Chou
Area of Focus: Biochemistry
Supervisor: Dr. Gerry Wright, Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences
Research: The antibiotic resistance platform (ARP) is a tool used in the discovery of novel antibacterial compounds through antibiotic dereplication and adjuvant identification. Sommer is currently working on expanding the ARP by increasing the number of beta-lactamase-encoding genes that have been cloned and fully characterized via susceptibility assays.

“As an IIDR trainee, I have the opportunity to learn from a number of exemplary scientists and take part in the groundbreaking research they conduct. I am extremely grateful for the experience and to have the importance of my work recognized with the IIDR Summer Fellowship award.”



Name: Christine Chow
Area of Focus: Biomedical Discovery & Commercialization
Supervisor: Dr. Michael Surette, Medicine
Research: Christine examines how the type VII secretion system (T7SS) contributes to virulence in the Streptococcus Milleri (SMG), an overlooked group of respiratory and invasive pathogens. By identifying cues that upregulate T7SS expression, she hopes to clarify the environmental conditions under which the SMG become clinically relevant and optimize in vitro phenotypes of T7SS activity. Her research is intended to validate the role of the T7SS in streptococcal virulence, provide a diagnostic means of identifying more virulent strains, and ultimately bring further recognition to the SMG as pathogens of note.

“As a student researcher, it’s incredibly encouraging to have the scope of your research endeavours supported and validated by an established institute such as the IIDR. I’m excited to see what progress I make with my project over the next few months, and I look forward to using this award as an opportunity to get others excited about it as well!”



Name: Aaron De Jong
Area of Focus: Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization
Supervisor: Dr. Eric Brown, Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences
Research: Aaron is determining which of the genes required for multidrug-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae survival in human bloodstream infections are also required for survival in various mammalian models. As these genes represent potential antibacterial targets, understanding the necessity of these genes in different mammals will allow for more accurate modelling of K. pneumoniae bloodstream infections and treatment targets.

“This award provides me with support to learn from an incredibly creative and knowledgeable team of researchers so that I can develop the tools necessary to do meaningful work to combat superbugs throughout the summer and beyond.”



Name: Tammy Lau
Area of Focus: Antimicrobial Resistance and Bioinformatics
Supervisor: Dr. Andrew McArthur, Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences
Research: Tammy is developing an algorithm to be able to predict the pathogen-of-origin of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) gene sequences from metagenomic samples through a k-mer based approach. As metagenomics sequencing grows in popularity for broader AMR surveillance in samples from clinical settings, Tammy aims to optimize her lab’s Resistance Gene Identifier software to be able to analyze this data.

“This award provides me with the opportunity to continue to work in an interdisciplinary setting that bridges two of my interests, biochemistry and data science. Through my time with the McArthur Lab, I’ve become positive that I’d like a career as a bioinformatician and I’m thankful that being an IIDR trainee allows me to build my skill set. I’m also lucky to work in such a positive environment that encourages mentorship at all levels and collaborations between various researchers and labs.”



Name: Yu Fan (Peter) Zeng
Area of Focus: Health Sciences, Biomedical Sciences
Supervisor: Dr. Matthew Miller, Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences
Research: Senataxin (SETX) is a DNA/RNA helicase that has been implicated in two juvenile neurodegenerative diseases. The Miller lab has recently shown that SETX plays important roles in regulating the immune response against multiple pathogens. Peter is using genetic and genomics approaches to elucidate the role SETX and the immune system plays in neurodegeneration.

“I am grateful for the opportunity IIDR has provided me to pursue cutting-edge research this summer. The world-class research being conducted by members of the IIDR and its wide-ranging impacts in the real world further motivate me to continue a career in science.”