“Valuable” and “unforgettable.” That’s how Nada Ibrahim (pictured above) describes her experience this summer with the McGill Biomedical Research Accelerator (MBRA).
She’s one of nine students selected from a pool of 61 applicants for the inaugural cohort of this paid internship.
“It’s such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore my research interests and gain a wide variety of lab skills,” says Ibrahim, an Honours BSc student (Biochemistry IV) at McMaster University. “As an added bonus, it’s always been my dream to live in Montreal—and the MBRA allows me to do exactly that!”
The McGill Biomedical Research Accelerator is designed for students in their final year of undergraduate studies, who demonstrate a strong interest in pursuing biomedical research at the graduate level. Trainees receive a stipend for their living expenses while in the summer program. They pursue a collaborative research project and immerse themselves in McGill’s multidisciplinary research environment.
For her project, Ibrahim is exploring her passions for biomedical engineering and nanomedicine, working in the lab of Maryam Tabrizian, Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Canada Research Chair in Regenerative Medicine and Nanomedicine.
Ibrahim hopes her research may help to eventually lead to an osteoarthritis treatment. She explains her project:
One of the most widely researched nanoparticles are extracellular vesicles—which are of biological origin—and are released by almost all types of cells. Extracellular vesicles play a role in cell signaling and the pathogenesis of various human diseases, giving them the potential to act as gene and drug delivery systems. My project revolves around engineering extracellular vesicles from human mesenchymal stem cells to target gene delivery for the treatment of osteoarthritis.
Ibrahim describes the lab atmosphere as friendly and welcoming, and is quick to credit her PhD student supervisor, Antoine Karoichan (BSc’17, MSc’21). “He ensures we take it one step at a time—training me and gradually giving me independence over our project,” says Ibrahim.
Surpassing all expectations
The 15-week summer program is the brainchild of Alba Guarné, Associate Dean, Biomedical Sciences, in McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.
“The excitement generated by the MBRA has surpassed all our expectations,” says Prof. Guarné, who also serves as Director of McGill’s School of Biomedical Sciences and holds the Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Macromolecular Machines in DNA repair.
“The inaugural cohort is exceptional. The students are not only engaged with their projects and enjoying being embedded in their host laboratories, they are also keen on learning about their peers' projects and the ongoing research in the other units of the School.”
Weekly lunch sessions are offered to showcase different research areas and enhance the students’ professional skills. The program concludes with a research celebration where students present three-minute mini talks and have lunch with researchers and trainees in the School of Biomedical Sciences.
Applicants must be students entering their final year of undergraduate studies, as the program aims to encourage them to consider graduate studies in biomedical research. From this year’s applicant pool, 19 were shortlisted for interviews. Of the nine accepted, there are two from McGill, three from McMaster University, and four from Concordia University.
“A great way to experience McGill and Montreal”
Christian Jacobsen-Perez will be entering his fourth year of the Honours Biochemistry Program (Biomedical Research Specialization) at McMaster University.
This summer in the MBRA program, he is working on a joint project between the laboratories of Prof. Guarné and of Lawrence Kazak, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Institute.
Jacobsen-Perez describes his project:
We are studying how one of the proteins that help fat tissue regulate thermogenesis. The project spans structural biology to biochemistry to work in animal models and it will provide insight into the mechanisms that allow us to regulate our body temperature.
“I’ve always been interested in McGill and Montreal,” he says, “and I thought this program would be a great way to experience the city and the university.” He’s grateful for the stipend, which allowed him to move to Montreal for the summer without worrying about a summer job.
He credits how well organized the program is, with highly approachable administrative staff. He also enjoys the weekly lunch sessions, where the MBRA trainees meet investigators and learn about other research at McGill’s School of Biomedical Sciences.
“I’m really glad that I applied, and I was so excited to be accepted,” says Jacobsen-Perez.
“I feel like I’m a grad student for the summer”Sarah Ménard is already based in Montreal—she’s a student at Concordia University, entering the final year of her Honours BSc. She’s majoring in Cell and Molecular Biology, and minoring in Multidisciplinary Studies in Science.
“I’m interested in the biomedical sciences and I was intrigued by this opportunity to work in a lab at McGill for the summer,” says Ménard. She appreciates the opportunity to gain paid research experience in her field of study, which will help her decide where to pursue graduate studies.
Ménard is working in the lab of Prof. Alain Nepveu at the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Institute. Her research project is examining DNA repair pathways in cancer:
I’m working with two related proteins that are involved in repairing DNA damage, which can help cancer proliferate—this is good for the cancer, but bad for us. I’m working on identifying the specific regions of these proteins responsible for stimulating DNA repair. We do this by studying different versions of the proteins, either on their own or within human cancer cells that we grow in the lab. Gaining a better understanding of what allows cancer to grow and proliferate is crucial for finding new ways to target cancer cells and develop effective treatments.
“It’s been both stimulating and challenging,” says Ménard. “It’s exciting to apply knowledge from my courses in an actual research setting.”
She notes that working in a research lab is different from doing labs in undergraduate courses. “I feel like I’m a grad student for the summer.”
Feeding a hunger for the biomedical sciences
The McGill Biomedical Research Accelerator provides trainees with guidance on graduate studies and encourages them to consider the wide range of opportunities within a career in biomedical research.
Alba Guarné commends the commitment of McGill’s faculty members in supporting the launch of the MBRA. “McGill researchers have been engaged and extremely generous with their time,” she says. “The weekly training sessions lead to lively research discussions and MBRA students are constantly hungry for more.”
This summer’s MBRA trainees are working in labs across the different units in the School of Biomedical Sciences, including Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Microbiology and Immunology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, as well as the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Institute and the Lady Davis Institute.
Guarné looks forward to future iterations of the MBRA. Ultimately, the goal is to attract a 25-person cohort each summer.
“We could not have asked for a better Class of 2022,” says Guarné. “We’re looking forward to broadening the scope of the program and expanding the learning experience for the Class of 2023.”