Meet some of the 2019 recipients of one of Canada’s most prestigious postdoctoral awards, exemplifying world-class research capacity at an internationally competitive level of funding.
Elena Kuzmin, Biochemistry
Identifying co-operating genetic mutations within large chromosomal deletions associated with triple negative breast cancer
Cancer is associated with an accumulation of alterations in genes that enable cancer cells to grow uncontrollably. These alterations contribute to increased deleterious function or loss of function of genes that normally regulate cell growth. It is now recognized that in addition to alterations in single genes, large deletions on chromosomes comprising multiple genes are also important events in cancer. As a Banting fellow, supervised by Prof. Morag Park, my project will focus on a large deletion, frequently found in a subset of breast cancer called triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). This subset has no targeted therapies and has the worst survival. The aim of my project is to use recently developed technology to study which combinations of genes in large chromosomal deletions are important in cancer. Such a systematic identification of genetic interactions within large chromosomal deletions is expected to reveal genetic events that modulate TNBC, enhance our understanding of the disease and offer possible avenues for personalized interventions to individuals diagnosed with TNBC.
Daniele Michilli, Physics and Astronomy
Cosmic radio explosions: understanding Fast Radio Bursts and using them to explore the Universe
In 2007, astronomers detected a radio signal from the sky that was unlike any seen before. It lasted only a millisecond, but was extremely bright. Even more unexpectedly, its characteristics implied that it arrived from an unidentified galaxy billions of light years away. This type of explosion, more powerful than anything ever observed at similar wavelengths and timescales, is now termed a Fast Radio Burst.
After more than a decade, we only know of 35 Fast Radio Burst sources. Due to this small sample and the low quality of most detections, we are still puzzling over the celestial object and mechanism capable of producing such incredible explosions. However, if we understand how these explosions originate, we could use them as a new tool to study the Universe, like a thunderstorm illuminating its surroundings on a dark night. Fast Radio Bursts could also be used to perform physics experiments under extreme conditions not possible to replicate in our laboratories on Earth.
A brand new Canadian radio telescope, called CHIME, recently started to discover several new Fast Radio Bursts. This is revolutionizing the way these explosions are studied. However, the telescope is not being used to the limit of its capabilities. In fact, essential information on Fast Radio Bursts is obtained using a property of radio waves known as polarisation. Though CHIME is built to detect polarisation, the software and calibration necessary to accurately study the polarisation of Fast Radio Bursts is currently lacking. Working together with the CHIME team leading the study of Fast Radio Bursts at McGill University, I will extend the telescope to study the polarisation properties of Fast Radio Bursts. By analyzing a large number of them, the study is perfectly suited to finally unveil their origin and to use them to explore our Universe.