2020 Banting Fellows

Meet some of the 2020 recipients of one of Canada’s most prestigious postdoctoral awards, exemplifying world-class research capacity at an internationally competitive level of funding.

Pierre-Luc Brisson, History and Classical Studies

Fear: A Study on the Impacts of International Unipolarity on Rome's Decision-Making Process in the Second Century BCE (200-146 BCE), and the Role of Fear as a Political and Social Construct Within Roman Public Opinion.

Pierre-Luc Brisson is working under the supervision of Prof. Michael Fronda at the Department of History and Classical Studies of McGill Universtiy. Previously, Dr. Brisson received a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship (2017-2020) and two doctoral fellowships granted by the prestigious École française de Rome (2018, 2019). His work adopts an interdisciplinary approach to the study of Roman imperialism at the intersection of international relations studies and classical history.

In line with his previous work on international unipolarity in the Ancient world, Dr. Brisson will analyze the impact of fear as an inherent consequence of the unipolar structure of the Mediterranean world in the first half of the 2nd century BC (200-146 BC). Particularly, he will explore the role of fear in the decision-making process of the Roman political class, and its impact on the assemblies of the Roman people. Thus, Dr. Brisson aims to contribute to the larger discussion on the value of psychology to the study of international relations, and the role of perceptions in the maintenance of peace under international unipolarity.

(Photo courtesy of Clément Salviani)

Roberta Cagnetta, Biochemistry

Role and regulatory mechanisms of pre- versus post-synaptic mRNA translation in memory formation and retrieval within glutamatergic neurons of an intact neural circuit.

One of the most fundamental properties of the brain is the ability to make and recall memories, from minutes to years. The incidence of memory impairment (~8% among Canadians aged 75 and older) is escalating with population aging. To tackle this problem it is fundamental to understand the molecular mechanisms underpinning memory. As a Banting Fellow, supervised by Prof. Nahum Sonenberg, I will investigate the mRNA translational changes and control mechanisms underlying the process of memory at single cell type resolution and at synaptic level within an intact circuit. Furthermore, I will examine the function of mRNA candidates translated at the synapse in response to neuronal activity and in memory. This study will bring invaluable insight to our understanding of the processes underpinning memory and neural circuit maintenance, setting the stage to developing precision therapeutic approaches, with significant implications for the improvement of population health.

Omur Dagdeviren, Physics

Revealing the Exciton Dynamics and Challenging the Existence of Trapped-Excitons.

Atomically thin structures are being explored both for fundamental research and applications. For this reason, optoelectronic properties are important for energy, communication, and computing technologies; however, light-matter interaction is the main limiting factor for the operation and the lifetime of devices. As a Banting Fellow, I propose to investigate the light-matter interactions in thin structures by locally measuring the time-resolved formation and decay of excitons (electron-hole pair bound via the electrostatic Coulomb interaction). Current optoelectronic experiments only measure properties averaged over large areas or volumes. Such averaging impedes having a conclusive understanding of local optoelectronic properties. In particular, it is not well understood how different, heterogeneous interfaces and associated defects in these material systems alter the local optoelectronic properties and thus the relevant governing physical principles at atomic length scales.

To fill the gap for this fundamental problem, I will concentrate on the heterostructures of transition-metal dichalcogenides and conduct time-resolved scanning probe microscopy measurements to reveal the effect of spatially periodic potential variations of the sample on excitons. My experiments, which correlate physical properties at the ultimate spatial and temporal limits will not only resolve long-lasting scientific problems of charge generation, transport, and storage in complex material systems but will also have an impact on the environment as an enhanced understanding of optoelectronic properties is the premier requirement for nanophotonics, quantum information, and sustainable renewable energy applications.

Mohamed Eldeeb, Neurology and Neurosurgery

Structure of human PINK1-TOM complex by single-particle cryo-EM.

Mitochondrial damage plays an important role in the development of Parkinson’s disease (PD). PD is caused by the death of specific kind of neurons, which regulate muscle movement and coordination. To do their job properly, these nerve cells require large amounts of energy, provided by mitochondria. In normal subjects, when mitochondria are damaged, an enzyme called PINK1 charges to the scene of a mitochondrial damage. Like a firefighter, PINK1 first receives a signal and then goes through a series of steps to label the damaged mitochondria, so that these mitochondria are selectively removed. However, in PD, PINK1 doesn't perform its function properly. This leads to increase in mitochondrial damage. Notably, we don't know much details about how PINK1 protein tags damaged mitochondria. My project aims to understand the atomic details of this process using Cryo-EM. By knowing the details of this process, we will better understand how PINK1 communicates with damaged mitochondria.

Alexandra Keinath, Psychiatry

A causal test of the hippocampal circuits mediating pattern completion

Most of us have had the experience of smelling, tasting, seeing, or hearing something that triggers a sudden vivid memory. In neuroscience, this filling in of a memory is often called pattern completion. For years people have thought that a particular chunk of brain, the trisynaptic circuit of the hippocampus, might be responsible for this process; however, we lacked the tools to test this possibility in a fully satisfying way. Recently, other labs have developed the tools to do so: the ability to measure what is happening in many neurons at once while temporarily manipulating a neural circuit of interest. As a Banting fellow, I will leverage these tools to causally test the idea that the trisynaptic circuit is responsible for pattern completion. If our theories are correct, then the hippocampus should no longer recreate an entire memory from its parts when the trisynaptic circuit is turned off. The outcome of these experiments will thus provide insight into this crucial feature of memory and help us better understand cases in which memory does not function correctly.

Véronique Latreille, Neurology

Stimulating the sleeping brain to improve memory.

Specific brain waves during sleep are believed to play a crucial role in learning by strengthening the brain’s memory traces. We propose that manipulating these sleep waves may enhance the learning process and potentially improve memory function. This work aims to determine if manipulation of sleep using direct brain stimulation can strengthen learning and memory processes. Our study will target adults with refractory seizures, as epilepsy is the only disease where electrodes are inserted into the brain. Furthermore, people with epilepsy also frequently have significant memory impairments, which are highly debilitating and negatively affecting their quality of life. The ultimate goal of our work is to use this knowledge to understand how electrical stimulation during sleep can be used to treat memory dysfunction. It is our hope that this work will ultimately improve quality of life of individuals suffering from memory issues.

Bertrand Lavoie, Law

Ethics, Equality Rights and Religious Values: Collaborative Research with the Clinical Ethics Unit of Sainte-Justine Hospital.

As a Banting Fellow, my research aims to understand how ethical issues related to equality rights and freedom of religion are treated in a pediatric hospital, in order to clarify the important role ethicists play in their daily work. I will work with Professor Daniel Weinstock, in close collaboration with the Unité d’éthique clinique of the Sainte-Justine Francophone Hospital in Montreal (Unité). I will study the functioning of this organization and the influence that the pediatric dimension can have on the resolution of ethical dilemmas in pediatric health care. My collaborative research will foster productive bilingual interactions between the Unité, the Institute of Health and Social Policy (IHSP) and the McGill Faculty of Law. This will address these interdisciplinary challenges and better support and equip pediatric ethicists with research data that has been collected jointly with them.

(Photo courtesy of Manoucheka L)

Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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