Meet Some of Our Graduate Students

Kim Tran, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Maziar Divangahi

I obtained my BSc in Microbiology and Immunology at McGill University. Under the supervision of Dr. Divangahi, my research will be focused on the iron metabolism of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, particularly the iron-dependent programmed cell death termed ferroptosis. Examining the interplay between the immune system and the pathogenesis of bacteria and viruses is key to applying academic research towards novel infectious disease therapies that have the potential to help millions around the world. I look forward to contributing to this purpose while following a career path I am passionate about. This university is where I developed a deep interest for scientific research during my time in the Honours program of Microbiology and Immunology. I am truly excited to be continuing my academic career at McGill and starting this new chapter as part of the Department of Pathology. Pursuing research in such an institution is an incredible opportunity to enter academia and the scientific community alongside such distinguished scientists.

Farah Abdalbari, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Carlos Telleria

I completed my undergraduate degree in Microbiology and Immunology at Dalhousie University. As a student in the lab of Dr. Telleria, I will be focusing on preclinical therapy of ovarian cancer. During my undergraduate studies, I became interested in different areas of research such as immunology, cell biology, and cancer which encouraged me to explore graduate studies at McGill. My primary interests include developing novel therapies against cancer and autoimmune diseases, and I would like to be involved in clinical trials and translational research in the future. I strongly believe that the broad range of basic and translational research techniques that the Pathology program at McGill has to offer would allow me to expand my knowledge in scientific research. I am extremely grateful to become a member of the Pathology Department at McGill and I am looking forward to live in Montreal.

Alexandra Bartolomucci, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Julia Burnier

I completed my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at McGill University. Throughout my degree I learned about the cellular mechanisms of various diseases and became particularly interested in cancer. This interest led me to complete a research project in a Thoracic and Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer Research Laboratory at the RI-MUHC. I had the pleasure of collaborating with Dr. Julia Burnier during this time and gained practical insight into how liquid biopsies from cancer patients have the potential to improve the diagnosis and prognosis of cancers. After graduating, I was able to continue working in cancer research as a laboratory assistant at the Montreal General Hospital and gained experience with patient-derived organoids and xenografts. I am extremely grateful to now pursue graduate studies in the Department of Pathology under the supervision of Dr. Julia Burnier and am looking forward to continuing my studies at McGill!

Lingxiao Chen, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Nancy Braverman

I completed my undergrad in the Department of Pharmacology at McGill, and the experience from my undergrad research project related to epilepsy raised my interest to further devote in pathophysiological research. My project will aim to work on the topic of peroxisome dysfunction and its adverse effect on mouse model of Zellweger syndrome. It is my honor to work with Dr. Braverman. I'm really excited by this new challenge and can't wait to see you in our beautiful campus!

Yunxi Chen, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Julia Burnier

I obtained my B.Sc. in the Honours program of Computer Science and Biology at McGill University. When I started my undergrad, I wasn’t sure what to pursue in my future career until I learned about the development of cancer in my Biology courses and found I am deeply interested in learning more. In the winter of 2019, I had the great fortune of volunteering in Dr. Julia Burnier’s laboratory at the RI-MUHC, studying the role of cancer stem cells and the proteomics of the extracellular vesicles of uveal melanoma. From the research experience, I affirmed my interest in cancer research and set it as my career goal to help patients through scientific work. I am truly delighted to pursue my grad studies in the Department of Pathology under the supervision of Dr. Julia Burnier with all the kind and talented people. I am looking forward to opening a new chapter as part of the warm community in the beautiful city, Montreal.

Tadhg Ferrier, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Julia Burnier

I obtained my undergraduate degree in Pharmacology at McGill, where I also had the chance to start doing research in the Henry C. Witelson Ocular Pathology Laboratory, doing work looking at metastasis markers in Uveal Melanoma, especially relating to the importance of BAP1 protein expression on the prognosis of patients. From there, I had the chance to start doing work in Dr. Julia Burnier’s Laboratory, looking at Methylation Signatures in Uveal Melanoma using the TCGA database. These first opportunities in research reinforced my desire to continue doing cancer research in a translational environment, where it is possible to immediately see the potential impact of your work on the lives of patients. I am very excited to have the opportunity to pursue my graduate studies in the Department of Pathology at McGill, and to be able to work with such talented and driven people. Currently, I am working on research in methylation analysis and liquid biopsy techniques for cancer detection and prognostication.

Meagan Cobb, MSc candidate
Supervisor: Dr. Joanna Przybyl

I completed my undergraduate studies here at McGill University in the spring of 2023, majoring in Physiology. Throughout my bachelor’s degree, I gained a lot of knowledge about how physiological systems encode and process information in order to ensure human health, as well as how these systems can be affected by disease. Curious about the idea of a future career in research, I completed a summer internship where I worked on characterizing the functions of non-coding RNAs in bacterial metabolism. I am now very excited to be starting my master’s research under the supervision of Dr. Joanna Przybyl at the Research Institute of the MUHC. My project will focus on the study of circulating DNA of soft tissue tumours for the improvement of cancer detection and surveillance through liquid biopsy.

Zhaoping (Aaron) Ju, PhDc

Supervisor: Dr. Alex Gregorieff

Before joining the Department of Pathology, I completed my bachelor’s degree in Anatomy and Cell Biology at McGill University. Throughout my undergraduate study, understanding diseases and their cellular underpinnings have always been my primary interest. It is a great honor and opportunity for me to continue exploring the field of pathology under the supervision of Dr. Alex Gregorieff. During my graduate degree, I will be studying the Hippo signalling pathway underlying intestinal stem cell behavior and tumorigenesis. I’m truly excited to continue my study at McGill, one of the most prestigious university in the world, and staying in the beautiful city of Montreal.

Ben Forgie, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Carlos Telleria

I obtained my BMSc from Western University, where I specialized in biochemistry. My undergraduate research primarily focused on understanding the proteins involved in specific DNA repair pathways. While I found those topics interesting, I discovered throughout my undergraduate education that I am even more interested in research surrounding cancer biology and the development of novel treatments. This fascination led me to pursue my MSc in the pathology department at McGill, where I will be studying ovarian cancer in the lab of Dr. Carlos Telleria. More specifically, I will be researching whether the compounds Nelfinavir and Mifepristone, previously demonstrated by the Telleria lab to be capable of inducing ER stress and killing ovarian cancer cells, can also facilitate immunogenic cell death. I am incredibly excited to join Dr. Telleria’s lab, to be a part of the graduate community at McGill, and to get to know the wonderful city of Montreal!

Fatemeh Jamali, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Bassam Abdulkarim

I started as a PhD student in September 2020 investigating new molecular mechanisms involved in glioblastoma resistance to current standard therapy and efficacy of a repurposed drug in human glioblastoma cell lines and patient-derived glioblastoma stem cells. My academic interests have evolved from my university studies and my intrinsic observations of the global society in which I live in. My research work in the field of microbiology has inspired me to look closer at the societal needs in biomedicine evolution, that’s why I successfully finished both bachelor and master programs in Microbiology. I have always been fascinated by cancer research and have decided to continue my research in that field. This has driven me to achieve another master’s degree in Biotechnology at McGill university, to help me develop specific skills that can be applied in cancer research, exercising various techniques and detecting new ones.

Kattreen Hanna, MSc candidate
Supervisor: Dr. Shuk On Annie Leung

I obtained my BMSc at Western University, with an Honours Specialization in Interdisciplinary Medical Sciences (IMS). I became interested in the subject and chose pathology as my area of interest for graduate study after taking a course called "Translational Models of Cancer" during my undergraduate studies. This course introduced ovarian and cervical cancer in terms of histology, prognosis, biomarkers, imaging, and sites of metastasis. Under the supervision of Dr. Shuk on Annie Leung, my master’s thesis will focus on investigating biomarkers relevant to cervical pre-cancer and cancer. I am extremely excited to join Dr. Leung’s lab, join the graduate community at McGill University, and explore the city of Montréal!

Roham Gorgani, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Carolyn Baglole

Roham obtained his Hons. B.Sc. in Life Sciences at McMaster University. During his undergraduate career, he performed research at SickKids: The Hospital for Sick Children, investigating the mechanisms underlying lipid disorders in metabolic disease such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. This is where he developed his research interests focusing on the relationship between poor lifestyle habits and the onset of disease. This led him to his current thesis project, investigating the systemic and pulmonary immune response to cannabis vape products. With the recent legalization of cannabis, the popularity of vape products among the younger demographic, and the lack of scientific research in his specific field, he is extremely grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to such an emerging industry.

Erica Mandato, MSc candidate
Supervisors: Dr. Shuk On Annie Leung and Dr. Julia Burnier

I am a recent graduate of the Gerald Bronfman Department of Oncology Diploma Program at McGill University. I also completed my Bachelor of Science at McGill, with a Major in Honours Microbiology And Immunology and a Minor in Italian Studies. My journey in research began in the final year of my undergraduate degree. When taking more advanced immunology courses, I gained a greater appreciation for the complex molecular mechanisms that underlie host-pathogen interactions and how these interactions play a vital role in the development and treatment of various diseases. This newfound interest is what motivated me to take on my first wet lab experience at the Research Institute of the MUHC in 2019. Under the supervision of Dr. Inés Colmegna, our team developed a protocol for the fluorescent detection of circulating extracellular vesicles in human sera to determine their immunomodulatory role in arthritis patients post-influenza vaccination. After completing my BSc, I decided to pursue a 1-year Graduate Program in Oncology to deepen my understanding of immunology and viruses in the context of carcinogenesis. As part of my Oncology Practicum, I worked with Drs. Shuk On Annie Leung and Julia Burnier on a project that linked HPV viral infection to cervical cancer screening. More specifically, the goal of this project was to establish a minimally invasive screening approach that would allow for the assessment of patients’ cancer risk based on their levels of circulating HPV oncogene sequences in liquid biopsy samples (blood, urine, vaginal swab, and cervical cytology). Since becoming the project’s Clinical Research Coordinator, my role in the HPV study has been to select, approach, and consent patients for study participation and manage sample collection. Now that I am continuing this project as part of my Masters in Pathology, my aim is to design experiments that evaluate the biopsy technique’s full potential not just in cancer screening but also in the prognosis of patients before, during, and after treatment.

Amélie Nadeau, MSc candidate
Supervisor: Dr. Julia Burnier

I obtained my B.Sc. in animal physiology at Université de Montréal. Prior to my scientific education, I pursued teaching training and practiced the discipline of Yoga, which sparked within me a strong interest in studying pathologies and the interconnected systems of the body. This passion led me to deepen my knowledge and pursue my studies in biology, during which I had the fortune to complete a research project in the enriching laboratory of Dr. Burnier. I investigated the presence of molecules derived from tumor cells in uveal melanoma and colorectal cancer and discovered liquid biopsies to improve diagnosis and disease prognosis. Upon obtaining my university degree, I had the privilege of continuing my research and conduct my master’s project on the role of tumor-derived extracellular vesicles and circulating tumor DNA molecules in metastatic breast cancer progression and their potential use as sensitive liquid biopsy biomarkers for personalized care. I am honored to work amongst such talented researchers and grateful for pursuing my M.Sc. in the department of Pathology at McGill. I hope to expand my research perspective and to further understanding cancer and disease progression.

Julia Messina-Pacheco, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Alex Gregorieff

 I completed the BSc Program in the multidisciplinary field of Life Sciences (Honours) at McGill. It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to study at such a renowned university in Montreal, a city that I am proud to call ‘home’ – it is beautifully vibrant, dynamic and multicultural. From a very young age, I have had a deep-rooted interest in the human body, how its parts function cohesively, and above all, what causes it to function abnormally. My innate curiosity for all concepts pertaining to the pathophysiology and progression of disease has led me to join Dr. Alex Gregorieff's lab at the McGill Research Institute of the MUHC to complete my doctoral degree in Pathology. Our project is directed toward improving the early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, which is currently nearly always fatal, since it is usually detected at a late stage when it is already impossible to cure. This is a childhood dream come true and I look forward to having research results be translated to the scientific community where they can potentially be of great benefit.

Leonardo F. Jurado, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Maziar Divangahi

I am a Colombian medical doctor graduated from the National University of Colombia. During my undergraduate studies I had the opportunity to study virulence, pathogenesis and the clinical presentation of Tuberculosis (TB) and Non-Tuberculous Mycobacterial infections, and as part of an internship at Harvard Medical School, I worked on mycobacterial interspecies interactions. TB is the most lethal infectious disease in the world. Undoubtedly, an effective vaccine is needed to overcome the burden of this disease. Considering most of my research work has been focused on infectious diseases, particularly TB, I decided to continue studying this disease, which represents one of the biggest historical challenges for medical science. Recent approaches of Dr. Divangahi's team deciphering disease tolerance and trained immunity in TB may led to unexplored ways to face infection and disease progression. Through my PhD studies, my project will focus on the potential combination of BCG vaccine and recent available adjuvants for inducing innate memory response and vaccine against TB. I plan to exploit the cellular and molecular mechanisms of protective signatures in innate memory compartments (termed trained immunity) for vaccine development against TB.

Rewati Prakash, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Carlos Telleria

I completed a B.Sc. in Biomedical Sciences at University of Guelph as well as a coursework M.Sc. in Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, focusing on Human Anatomy. I am quite excited to join the Pathology Department at McGill as a MSc student with Dr. Carlos Telleria as my supervisor. I will be studying the response of histopathologically different ovarian cancer cells to Pt derivatives. During my undergraduate studies I took human anatomy courses where I was first exposed to cadaver specimens who had a disease including uterine and ovarian cancer. My interest in studying diseases was what drew me to the Pathology graduate program at McGill. I am thrilled to become a part of the Pathology department as well as to move to Quebec and experience the culture of this new city and province.

Vincent Lacasse, PhDc
Supervisors: Dr. Alan Spatz and Dr. Christoph Borchers

I completed my bachelor’s degree in Pharmacology at University of Sherbrooke, where I discovered the wonders and the failures of the human body. I soon noticed a great variability in the effectiveness of treatments, which was often related to the lack of characterization of disease prior to treatment. Searching for tools to solve this problem, I stumbled upon mass spectrometry-based proteomics to which I was introduced during my internships. This leads to the completion of my master’s degree working on antibody-drug conjugate resistance mechanisms and technologies to avoid and/or overcome resistance using proteomics as a tool to gain insight into cancer biology. Although I said for a very long time that I would never do a PhD, my mind changed when I found out Dr. Borchers and Dr. Spatz work on bringing together proteomics research and clinical pathology. Being able to advance science and medicine in one of the best universities in Canada and in one of the best student cities in the world was apparently a dream I didn’t even know I had.

Willem Rijnbout, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Carolyn Baglole

I received my BSc in Medical Biology from the University of New England. During my undergraduate studies, I conducted a number of research projects on the novel protein biomarker, Collagen Triple Helix Repeat Containing 1 (CTHRC1). The three focuses of my research were:
(1) to characterize CTHRC1 involvement in altering the tumor microenvironment in metastatic carcinogenesis,
(2) elucidate the relationship between CTHRC1 and NFKb signaling in the context of vascular inflammation,
(3) characterize the role and expression of CTHRC1 in interstitial lung disease (ILD) subtypes (This work was especially exciting as it was the first time in which CTHRC1 had been assayed in interstitial lung disease patients).
Prior to this work, I was uncertain if a career in research was the “right” path. However, the curiosity and deep sense of purpose building through each project propelled me to ultimately apply to graduate school. As I take a step into this next chapter of my life, I can only reflect on how grateful I am for the encouragement and tough-love given to me by my past mentors and peers. I’m thrilled and grateful to be joining the program under Dr. Baglole to continue research on the molecular mechanisms of lung disease. On a more personal note, I’m ecstatic about moving to Montreal, where I’ll not only be closer to family, but also be in an incredible place to balance my academic life with my passion for cooking, rock climbing, and photography.

Guy Namir, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Alan Spatz

I finished my B.Sc in Biology – Psychology at Ben Gurion University in Israel, where I realized that Pathology, and specifically cancer research, is my true passion. I continued to pursue cancer research and develop my scientific abilities during my M.Sc. in Clinical Microbiology and Immunology at Tel Aviv University. After that, I wanted to use my knowledge to help people in need, which led me to work in the private section in a pathological medical lab. Moreover, I started a scientific podcast to simplify scientific topics for the public, by hosting researchers, from academia and industry, who explain their scientific fields. After experiencing this field, and being promoted to head of department, I realized that my passion truly lies in research. I used my abilities to discover the “what,” however, I lacked an understanding of the “why” and “how.” Therefore, I moved to a biotechnology company to practice my research skills once again. Now, after being accepted to McGill University, I once again work in cancer research, to better understand the relations between melanoma metastasis, to a protein that was found in high levels in patients and is related to poor prognosis. I’m excited about living in a new wonderful country, and solving scientific issues in the field that intriguing me since I started my academic path.

Ahmed Saif, MSc candidate
Supervisor: Dr. Maziar Divangahi

I completed my undergraduate degree in Life Sciences at McMaster University where I pursued an undergraduate thesis focused on studying the structures of bacteriophage microgels, and their uses as potential alternatives to traditional antibiotics. During my undergraduate studies, I developed an interest in immunology and human pathophysiology, which led me to this program. Under the supervision of Dr. Divangahi, my MSc thesis will aim to study the process of trained immunity and identify the stages of hematopoiesis at which lineage bias occurs.

Kristina Nikolaou, MSc candidate
Supervisor: Dr. Maziar Divangahi

Before starting my MSc, I was studying at McGill University in the Microbiology and Immunology program, where I obtained my bachelor's degree. I’ve always been interested in disease pathogenesis and immunology, an interest that only grew more intense during my undergrad thanks to both the theory and especially lab courses. Thanks to my undergrad, I decided that Pathology was the perfect program for me. My master’s thesis aims to understand the genomic differences between BCG-Tice and BCG-Pasteur, as well as determine how BCG-Pasteur could provide protection against SARS-CoV-2 when compared to the inability of BCG-Tice to do the same. I’m so excited to be here and finally have research to call my own.

Julia Spilak, MSc candidate
Supervisor: Dr. Sonia Cellot

I recently completed my undergraduate degree in Pharmacology here at McGill University. My undergraduate studies taught me how drugs interact with the human body and the various intricate mechanisms that govern physiological processes. Armed with a solid understanding of pharmacological principles, I decided to delve deeper into the mystery of disease by pursuing a master’s degree in Pathology. I am now very excited to be starting my master’s research under Dr. Sonia Cellot’s supervision at Centre de Recherche du CHU Sainte-Justine. This project aims to investigate novel therapeutic vulnerabilities in high-fatality pediatric leukemia. Over the past year or so, I’ve had the privilege to refine my patient care skills, while working as an aide in both the Internal Medicine and Radiology departments at the Montreal General Hospital. Eventually, I aspire to bridge the knowledge obtained through my M.Sc. pathology research with hands-on patient care.

Sara Teimouri Nezhad, MSc candidate
Supervisors: Dr. Maziar Divangahi and Dr. Bruce Mazer

I've always been fascinated by science and its huge impact on our life. I did my master’s degree in Genetics in Iran, which deepened my understanding on how genetic alterations can be associated with different diseases. With my quest for further research, I moved to Canada in 2017 and volunteered in Dr. Maziar Divangahi’s and Dr. Bruce Mazer’s Lab at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, working on “Harnessing the Power of Stem Cells in Vaccination against Tuberculosis”, and “Expanded B-Cell Role in Allergic Inflammation and Reciprocal Action on Eosinophil and Basophil Growth”. This grew my interest in the field of immunology, which led me to initially work as a Research Assistant and currently as a trainee in Dr. Mazer’s lab. I am truly delighted to work under the supervision of Dr. Mazer and co-supervision of Dr. Divangahi. I feel honored to be a student in the Pathology Department at McGill and I am excited to expand my professional perspective in order to continue my research career to the next level.

Billy Ta, MSc candidate
Supervisor: Dr. Sonia Cellot

I completed my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences at York University. My primary scientific interests have always lied in the realm of molecular and cellular biology, specifically in protein interactions, since I find it fascinating how different components can work in synchrony to produce a functional biological system. Additionally, I realized through various biology courses that I am intrigued by topics focusing on disease pathogenesis. This led me to complete an Honours Thesis where I explored the impact of human metabolites on an epigenetic enzyme implicated in SARS-CoV-2 infectivity and various types of cancers. The combination of my interests and experiences led me to McGill, which I believe is the perfect institution to nurture my passions. I am working with Dr. Sonia Cellot, whose work focuses on pediatric leukemia, specifically acute myeloid leukemia. I am thrilled by the opportunity to join the graduate community and excited to further my education at McGill!

Thupten Tsering, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Julia Burnier

I am currently pursuing a PhD in Dr. Julia Burnier’s laboratory. My research focuses on extracellular vesicles which are nano-particles (size 30-1000nm) emitted by cancer cells. The interesting thing about these nano-particles are, they act as a cargo and carry DNA, oncogenes and oncoproteins from host cancer cells and transfer it to recipient cells. These nano particles can be isolated from human body fluids and therefore, it can be used as biomarker. My project is to understand how cancer cells emit exosomes carrying oncogenic DNA. During my research I fell in love with imaging technologies because I can visually provide an evidence and prove my hypothesis as well as appreciate the beauty of nano-scale particles. Lastly, I would like to thank the department of pathology faculties and staffs for their support in students’ education goals and our well-being.

Tad Wu, PhDc
Supervisor: Dr. Julia Burnier

I earned my bachelor's in Honours Computer Science and Biology at McGill. During my undergrad, I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to conduct an honour's project under the supervision of Dr. Maria Vera Ugalde, where I used a computational pipeline to analyze the distribution and colocalization of heat shock protein mRNAs in neurons of ALS patients to determine if ALS would affect the heat shock response. After taking a class on human genetics, I became particularly interested in cancer. My project will aim to mimic cancer-derived extracellular vesicles (EVs) using lipid-based nanoparticles in terms of cellular uptake and downstream effects.

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