Vanier Scholarships awarded to four University of Saskatchewan PhD students

Zoe Gillespie will study a new approach to treating children’s premature aging disease. (Photo credit: Dave Stobbe for the University of Saskatchewan).

The top four University of Saskatchewan (UofS) PhD students working in health, water and feral horse conservation research have been awarded the 2018 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships.

“It is a great achievement for these four exceptional students to be chosen as Vanier Scholars,” says Karen Chad, UofS vice-president research. “We are very proud of these students who have demonstrated the leadership skills and research accomplishments to become tomorrow’s leaders.”

$150,000 is awarded to each student over the course of three years. The Vanier Scholarship is a competitive federal program that recognizes top-tier doctoral students who demonstrate excellence in academia, research impact and leadership at Canadian universities.

The Vanier funding will be awarded to the UofS recipients through the federal agencies Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The students this year are:

Scott Adams – Improving medical imaging in Northern Saskatchewan

Health sciences PhD student and radiology resident Dr. Scott Adams investigates whether a robotic ultrasound clinic is a feasible solution to improving access to medical imaging in Northern Saskatchewan Indigenous communities.

Using video conferencing software, sonographers in Saskatoon can control an ultrasound probe and a robotic arm placed in a Northern community clinic. Images can then be remotely interpreted by radiologists.

This promises to provide patients with comparable and faster access, diagnosis and treatment, by not having to transfer patients’ long distances for medical assessments, potentially saving the health-care system millions of dollars over time.

“I am honoured to receive the Vanier Scholarship, and I look forward to continuing on a clinical research path which is responsive to Canada’s needs and priorities in health care,” says Adams, who is supervised by UofS researchers Dr. Paul Babyn and Dr. Ivar Mendez, in the College of Medicine.

Zoe Gillespie – Treating premature aging disease in children

Biochemistry PhD student Zoe Gillespie will study potential benefits of dietary restriction as a treatment for a rare genetic disorder that causes children to age eight-times faster than normal.

Children affected by the Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome have an average lifespan of only 14 years and show aging ailments such as arthritis, brittle bones and heart disease.

This disease results from a change in the genetic code that produces a toxic protein called Progerin, responsible for accelerated aging.

Gillespie will work to determine whether decreasing nutrient intake without causing malnutrition can be used to slow premature aging by tricking cells into degrading Progerin. Because of Progerin’s potential role in the normal aging process, Gillespie’s work may have applications in promoting healthy aging of adults.

“I am incredibly honoured to receive a Vanier Scholarship. It will allow me to focus on my research and hopefully benefit children impacted by this disease,” says Gillespie, who is supervised by Christopher Eskiw, professor in biochemistry and in food and bioproduct science, in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources.

Caroline Aubry-Wake – Studying climate change impact on glaciers

Hydrology PhD student Caroline Aubry-Wake will research the understudied effects of climate change on meltwater availability in Canadian Rockies glaciers, which have shrunk 15 per cent since 1985.

She will quantify changes in glacier volume and climate-related impact on glacier runoff in the Peyto Glacier in Banff National Park and two other mountain sites in Western Canada. She aims to predict how warmer temperatures and a changing climate will affect meltwater, critical for hydropower, irrigation, drinking water and recreation.

Her research involves mountain fieldwork and a software system called the Cold Region Hydrological Model that combines measurements of mountain weather with computer simulations of snow and ice melt.

“The Vanier motivates me to keep working hard on improving our understanding of mountain water resources in a changing climate,” says Aubry-Wake, who is supervised by John Pomeroy, UofS Canada Research Chair in Water Resources and Climate Change, in the College of Arts and Science.

Julie Colpitts – Studying feral horses to develop conservation strategies

Biology PhD student Julie Colpitts will study Sable Island horses, a feral horse population living in the remote island of Nova Scotia. The results will help determine conservation strategies that may be applied to other animals.

Working with biology professor Philip McLoughlin in the College of Arts and Science, Colpitts will study how the combination of environment and genetics has been influencing the horses’ body size, inbreeding and health.

“I am so excited and grateful for receiving the Vanier Scholarship,” says Colpitts. “Not only will the award help alleviate some personal and financial stress, it is incredibly encouraging and motivating from a research perspective.”


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