Aug. 13, 2021

Researchers seek new solutions to combat intergenerational trauma and treat neurodegenerative disorders

Their innovative postdoctoral research is supported by Banting Fellowships
Anna MacKinnon (L) and Tahir Ali.
Anna MacKinnon, left, and Tahir Ali

Two University of Calgary postdoctoral scholars, Dr. Anna MacKinnon, PhD, and Dr. Tahir Ali, PhD, have been awarded Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships. As recipients of this prestigious award, MacKinnon and Ali will each receive two years of funding to support the expansion of their innovative and impactful research.

The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, which is awarded annually to just 70 scholars across Canada, aims to attract and retain top-tier postdoctoral talent and position them for success as research leaders in the future. The fellowship is unique in that it focuses on the synergy between applicants and their host institutions: both individual potential to launch a successful research career and institutional commitment to the research program are taken into consideration when selecting recipients. 

“Dr. MacKinnon and Dr. Ali are promising scholars with impressive track records of success, and we are thrilled that they have chosen the University of Calgary for this crucial stage of their academic careers,” says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research). “We look forward to all that they will accomplish.”

Dr. Anna MacKinnon, PhD, Faculty of Arts

Supervisors: Dr. Lianne Tomfohr-Madsen, PhD and Dr. Keith Dobson, PhD

MacKinnon’s research background is in perinatal mental health, parenting, and child development. Her current project, Breaking the Cycle of Intergenerational Trauma: Development and Evaluation of the embrACE Parenting Program, aims to test if providing education and support through the program can buffer the negative impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on mother and child outcomes. 

"With the SSHRC Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, I’m hoping to work collaboratively with parents and mental health experts to develop and pilot test The embrACE Parenting Program for the perinatal period, to prevent the intergenerational cycle of trauma and reduce its impact on infant development,” says MacKinnon. “This project will contribute to the development of a larger program of research aimed to provide accessible evidenced-based support that promotes resilience and wellbeing among Canadian families." 

Dr. Tahir Ali, PhD, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Supervisor: Dr. Sabine Gilch, PhD

Prion diseases are infectious and incurable neurodegenerative disorders that include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans and mad cow disease in cows, which has also been transmitted to humans. There is no treatment available for prion diseases, but Dr. Tahir Ali’s research is looking at a novel therapeutic strategy to treat these diseases, using the enzyme cholesterol 24-hydroxylase (CYP46A1).

“Age-associated neurodegenerative diseases are devastating diseases that pose a socioeconomic and health burden to our society,” says Ali. “Besides the extensive development and advancement in the health sciences, no therapeutics are available for most of neurodegenerative diseases, including misfolded protein associated diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and prion diseases.”

In the lab of Dr. Sabine Gilch, Ali’s supervisor, researchers aim to identify novel therapeutic strategies with high translational potential for the treatment of these incurable neurodegenerative diseases.

As a pharmacist and PhD in neuroscience, Ali is working to develop his career as an academic independent researcher. “My ultimate goal is to make significant discoveries with a primary focus on translational/clinical research, and to contribute to promoting health and well-being in Canada and worldwide,” he says. “As an awardee of this prestigious fellowship, training at Dr. Gilch’s lab at UCalgary, I am able to hone my leadership and academic skills to accomplish my long-term goals.”

These scholars represent the breadth and depth of the research and expertise at the University of Calgary, encompassing a number of the institutes within the Cumming School of Medicine, including the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI), the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), and the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.