May 17, 2019

Nine UCalgary grad students win Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships

Vet Med student earns national first-place distinction for his studies of wound healing

What does it take to win a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship?

There isn’t a simple answer. One of the most prestigious graduate awards in Canada, the Vanier CGS is also one of the most competitive. But nine University of Calgary doctoral students have achieved the distinction of being awarded 2019 Vanier Scholarships.

Pictured above are the University of Calgary 2019 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship Winners, from left: Kimberley Manalili, Brandon Tyler Craig, James Bull, Adrianna Michele Giuffre, Sarthak Sinha, Keira Gunn, and Mohammadali Ahmadi. Not pictured are Chelsie Christie and Mason Stothart.

“These scholarships are incredibly important for our graduate students,” says Robin Yates, interim vice-provost and dean of graduate studies. “This year we have the pleasure of acknowledging a special honour: Sarthak Sinha’s Vanier CGS application was ranked first out of all of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Vanier applications across the country. The achievements of all of our Vanier winners demonstrate that the University of Calgary continues to train leading researchers whose work brings immense value to the community.”

Sinha has been working with Dr. Jeff Biernaskie, PhD — one of Canada’s leading researchers in tissue regeneration and wound healing — and Dr. Vincent Gabriel, MD, trying to unlock the secrets of fibrotic diseases. Specifically, the trio is trying to understand why under some circumstances, a skin wound may develop a scar that results in significant impairments, but in other settings it may regenerate close to a pre-injury state.

“In scarring, a mass of non-functioning skin develops, lacking hair follicles, glands and fat tissues,” says Sinha, who is also a 2019 Killam Laureate. “In our animal models, we see differing outcomes following significant wounds. In some cases, large wounds may regenerate to states where they function the way they did prior to injury. However, in human patients, similar wounds would result in significant scarring and lead to chronic non-healing wounds.

The Vanier CGS is valued at $150,000 over three years and is funded by the Canadian government. The scholarship is given on the basis of academic excellence, research potential and leadership.

Along with Sinha, the 2019 University of Calgary Vanier CGS winners include:

  • James Bull, Biological Sciences
    Supervisor: Sean Michael Rogers

Bull’s research examines how selection shapes the genomes of Coho salmon in hatcheries and the wild to understand why hatchery-born fish typically perform poorly in the wild. It will also measure long-term impacts of hatchery operations on the connected hatchery-wild population. Bull is working with Indigenous partners, including the Nitanat River Hatchery and Ditidaht and Huu-ay-aht First Nations. Outcomes of this study may improve hatchery operations, with positive outcomes for the fishery industry in B.C., for ecosystems, and for food security in Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

  • Mohammadali Ahmadi, Chemical and Petroleum Engineering
    Supervisor: Zhangxing Chen

Ahmadi is researching steam-chemical co-injection (SCCI), a relatively new method of heavy oil recover. Specifically, he is exploring the possibility of SCCI to simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and maximize oil recovery from heavy oil reservoirs. The purpose of Ahmadi’s doctoral project is to close the gap between SCCI and end users who need an accurate understanding of anticipated GHG emissions and oil recovery.

  • Chelsea Christie, Community Health Sciences
    Supervisor: Gavin Robert McCormack

Christie is investigating the relationships between walking, the walkability of neighbourhoods and socioeconomic status. She seeks to answer the question of whether changes in neighbourhood walkability impact walking, and whether this relationship differs according to household income. This research will provide new, rigorous evidence about the role of income in the relationship between the built characteristics of a neighbourhood and physical activity, with population health implications for urban design policy.

  • Kimberly Manalili, Community Health Science
    Supervisor: Maria Jose Santana

Manalili’s research will support the implementation and evaluation of quality indicators for person-centered care (PCC) in an urban primary care clinic. Specifically, Manalili will identify strategies to implement quality indicators, and determine what factors make implementation successful. The findings of this research will inform implementation of quality indicators in primary care across Canada.

  • Keira Gunn, Mathematics and Statistics
    Supervisor: Mark L. Bauer

Gunn is working in the field of cryptography, seeking a solution to the threat that quantum computing poses to current methods of data encryption, in which there are a finite number of possibilities for a decryption key. This means that someone could hypothetically test all possibilities to crack the encryption code. Gunn’s proposed method uses infinite number systems that allow for infinite possibilities for the decryption key, thus supporting a stronger form of encryption.

  • Adrianna Giuffre, Neuroscience
    Supervisor: Christopher Adam Kirton

Giuffre’s research focuses on the use of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS) to enhance motor learning in children who have suffered perinatal stroke. These treatments painlessly deliver weak electric currents to the brain. Giuffre seeks to understand how tDCS works, and will lead to improved ability to design personalized rehabilitation strategies for young stroke patients.

  • Brandon Craig, Neuroscience
    Supervisor: Christopher Adam Kirton

Craig is working toward an improved understanding of brain injury and recovery following perinatal stroke. Even with brain stimulation therapies, most children remain significantly disabled. Craig’s research will help create a deeper understanding of brain recovery and how stimulation can be made more effective, ultimately improving the lives of thousands of children who develop cerebral palsy following stroke in infancy.

  • Mason Stothart, Veterinary Medicine
    Supervisor: Jocelyn Poissant

Stothart is researching the role of the microbiome, or the bacterial communities all animals harbor in their intestinal tracts. The microbiome-animal relationship may contribute to the evolutionary division of one species into two. It may also help animals adapt to climate change, while the breakdown of the microbiome-animal relationship can lead to mass-mortality events. Stothart is studying a feral population of horses on Sable Island to better understand these issues.