Graduate chemistry students sweep conference and travel awards

photo of professor Derek Wilson and his grad students

Above: From left, Lucienne Nouchikian, Irina Oganesyan, Derek Wilson, Lisa Szymkowicz and Kerene Brown

Graduate students in Chemistry Professor Derek Wilson’s lab in the Faculty of Science have been sweeping up awards to attend conferences and for their presentations at these events.

They have been travelling across Canada and internationally to present their research, which uses the latest technologies in mass spectrometry to explore the dynamics, structure and function of proteins. Wilson and his students seek to understand how enzymes bind other proteins, how some proteins become misfolded and cause diseases, and how proteins interact with other proteins, RNA and DNA. Understanding how proteins move and bind to other molecules provides insights into their biological activity and how they can be implicated in diseases.

“I couldn’t be prouder of all of my graduate students, past and present,” said Wilson. “They have brought their own unique approaches and hard work to the scientific challenges that the Wilson group tackles every day.”

Some of Wilson’s students have also received competitive Ontario Graduate Scholarships to support their research.

Recent award successes

PhD student Kerene A. Brown, who received a Travel Award from the International Mass Spectrometry Foundation ​to present a poster at the Structural Mass Spectrometry Workshop at the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel). She was also part of a team at the workshop that won first place in a research project presentation. Her research explores the structure of RNA chaperones, such as the human La protein, in complex with different RNA ligands. She has also received an Ontario Graduate Scholarship for the upcoming school year.

Master’s student Ruth Knox, who recently received the Poster Award at the first International Conference on Hydrogen Deuterium Exchange. Ruth is studying the fundamental connection between how proteins move and how they catalyze biochemical reactions. She is looking specifically at bacterial enzymes called b-lactamases, which degrade common antibiotics that contain a b-lactam core, to understand how they interact with antibiotics.

Master’s student Lucienne Nouchikian, who received an Ontario Graduate Scholarship to support her research. Her research aims to find a quick way to determine protein stability using Differential Mobility Spectroscopy, a type of mass spectrometry technique coupled with Hydrogen Deuterium Exchange. Her research could help pharmaceutical companies determine the stability of their vaccine products.

Master’s student Irina Oganesyan, who received the second place Graduate Student Poster Award in Analytical Chemistry Division of the Chemical Institute of Canada. Her research is focused on understanding the folding abnormalities of alpha-synuclein, a protein implicated in the initiation of Parkinson’s disease.

Master’s student Lisa Szymkowicz, who won the Poster Prize Award for a 5-minute thesis presentation entitled “Phospholipid-based model membrane system for Hydrogen Deuterium Exchange Mass Spectrometry of membrane proteins” at the International Symposium on Enabling Technologies for the Life Sciences. She also won the second place Undergraduate RSC PCCP Poster Prize in the Physical, Theoretical & Computational Chemistry division at the Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition.

In addition, Szymkowicz, Knox and Brown just won Travel Awards for the 34th Annual Trent Conference on Mass Spectrometry this August.

“Many of our award winners this summer are relatively new to the group – they’ve achieved a lot in a short amount of time and I’m confident that this talented team will keep the recognition coming,” said Wilson. “I would also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the leadership of lab manager Cristina Lento and administrative assistant Nicole Chevannes-McGregor, whose work behind the scenes makes all of these successes possible!”

To learn more about the Wilson lab, visit derekwilsonlab.ca/

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