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Grad student awarded inaugural Mitochondrial Disease PhD Scholarship

MitoCanada launches scholarship to support student research
September 19, 2014
The overarching goal for Chris Newell’s research is to determine the role of mitochondria in rare disease states and their potential for therapeutic intervention. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

The overarching goal for Chris Newell’s research is to determine the role of mitochondria in rare disease states and their potential for therapeutic intervention. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Chris Newell, PhD student in medical science at the University of Calgary, was awarded the first Mitochondrial Disease PhD Scholarship funded by the MitoCanada foundation and is the only recipient for 2014.

MitoCanada funds applications that are determined to be relevant to research areas that include enhanced identification of patients with mitochondrial disease and therapeutic strategies. The Mitochondrial Disease PhD Scholarship provides $35,000 per year and is renewable for two additional years.

MitoCanada was formed in 2009 by a group of mitochondrial disease patients, family and friends, with assistance from dedicated medical professionals. The foundation’s mission is to provide support and awareness to Canadians affected by Mitochondrial Disease while also supporting the advancement of research in the field of Mitochondrial Disease. Its hope is to reach all patients, parents, caregivers and the medical community by providing the help and practical information to improve the quality of life and sense of community for patients and their families.

“Receiving this major award has been a high-point in my academic career and I am beyond grateful to the support I have garnered from both my supervisors and the MitoCanada organization,” Newell says.

Newell is currently working on his PhD under the supervision of Profs. Aneal Khan and Jane Shearer. The overarching goal for his research is to determine the role of mitochondria in rare disease states and their potential for therapeutic intervention.

Mitochondria are tiny structures present in almost all cells in the body. Their function is to process food and oxygen and produce energy that is vital for the human body to grow, perform and thrive. When mitochondria fail, less and less energy is made in the cells and they may stop working or die. Depending on where the affected cells are, parts of the body may not function properly and many health problems can result.

Newell came to UCalgary after completing his BSc at St. Francis Xavier University where he did an honours thesis under Professor Daniel Kane. Newell says that it was Prof. Kane who first got him interested in mitochondrial research, and from there he developed a passion for this aspect of basic science. It was this newfound enthusiasm that brought Newell to UCalgary where he was accepted to the Cumming School of Medicine for his PhD and joined the Leaders in Medicine program.

Newell’s supervisor, Professor Jane Shearer, says, “Developing novel therapeutic interventions and ultimately a cure for mitochondrial disease is going to require a special breed of clinician-scientist, one who can translate innovative research into the clinic and work directly with patients. The Leaders in Medicine program in combination with the Mitocanada scholarship have created this opportunity for Chris. I am excited to be a part of his unique training and look forward to following his career trajectory in the years ahead.”

The awarding of Mitochondrial Disease PhD Scholarship this month coincides with Global Mitochondrial Disease Awareness Week, which runs Sept. 14-20.