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Cumming School of Medicine Symposium celebrates silver anniversary

Speakers highlight their innovative approach to medical research for grad students
May 11, 2017
2017 Symposium committee members with speakers, following the White Hat Ceremony, from left: Christie Sandall, Ania Zuba, Katie Greene, Ben Ewanchuk, Alya Abbas Heirali, Jennifer Gommerman, Haley Vecchiarelli, David Cooper, Rachel Kratofil, Ian Schmitt, Molly Shoichet and Somshukla Chaudhuri. Photo by Leah Hohman, for the Cumming School of Medicine Symposium

2017 Symposium committee members with speakers, following the White Hat Ceremony, from left: Christie Sandall, Ania Zuba, Katie Greene, Ben Ewanchuk, Alya Abbas Heirali, Jennifer Gommerman, Haley Vecchiarelli, David Cooper, Rachel Kratofil, Ian Schmitt, Molly Shoichet and Somshukla Chaudhuri. Photo by Leah Hohman, for the Cumming School of Medicine Symposium

The 25th Annual Cumming School of Medicine Symposium was held at the University of Calgary May 5, 2017.

The 25th Annual Cumming School of Medicine Symposium was held at the University of Calgary May 5, 2017. 

For 25 years, the graduate student-run Cumming School of Medicine Symposium has been bringing world-renowned researchers to Calgary to speak and network with students. This year, four scientists from across Canada and the United States — all of whom approach medical research in an innovative way — presented their research.

Rachel Kratofil, event chair, and Dr. Glenda MacQueen, vice-dean of the Cumming School of Medicine, along with a video from UCalgary alum and Calgary Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, kicked off the symposium.

Speaker Molly Shoichet’s laboratory is at the forefront of stem cell regeneration at the University of Toronto. She opened her presentation with a question: “Can we really regenerate the nervous system?” She shared groundbreaking research on using a bioengineered “Band-Aid” scaffold, which delivers drugs locally to heal a stroke injury, or to stimulate the regeneration of photoreceptors in the eye.

University of Calgary alumnus David Cooper, who completed his PhD in archaeology and medical sciences under the supervision of Benedikt Hallgrimsson and Anne Katzenberg, shared some of his research on in vivo bone imaging. “You don’t get bone formation until bone absorption occurs,” said Cooper, and this has implications for treating osteoporosis. He now holds a Canada Research Chair in Synchrotron Bone Imaging at the University of Saskatchewan.

University of Toronto’s Jennifer Gommerman discovered something unique about multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. She found that plasma cells from the gut migrated through the body and ended up in lesions of MS patients and in the central nervous system of mice after EAE, a mouse model of MS, where they release lots of IgA antibodies. Are these antibodies due to a dysregulated microbiome? Researchers at the University of Calgary were excited to hear Gommerman’s novel study, now with the Western Canada Microbiome Centre, opening in fall 2017.

The final speaker was New York University’s Ian Schmitt, who recently published two first-author Nature papers. Schmitt works with Dr. Mike Halassa at New York University, where he studies how the thalamus controls attentional behaviour in the brain, which has implications for the treatment of autism and ADHD.

Following closing remarks from Hallgrimsson, speakers were treated to a Calgary tradition: the White Hat Ceremony.

Symposium sponsors were the Cumming School of Medicine, the Graduate Students’ Association, Alberta Innovates, and Smithbilt Hats.