Jake Pyne

Three University of Guelph PhD candidates and one post-doctoral researcher will receive the Government of Canada’s most prestigious scholarships, worth $50,000 to $70,000 a year.

Kaytlin Constantin, Jennifer MacNicol and Morgan Stykel were announced today as recipients of Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships. The awards recognize leading Canadian and international doctoral students for academic excellence and research potential. Named after former Governor General Georges Vanier, the awards provide $50,000 per year for up to three years

U of G researcher Jake Pyne received a prestigious Banting Post-doctoral Fellowship. The two-year awards, worth $70,000 a year, are named for Frederick Banting, the Canadian medical scientist and Nobel laureate who helped discover insulin.

Funding for the awards comes from three federal granting agencies: the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The official announcement was made today by Kirsty Duncan, minister of science and sport.

“In Canada, research by graduate students and post-doctoral scholars powers discovery and innovation,” said Malcolm Campbell, U of G vice-president (research).

Morgan Stykel

“This wonderful support for these researchers at this stage of their career will foster impactful discoveries that improve life.”

Lloyd Longfield, MP for Guelph, added: “Research at the University of Guelph has the goal to ‘Improve Life’ and is consistent with Canada’s contributions locally and globally. The world needs the life improving research provided by University of Guelph scholars with the support of the Government of Canada’s research funds.”

The Vanier and Banting scholars will tackle diverse research areas in animal and human health.

Stykel, a molecular and cellular biology student, will use her NSERC-supported Vanier scholarship to continue studies of Parkinson’s disease, a disorder that causes brain cells to degenerate.

Scientists know that a particular protein accumulates inside those cells, says Stykel. Although the protein’s function remains unknown, mutations in the pertinent gene have been shown to trigger the disease.

Kaytlin Constantin

By studying brain cells from Parkinson’s patients and using gene editing tools, she hopes to learn more about the protein and whether deleting the pertinent gene can stop the degeneration of neurons.

“I am honoured to have achieved this award and ever grateful for the opportunities it provides,” she said.

Constantin received support from CIHR to study needle procedures in children and their parents, working in the U of G-based Pediatric Pain, Health and Communication Lab.

Children often fear needle procedures, she said, adding that “children’s early experience with needle pain can affect their health behaviours into adulthood, such as their willingness to be immunized or complete blood tests.”

The procedures can also cause stress for parents as well and make it challenging for them to attend to their child’s needs, said Constantin, a longtime youth and health advocate in Northern Ontario. “Receiving support from a Vanier Scholarship offers me protected time for research, and also to continue my community involvement.”

MacNicol, an animal biosciences student, will use her Vanier scholarship to study equine gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, a leading cause of death in horses.

Jennifer MacNicol

Using lab models of the equine GI tract, she hopes to test herbal supplements and probiotics before animal trials. She aims to help develop equine-specific dietary products that are more affordable and less invasive.

As a Banting Post-doctoral Fellow in the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences, Pyne will study clinical treatment and views of autistic and transgender individuals, resultant social movements and implications for our understanding of “humanness.”

A former Vanier Scholar and Trudeau Scholar, he is a social advocate and an award-winning researcher. During the past 17 years, Pyne has worked in research and advocacy in Toronto’s trans community, including projects to improve trans people’s access to health care, shelter and housing, family law justice and support for gender independent children and trans youth. He is a member of the Trans PULSE and Trans Youth CAN! research teams, and is active in local and national initiatives to support trans rights.

“Today’s announcement is wonderful recognition for the work of these scholars and for the faculty at the University of Guelph who have attracted them and committed to training them for even greater success,” said Ben Bradshaw, assistant vice-president (graduate and postdoctoral studies).