Kingston This Week: Queen’s University working with Mitacs Globalink to bring brilliant international minds to Canada

The Mitacs Globalink program was born with one purpose in mind: to draw the best and brightest minds from around the globe to Canada for research and development studies. Though boasting many prestigious and respected learning institutions, Canada nonetheless lags behind in the race for global talent.

“Unfortunately, when the best and brightest in other countries think of places to go to study Canada is not often in the front of their mind, which is something we’re trying to change,” said Rob Annan, director of policy at Mitacs.

The program is very successful, growing from 17 students from India in its first year in 2009 to 280 students this year from India, Mexico, Brazil and China, with plans to expand to Turkey and Vietnam next year. That success was formally recognized when the Federal Government budgeted $13 million in funding for the program to allow even greater numbers next year.

Selected students come to one of 35 participating Canadian Universities for a 12-week research internship, and competition is fierce. The 280 successful applicants were selected from over 5,000 students.

“It’s a competitive program,” said Annan, “and we only select the very best. The hope is when they go back, either through social media or word of mouth, as leaders they carry the torch for the Canadian research experience.”

That experience will be shared by nine students to be placed at Queen’s from May through July. Three of the students have already arrives while the other six will be here in early July.

One student already here is Luis Arvizu, an undergraduate student in biotechnology at the Monterrey Institute of Technology in Guadalajara, Mexico, who won a placement with renowned professor and cancer researcher, Dr. Myron Szewchuk.

“I was excited to be a part of cancer research and immunology, so I applied to be a part of the project,” he said. “When I was selected I was very happy, and also surprised. It was a very good opportunity to come here.”

The project that Luis is assisting Dr. Szewchuk with is an extension of Dr. Szewchuk’s research into receptors within cells, particularly cancer cells. Dr. Szewchuk explained a little about the origins of the research and where it has led him and his team.

“We were looking into receptors used by a variety of different cells, and we identified some of the key players involved in regulating these receptors,” He said. “Once we knew the key players, we were able to look at certain drugs that could shut down those receptors, and possibly the entire cell function”

One of the key players identified is an enzyme that regulates the growth receptors in cancer cells. They are trying to target those cells to shut down growth and metastasis. For the past year and a half, Dr. Szewchuk has been working with tissue samples and animal studies which have led to some interesting results.

That’s where Luis comes in. He will be doing the majority of the analysis on the information collected during clinical studies in order to get results published and recognized in a formal manner.

Professor Szewchuk provided Mitacs with an outline of his project, Mitacs contacted a variety of universities in Mexico, India, Brazil, and China, and applicants were looked through thousands of project portfolios to find a match. For reasons both personal and professional, Arvizu and Dr. Szewchuk’s project a perfect fit.

“I know many of the techniques needed, and I have the knowledge of how cancer works, how the cells work, and how it progresses,” he said, I thought I could help with this project, which is the reason I chose it.”

Another reason was much more personal. A while ago, Arvizu lost his grandfather to cancer and thus has personal stake in the research of improved treatment techniques. In this brief experience – Arvizu has been here a little more than a month – he has been impressed with Queen’s facilities and high level of academia exhibited by students and faculty. He’s considering coming back for graduate studies through the Mitacs Fellowship program.

“Queen’s is a very recognized university, so I think it would be a very good opportunity; I would be interested in coming back,” he said. “The level of research being done here is a very high standard and very high quality, and the research being done by Dr. Szewchuk is very noble.”

He is set to graduate this December from biotechnology in Mexico and is interested in working at the cancer institute in his home country.

By Justin Smith