Mitacs and the Banting Research Foundation announce winners of the 2021 Discovery Awards

Toronto, ON — Mitacs and the Banting Research Foundation are proud to announce the winners of the 96th Annual Banting Research Foundation Discovery Awards. This year, 12 investigators — 50% of whom are women — have been awarded one-year grants of up to $25,000 for innovative health and biomedical research projects. 

The goal of this prize is to support investigators at universities and research institutes in Canada within the first three years of their first academic appointment by providing them seed funding so that they may gather pilot data to enhance their competitiveness for other sources of funding. 

This year, 74 applicants submitted projects to the Banting Research Foundation, of whom 39 were women and 35 were men. The review panel determined that 20 applications ranked in the excellent or higher range and that seven ranked in the outstanding range. 

It is the sincere hope of both Mitacs and the Banting Research Foundation that these accomplished investigators’ projects will make a real difference in the health and biomedical field in Canada and, ultimately, the lives of Canadians and people around the world. 

Congratulations to this year’s winners! 


The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry 

“We are proud to support these emerging scientists in biomedical research who are dedicated to improving the lives of Canadians. These accomplished investigators are pushing the limits of artificial intelligence, neuroscience, cancer research, geriatric care, women’s reproductive health and other pressing research areas. Canada is in good hands as our talented researchers continue to push the limits of innovation.” 

John Hepburn, CEO and Scientific Director of Mitacs 

“Encouraging innovation in the health and biomedical sciences field creates the potential for breakthroughs that will save lives. Mitacs is proud to partner with the Banting Research Foundation to provide seed funding to projects from some of Canada’s most promising young investigators. We look forward to seeing what you achieve.” 

Catharine Whiteside, Chair of the Board of the Banting Research Foundation 

“Since 1925, the Banting Research Foundation has been a unique, talent-spotting organization. Our mission is to fund young investigators, the future Banting and Bests, at the beginning of their careers when they have a bold idea with potential for having a major impact on improving health. On behalf of the Banting Research Foundation, I would like to congratulate our new Awardees and wish them well on their pathway to discovery.” 

The winners of the jointly funded Mitacs—Banting Research Foundation Discovery Awards are: 

  • Angela C. Cheung, MD, Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine, Clinical Hepatologist at the Ottawa Hospital, and Associate Scientist in the Clinical Epidemiology Program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, for her work using artificial intelligence to fight liver cancer by training computers to recognize it using images from patients with or without liver cancer. 
  • Owais Khan, PhD, Assistant Professor at Ryerson University’s Department of Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering, for his efforts to develop a computational model to stimulate blood flow in heart patients’ coronary arteries with a view to assisting clinicians in deciding optimal treatment for patients. Dr. Khan is a 2016 Mitacs Globalink Award recipient. 
  • Andrew A. Nicholson, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor at McMaster University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, Scientist at the Lawson Health Research Institute and the Homewood Research Institute Trauma Department and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Vienna’s Psychology Department, for his research helping individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) self-regulate brain function connections associated with their symptoms using neurofeedback. This research has the potential to directly translate into a new treatment for PTSD. Dr. Nicholson is a former Mitacs Elevate Postdoctoral fellow. 
  • Heather Prime, PhD, C. Psych, Assistant Professor at York University’s Department of Psychology, for her study evaluating a new COVID-19 Family Recovery Program with the aim of reducing child mental health problems by strengthening relationships and reducing conflicts in families. 
  • Holly Sparks, DVM, PhD, DACVS-LA, Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Surgeon at Moore Equine Hospital, for her work developing non-invasive diagnostic criteria for tissue pathology in tendinopathy, which could be relevant both in horse and human tendon disease. 
  • Kim Tsoi, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, Orthopaedic Surgeon in the Sinai Health System and Research Clinician-Investigator at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, for her work developing a treatment for a rare, aggressive type of cancer called soft tissue sarcomas (STS) by examining which immune cells are present in lung metastases and contribute to disease and using nanotechnology to develop a therapy to target those cells. Ultimately, the study aims to improve our understanding of metastatic STS and introduce a new method for its treatment. 

The winners of the 2021 Banting Research Foundation-funded Awards are: 

  • Sagi Abelson, PhD, Principal Investigator, Computational Biology, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and Assistant Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto for his project leveraging large, publicly available single-cell datasets to build a comprehensive single-cell classifier. This classifier will then be used to detect impending cancer as well as to measure changes associated with chemotherapy to improve future treatment design. This tool will be shared with the broader research community to advance cancer research. 
  • Matthieu P. Boisgontier, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Rehabilitation Sciences, for his work which aims to close the “intention-action” gap when it comes to exercise for geriatric patients. Dr. Boisgontier will train geriatric patients to suppress their attraction towards being sedentary and to respond positively to physical activity. The results will inform public health policies and improve clinical interventions to counteract the growing international issue of physical inactivity. 
  • Glen McGee, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, for his project developing statistical tools to correct the bias that exists in examinations of autism patients due to the fact that research often relies on electronic health records. The use of these records can lead to spurious associations given that patients with autism often visit the doctor more often than others. These proposed methods have the potential to improve the way medical research is conducted whenever patients’ conditions lead them to have higher than average interaction with the medical system. 
  • J. Patrick Murphy, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of Prince Edward Island, for his research into the effects of molecules that are converted from a common amino acid, serine, that is increased by cancer cells. Dr. Murphy aims to look at the effect of serine on the growth of breast cancer cells and to measure what interaction they have with other molecules in cancer cells. In the long run, the project seeks to create new strategies to block the growth advantages provided by serine production in cancer cells. 
  • Nicole Templeman, PhD, Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of Victoria, for her project that will use a mouse model of genetically reduced insulin to determine the effect of lowering insulin on egg cell quality and reproductive success during aging. The study could inform strategies to help prevent and manage female reproductive health concerns by limiting insulin excess. 
  • Alanna Weisman, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, Clinical Scientist in the Sinai Health System & University Health Network and Scientist at the Lunenfeld Tanenbaum Research Institute and ICES, for her study using anonymized provincial healthcare data to determine whether factors such as sex, income, and socioeconomic factors are barriers to insulin pump use for people with type 1 diabetes and the impact that has on health outcomes for people living with the disease. 

About Mitacs: 

  • Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. 
  • Mitacs is funded by the Government of Canada along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon.