The Kingston Whig-Standard – International students check in at Queen’s

KINGSTON – Canada is looking to boost its research output to compete on an international scale, and Queen’s University is playing its part.

Out of 5,000 applicants worldwide, 280 students were chosen to participate in a 12-week internship conducting research at 35 Canadian universities — nine of which have been placed at Queen’s. The placement is known as the Mitacs Globalink program.

Beginning in 2009 with 17 students from India, this year the program has gone on to expand to countries such as Brazil, Mexico and China, with the goal to place more than 500 students next year from countries including Vietnam and Turkey.

The goal of the program, which provides a $7,500 award to selected students, is to bring “top notch talent to Canada,” Lorena Christensen, Mitacs Globalink’s manager, said, with the hopes that these students will come back to complete their graduate studies, while also creating an international research network.

In March 2013, the program was given $13 million from the Canadian government to expand its program offerings, which was placed in the 2013 federal budget.

Canada consistently places behind its First World peers in academic research output — a consequence of a relatively smaller population and only a few research-intensive universities, Christensen added.

As a result, many international students don’t have Canada on their “mental map” when it comes to attending university or conducting research.

“We don’t place on international rankings for universities very frequently,” she said. “For international students, it’s out of sight, out of mind.”

“Once they’re here and they have a chance to see what’s going on, especially the high quality of research and the level of involvement, they’re blown away.”

Out of the nine students placed at Queen’s, three began assisting professors with their research on topics ranging from engineering to sociology on May 1. The remainder will arrive in July.

Luis Alberto Arvizu Gutierrez, an undergraduate student in bioengineering technology at Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, was awarded a research placement with Queen’s professor Myron Szewczuk to help study the effects of an anti-viral drug on halting metastasis in pancreatic cancer patients.

Szewczuk, who began the project two years ago after receiving $500,000 per year from a private donor suffering from pancreatic cancer, discovered that a common influenza preventative drug could prolong the life expectancy of men suffering from pancreatic cancer by 36 years, when combined with certain kinds of chemotherapy.

The research experiment was first conducted on tissue samples and then on mice. It has also shown to be potentially effective in treating both breast and ovarian cancers.

“If we have a drug that we can program to target a specific part of the key players involved in metastasis … we can shut down the whole process of tumour growth,” Szewczuk said.

The discovery was patented last year, and Szewczuk is looking into publishing the results from the study, and proceed into clinical trials, which could begin in the fall.

“Right now we are evaluating the results and once that is done we need to perform statistical analysis on the computer, and graphic it so it can be published,” Gutierez added.

Gutierrez found out about the project through a Mitacs Globalink advertisement at his home university, adding that he’s lucky that he was chosen to participate in the groundbreaking research.

“It’s really something I couldn’t miss,” he said.