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Updated: 17 hours 53 min ago

Grad a senior scientist investigating drugs to treat cancer

Thu, 12/15/2022 - 08:53

Science alumnus Dennis Ma (BSc 2010, PhD 2016) will start in 2023 with a new role as a senior scientist at Calico Life Sciences, a company focused on longevity, aging, and diseases related to aging.

“I will be focusing on cancer drug discovery and studying cellular mechanisms driving metastasis, the spread of cancers from a primary tumour to secondary sites in the body,” says Dr. Ma.

“Metastasis is one of the leading causes of cancer related deaths, so it is my goal to leverage my discoveries to drive the design of new and effective therapeutics for metastatic cancers.”

The former Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar received his doctorate in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry under the supervision of professor Siyaram Pandey.

“Because of Science at UWindsor I’ve had extensive training in cancer drug discovery and testing during my PhD with Dr. Pandey,” he says.

“Combined with my latest postdoctoral training with patient tumour samples and metastasis in the labs of Dr. Kai Kessenbrock and Dr. Devon Lawson at the University of California, Irvine, I feel well prepared heading into this new position.”

Ma is currently finishing his postdoctoral research in the Department of Biological Chemistry at the University of California, Irvine.

“Notably during my postdoctoral training, I was the first scientist in the world to genetically engineer patient tumour cells to functionally study mechanisms driving metastasis in animal models,” says Ma.

“I hope to adapt and combine my new technologies and workflows with my background in cancer drug discovery from my PhD to develop new therapies for cancer at Calico.”

Pandey calls Ma an impressive researcher with outstanding research productivity, and says he is expecting transformational development in anti-cancer therapeutics from Ma’s novel approach.

“His cutting-edge technologies and impactful work on metastasis have been published in Nature Cell Biology, Nature Methods, and Communications Biology and have earned him the prestigious and competitive K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institutes of Health to start up his own academic lab and fund his research program as an independent investigator,” says Pandey.

Ma credits his UWindsor education with preparing him for his new job.

“While completing my doctorate with Dr. Pandey, I learned to be an effective collaborator, mentor, and leader and have led my students and collaborators to the publication of over 20 research papers,” says Ma.

“I’m ready to bring my teamwork and leadership skills to Calico to develop new and effective therapeutics for cancer.”

Because of Science at UWindsorDennis MaSiyaram PandeyAlumniAcademic Area: Graduate StudiesScienceChemistry & Biochemistry

HK grad new baseball scientist for the Chicago Cubs

Tue, 12/13/2022 - 09:01

UWindsor alum Mike Sonne has always been a baseball guy.

He plays baseball. He coaches baseball. He’s a fan.

But recently, Dr. Sonne went from being just any baseball guy to being the baseball guy, snagging a job with the Chicago Cubs as the major league club’s new baseball scientist.

What’s a baseball scientist?

“Everyone asks that,” said Sonne.

Sonne uses his expertise in biomechanics to figure out how hard a player can work before performance diminishes or injury is inevitable.

“The idea is to optimize performance,” he explained. “I look at how safely we can get our players on the field performing at their maximum for as long as possible.”

Sonne is part of the Cubs’ research and development department. Without giving too much away, Sonne said the size and scope of the Cubs’ tech team rivals that of any start-up in Silicon Valley. The department collects data on every player in the franchise — from the Cubs’ starting pitcher to young hitters on the club’s farm teams. It collects data on players from rival teams, too.

Sonne takes all that data and runs it through a model he originally designed to predict muscle fatigue in automotive assembly-line workers.

“My job is to figure out how to translate this data into actionable items.” Using a pitcher as an example, Sonne said he can go to the coach and say, “Get this person on the mound more, or maybe they need to skip a start.”

Sonne says there’s no magic to what he does — you just need to know what to look for.

“When you have a good understanding of how muscles fatigue, you can see subtle changes in movement patterns,” he said.

Comparing what he sees to the data collected, he can predict when players need rest to get back at the top of their games.

Sonne, 39, said he never dreamed of becoming a baseball scientist.

“I don’t think my dreams were ever so audacious to think this was possible.”

He graduated from Belle River high school intent on studying music.

“My guidance counsellor told me if I took kinesiology, I could only be a gym teacher,” he said wryly.

After completing his bachelor’s degree in human kinetics, he worked for two years as an ergonomist in Ottawa and Michigan before returning to UWindsor for master’s studies. During grad school, he worked with kinesiology professor Dave Andrews researching the body movements of assembly-line workers in the automotive industry.

“I definitely loved the HK program there,” he said.

For his PhD, he attended McMaster University and conducted further research on autoworkers with former UWindsor professor Jim Potvin.

Throughout his time at UWindsor, Sonne was the trainer for the Lancers football team. A helmet the team gave him when he graduated remains on display in the bedroom of his Hamilton home.

As part of this UWindsor master’s education, Sonne did an internship with an ergonomics tech company. When the company later folded, Sonne started his own.

His company allowed clients to use cellphones to analyze joint angles to improve ergonomic design. After completing his doctoral degree, Sonne worked for the Occupation Health Clinics for Ontario Workers in Hamilton.

He started blogging about sports, applying his expertise on forces, posture, and repetition to what professional baseball players do. Among other topics, he wrote about how the introduction of a pitch clock would put major-league pitchers at higher risk of injury.

“I ended up getting a pretty significant social media presence,” he said.

Sports sites and publications such as Fangraphs and The Athletic approached him about becoming a freelance writer. That led to an article in Sports Illustrated.

Then came a call from Craig Breslow, assistant general manager of the Chicago Cubs and a former Major League Baseball pitcher himself.

Breslow brought Sonne in for a team education seminar. Afterwards the two men exchanged texts about a possible role with the club.

They inked a deal in October.

Sonne spends some time at Wrigley Field each month, but spends most of his time on the road, visiting farm teams in Iowa, Tennessee, and South Carolina.

Hamilton, where Sonne is a player-coach with the Steel City Inclusive Softball Association, will remain his home base.

His parents, Patsy and Brian, still live in Windsor, a place he called home from the time he was seven.

Like when he was a boy, he revels in the magnificence of the game.

“I’m always amazed when I watch a pitcher throw,” he said. “They are so outside normal human function…. It’s a beautiful celebration of what can go right with the human body.”

—Sarah Sacheli

Mike SonneAlumniAcademic Area: Graduate StudiesHuman Kinetics

Science graduate explores the nature of art

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 00:43

Recent graduate Dante Bresolin (BSc 2022) took scientific training and passion for the arts to become the latest emerging artist in residence with Art Windsor Essex.

The 2022 three-month residency runs September through November and includes community outreach, a solo exhibition, and creating digital content as an educational tool.

“Using art as a way to get people to observe is a strong tool for education on the natural sciences,” says Bresolin.

For one of the outreach activities, Bresolin led a guided hike through trails around Ojibway Nature Centre.

“I introduced people to different organisms and had them direct their attention to the fine details that make up different species.”

Bresolin also weaves fibres into works of art.

“There is a science to working with a lot of these dyes and materials but there is also, through the process of doing art, learning about those plants and organisms. Everything I’m doing is very much intentional in getting people to learn about the natural world but using art to do that.”

Bresolin was one of the original members of the Science Meets Art (SMArt) program and completed undergraduate thesis studies in integrative biology with professor Catherine Febria in the Healthy Headwaters Lab at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER), researching macroinvertebrate diversity and trends across the Sydenham River watershed. Now Bresolin is serving as a research assistant in the lab, conducting biomonitoring in benthic zones — the ecological region at the bottom of a body of water.

“There are similarities that doing an undergraduate thesis in science prepared me for the process of creating something larger like an installation,” says Bresolin.

“A lot of the processes of developing a scientific hypothesis, and identifying the steps to getting there, are very similar to how the creative process works.”

Acting dean of science Dora Cavallo-Medved mentored Bresolin throughout the SMArt program. She says that fostering creativity in science provides more opportunities for student engagement.

“In addition to their scientific contributions, Dante’s creative work in the Faculty of Science has also allowed other students to develop their interest in the arts as a mechanism for communicating science,” Dr. Cavallo-Medved says. “This also creates a more inclusive learning environment for all students in science.”

Bresolin’s solo exhibition, which looks at the Black Oaks savannah ecosystem and the role that fire plays in it, will be featured at the Dry Goods Gallery, at 1012 Drouillard Rd. through Jan. 25.

For more on Bresolin head to the AWE website.

—Sara Elliott

Dante BresolinCatherine FebriaDora Cavallo-MedvedAlumniAcademic Area: ScienceBiology

Creative writing alumna wins Governor General’s Literary Award

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 00:11

University of Windsor alumna Jen Ferguson (MA 2010) won the Governor General’s Literary Award in Young People’s Literature – Text for her latest novel The Summer of Bitter and Sweet, published by Heartdrum imprint of HarperCollins.

The award’s peer assessment committee — Michael Hutchinson, Sharon Jennings, and Wesley King — described Ferguson’s work as a timely novel that flows from the author’s Métis and Canadian roots.

The Summer of Bitter and Sweet features vibrant prose, real family conflict, and a raw and evocative commentary on the struggles of being different in a small-town, prairie setting. Touching on subjects that speak to today’s challenges for 2SLGBTQI+ youth, the complex story delivers an emotional impact,” the committee wrote. “The recipe notes about ice cream add a scoop of sweetness to level out Lou’s sometimes bitter realities.”

The award winners are deemed the 14 best books published in Canada in 2022 by selection committees that chose them from among 70 finalists in seven categories, in both English and French.

The awards were announced on Nov. 16 by the Canada Council for the Arts.

—Susan McKee

Jen FergusonAlumniAcademic Area: Arts, Humanities and Social SciencesEnglish

Oral histories of Black women in Canada subject of presentation

Tue, 10/18/2022 - 00:06

UWindsor history alumna Funké Aladejebi (BA 2007) will explore the ways in which Black women’s stories tell not only of a collective Black Canadian experience marked by sexism, separation, and racial discrimination, but also of individual actions and affirmations of professionalism and resistive pedagogical approaches that challenged assumptions about Black existences in Canada in her free public presentation “Black Women’s Oral Histories and Contestations in the Great White North,” Thursday, Oct. 20.

Dr. Aladejebi is an assistant professor of history at the University of Toronto and co-editor of Unsettling the Great White North: Black Canadian History.

“Situating Black women’s individual and collective choices, my presentation considers the processes of documenting oral herstories as a political and restorative practice in writing about Black Canada,” she says.

The event will begin at 10 a.m. in room 2100, Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation, and is presented in observance of Women’s History Month by the Department of History in conjunction with Women’s and Gender Studies in the School of Social Work.

Funké AladejebiStrategic Priority: Pursue strengths in research and graduate educationAlumniAcademic Area: Arts, Humanities and Social SciencesHistory