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Mohammadamir Ghasemian Moghaddam and Meghan Rothenbroker (both BME PhD candidates) are Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship winners of 2022. Vanier awards are given based on the merit of academic excellence, extracurricular activities and demonstration of leadership. (Photos: Submitted)

Two graduate students from the Institute of Biomedical Engineering have been awarded Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships for 2022. The awards recognize PhD candidates at Canadian universities who demonstrate excellence in leadership, research impact and academics. 

Providing $150,000 in funding over three years, the scholarship will enable these doctoral students to address challenges from understanding the mechanisms of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, to improving the clinical success of therapeutic cancer vaccines. 

The U of T Engineering recipients are: 

Mohammadamir Ghasemian Moghaddam (BME PhD candidate) 

Mohammadamir Ghasemian Moghaddam

Ghasemian Moghaddam’s research combines DNA nanotechnology, molecular engineering and cancer immunology to design cancer vaccines. His aim is to see how the shape and the surface chemistry of an array DNA nanostructure adjuvants will help their uptake by different cells.

Working under the supervision of Professor Leo Chou (BME), Ghasemian Moghaddam, along with other researchers in the lab, hope their work will result in better treatments and cancer vaccines that will impact millions of cancer patients clinically.

“As a mechanical engineer studying biology and biomedical engineering, I sometimes suffered from imposter syndrome,” he says. “The Vanier Scholarship validated that my entrepreneurial and engineering background is valuable to this research.”

Ghasemian Moghaddam credits his success to the mentorship and support of his current and previous supervisors, as well as his lab mates and friends, who provide him with the freedom to pursue the research he’s interested in while also honing his leadership skills.

“The Vanier Scholarship will allow me to be more focused on the research that matters the most to me. It will also provide me with the networking and training sessions, and other opportunities that are available to the Vanier Scholars. Lastly, the award allows me to initiate international collaborations more easily and to learn and bring expertise from other countries to Canada.”

Meghan Rothenbroker (BME PhD candidate) 

Meghan Rothenbroker

Rothenbroker’s research aims to help improve the clinical success of therapeutic cancer vaccines. She is investigating designs for nanotechnology-based vaccines that would generate a durable immune response with tangible clinical impact for cancer patients.  

While significant resources have been invested in the field of therapeutic cancer vaccines, many formulations have failed to generate a durable immune response in clinical trials, highlighting the challenge in bringing this technology from bench to bedside. 

Working with Professor Chou, the Vanier scholarship will enable Rothenbroker to dedicate herself more fully to her research and contribute to the growing expertise in DNA nanotechnology in Canada.  

She says this scholarship creates opportunities for new collaborations and innovation that will provide greater outcomes for her research initiatives while enriching her training.  

“To be awarded the Vanier scholarship is an honour and a privilege to me personally. I feel both proud and grateful. It represents the culmination of my commitment to scientific research, my dedication to others in my community and a steadfast vision to build opportunities for every person interested in STEM.” 

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