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Rising Stars Researchers Drawn to Province by Great Opportunities

Pauline Roumaud
Pauline Roumaud at work in the lab. Image: submitted

This month’s New Brunswick Health Research Foundation (NBHRF) Rising Stars were drawn to the province by great research opportunities.

Pauline Roumaud was recognized for her work on testicular disruption in men, which was published in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2017.

The PhD student from Brittany, France, was inspired to come to Moncton after seeing the work of Dr. Luc Martin, a biology professor at Université de Moncton.

“I didn’t know Moncton existed before,” she said. “But Dr. Martin’s project was on transcription factors, endocrinology and testes. I worked on testes already so I knew I wanted to do this type of research, so I came here.”

Dr. Martin became Roumaud’s thesis supervisor. Roumaud’s paper, which lists Martin as a second co-author, looked at the decrease of testosterone in males as they grow older, particularly focusing on ferredoxin, a protein involved in the production of testosterone.

“With aging, men’s testosterone decreases in the blood, and it leads to different troubles like osteoporosis, muscular atrophy and a decrease of libido, and there are other troubles for older people,” she said.

“We’re looking at why there’s a decrease because we don’t know exactly. We want to know how it works normally and after time, in many years maybe, how the production of testosterone changes.”

At 30 years old, Roumaud has been involved in eight published scientific papers. Roumaud said the award from NBHRF motivates her to keep working. “It’s great to be recognized because we do a lot of cool work here,” she said.

Roumaud, who is currently writing her thesis, didn’t know anything about Moncton before moving here, but she’s enjoying what the city has to offer. She is taking advantage of the short distance to Fundy Park, and the bilingual environment to practice her English.

“The mix between French and English is very interesting for us French people. Even if I have some English, I can be better. It was worse before I came here,” she said.

Indian scientist studies breast cancer to help drug development

Dr. Amit Bera is a post-doctoral researcher at the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute. Image: submitted.

Dr. Amit Bera is a post-doctoral researcher at the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute (ACRI) who came from Kolkata, India. His work on renal diseases related to cancer and diabetes at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio gained him the Rising Star recognition from NBHRF.

The paper was published in The American Journal of Physiology – Cell Physiology. It found that a certain microRNA, a fragment of ribonucleic acid found in the body that helps regulate gene expressions, played a key role in kidney dysfunction in diabetes patients.

This microRNA, called miR-214, is present in a very high amount of diabetes patients compared to those without the disease.

“There are 415 million people worldwide affected by diabetic disease. Out of that, 50 per cent of patients develop kidney disease and 30 per cent of those [patients] are likely to progress to end-stage renal disease,” he said.

“Due to diabetes there’s a lot of kidney dysfunction, so we checked what is the reason behind the kidney dysfunction. We found that this microRNA – miR-214, is one of the key elements which is responsible for kidney dysfunction.”

Findings like these will help facilitate the discovery of new therapies and medications down the line.

That’s why Dr. Bera is also studying a mechanism that underlies the spreading, or metastasis, of breast cancer. In particular, Dr. Bera is working on stress-regulated breast cancer.

“I’m working to find the mechanism behind this epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). If we find what are the proteins responsible, what are the factors responsible for EMT, we can find a drug to block that, so we can alleviate the metastasis.”

It was the work of ACRI’s assistant scientific director Dr. Stephen Lewis that brought Dr. Bera to Moncton. Dr. Bera had come across Dr. Lewis’ work in non-canonical breast cancer translation regulation through various journal publications.

“I want to work on something different, so I approached [Dr. Lewis to say] that I want to work with you in the non-canonical pathway mechanism of cancer. And we talked to each other, we shared our thoughts and shared our project ideas and I came here in [March of last year],” Dr. Bera said.

Dr. Bera came to Canada with his wife, an associate researcher at the institute, and his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

He became interested in research after studying biochemistry for his bachelor’s degree at the University of Kolkata. He obtained his master’s and PhD degrees from the same university.

Dr. Bera took a break after his first post-doctoral research in Texas but decided to use his experience with microRNA to study cancer.

“One thought is always in my mind, that environmental stress, food habits, job stress, those are also affecting humans in a much bigger way,” he said.

Dr. Bera’s work often takes up his evenings, even after his daughter goes to bed. But he’s not complaining and the recognition from NBHRF is only pushing him to work harder.

“Honestly, I like to spend most of my time at the lab, because I think to become a scientist you need dedication. Without dedication you can’t do anything,” he said. “This inspiration leads me to work more to do something good for cancer patients here.”

Once a month, from January to October, in the lead-up to the 6th Gala of Excellence in health research in November, the NBHRF will present $250 to the monthly Rising Star winners in each of the award categories (Master’s, Doctoral, Post-doctoral & Research Professional). All monthly winners will be showcased at the 6th Gala of Excellence in November 2018 and an Annual Winner will be announced.

Huddle is publishing a monthly series of stories on the winners, sponsored by the NBHRF:

JANUARY: Health Research Rising Stars Focus on Cancer Research, Youth Sports Participation