• By: Tori McNeely

Local U of O undergraduate student selected for Amgen Scholars Program

All photos by Amgen Canada

Earlier this month, fifteen undergraduate students from across Canada arrived at the University of Toronto (U of T) to partake in a fully-funded, 10-week research program, marking the launch of the Amgen Scholars Canada Program. This is the first time the prestigious global research program is being hosted in Canada. Known for the discovery of insulin, stem cells, the first electronic heart pacemaker and first lung transplant, U of T seemed like an obvious choice to host. 

Amgen Scholars, funded by the Amgen Foundation, allows undergraduates from across the globe to participate in cutting-edge research opportunities at world-class institutions. The goal of the program is to increase learning and networking opportunities for students committed to pursuing a career in science or engineering.

“Investing in young scientists through programs like Amgen Scholars is key to tackling some of our most challenging global issues,” says Eduardo Cetlin, president, Amgen Foundation. “We are proud to work with the University of Toronto and other premier institutions around the world building upon our mission to advance excellence in science education and empower tomorrow’s innovative problem solvers.”

Participating students will be immersed in leading biomedical research at U of T’s Faculty of Medicine and Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy. Activities aim to inspire and equip a new generation of health leaders and innovative researchers. Recognizing that inclusion, diversity and equity are essential components that foster excellence in 21st century science and health outcomes, a key focus of the U of T Amgen Scholars Canada Program is to actively engage motivated students who might face barriers to careers in science and medicine, whether due to socioeconomic status, geographical location, or belonging to historically marginalized groups.

When asked about the benefits of such program, Professor Vivek Goel, University of Toronto’s vice-president of research and innovation said, "Bringing together exceptional students with world-class mentors offers a tremendous opportunity for collaboration, innovation and discovery. We are excited to help unleash the potential of these future innovators and scientists."

Among those accepted to the program is Denis Qeska, an undergradute student studying Biochemistry at the University of Ottawa. Denis developed a passion for science from a very young age. He has participated in the National Biology Competition and was recongized as a National Biology Scholar. After earning the sixth highest score in Canada on the Cayley math contest in grade 10, Denis was invited to a math camp at uOttawa. He credits this on-campus experience as the primary reason he applied to study at uOttawa.

Ottawa Life Magazine: How did you first hear about the Amgen Scholar Program and what (or who) motivated you to apply to the program?

Denis Qeksa: I first found out about the Amgen Scholar’s Program online when I was looking at summer research opportunities. I saw that this program promoted research at the cutting-edge of science and was fascinated by the work conducted by the faculty supervisors. The unique opportunity to develop research skills as an aspiring young scientist by being part of this forefront of discovery was the primary motivation for me applying to this program. I was particularly thrilled to learn that this program would be held in Canada for the first time this summer.

You just finished your second year of biochemistry at U of O. What motivated or inspired you to take this program?

I have been interested in science from a young age. I remember getting a microscope for my seventh birthday and being fascinated by the shapes and structures I was now able to see. I gradually built understanding over the years, learning that these structures were cells, their role in the body, and more. I chose biochemistry in particular as it incorporates various disciplines, such as physics, chemistry, and biology, as tools to study and understand the systems of life.We spoke with Denis about his experience with the program so far and his plans for the future.

You're nearly through your third week in the program. What have you done? What have you enjoyed most so far? Any challenges?

I am very excited to be a part of Professor Molly Shoichet's lab this summer. I am helping a doctoral student with his project looking at drug nanoparticles for treating cancer. I have most enjoyed learning more about this unique approach to cancer therapy and how it harnesses cellular mechanisms to improve drug delivery.

What do you hope to take away from the 10-week program?

The Amgen Scholar's Program is an invaluable opportunity to take further steps along the path of research I will pursue in the future and helps me develop skills to make meaningful contributions to research and society.

For more information, visit www.AmgenInspires.com and follow them on Twitter at @AmgenFoundation

To learn more about Amgen Canada, visit www.amgen.ca.