Re­searcher re­turns to roots

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Sher­brooke

Dr. Rona Gra­ham, who grew up in Stanstead, has been awarded a pres­ti­gious Canada Re­search Chair for her re­search into neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases. Dr. Gra­ham re­cently re­turned to the East­ern Town­ships af­ter work­ing for many years in Bri­tish Colom­bia and

in Saudi Ara­bia, join­ing the Univer­sité de Sher­brooke as an As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Phys­i­ol­ogy and Bio­physics on Jan­uary 1st, 2012. Dr. Gra­ham, the youngest daugh­ter of Dun­can and Maggi Gra­ham who both taught at Stanstead

Col­lege, at­tended Sun­ny­side El­e­men­tary, the Ur­su­line Con­vent, Alexan­der Galt High School and Cham­plain Col­lege Len­noxville. She then went on to get a B. Sc. De­gree in Bi­ol­ogy at Con­cor­dia Univer­sity, fol­lowed by a PHD from the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Colom­bia in 2006.

In an in­ter­view with The Stanstead Jour­nal, I asked Dr. Gra­ham, a renowned re­searcher af­ter work­ing in the Dr. Michael Hay­den lab­o­ra­tory at the Cen­tre for Molec­u­lar Medicine and Ther­a­peu­tics, Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, for many years, if she had ac­cepted the ap­point­ment at the Univer­sité de Sher­brooke at least par­tially to come ‘home’ again. “Know­ing the area cer­tainly did help me de­cide to come back. I was in Stanstead in Jan­uary with my fa­ther and I was back there again last week­end,” she said.

Dr. Gra­ham lived in Bri­tish Colom­bia for eleven years and much of her re­search work in the Hay­den lab­o­ra­tory, where she re­port­edly played a cru­cial role, was on Hunt­ing­ton’s Dis­ease. Dur­ing her time in Saudi Ara­bia, Dr. Gra­ham ran a cy­to­ge­netic lab­o­ra­tory and es­tab­lished a Molec­u­lar Ge­net­ics Lab­o­ra­tory. “I spent about four years in Saudi Ara­bia but I wasn’t in­volved in re­search there; I was work­ing in a di­ag­nos­tic clinic. I re­ally en­joyed the time I spent there.”

Through the Canada Re­search Chair Pro­gram, Dr. Gra­ham’s lab­o­ra­tory, at the Sher­brooke Re­search Cen­tre on Ag­ing (CDRV) sit­u­ated at the CHUS Fleu­ri­mont, will re­ceive $100,000 an­nu­ally for five years. Ac­cord­ing to the press re­lease, her lab­o­ra­tory will in­ves­ti­gate: “The role of cas­pases in neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases. Neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion, the loss of struc­ture and func­tion of neu­rons in the brain, causes cel­lu­lar dys­func­tion and the even­tual death of brain cells. Sev­eral dis­eases, in­clud­ing Parkin­sons, Alzheimer’s, Hunt­ing­ton’s and Stroke, oc­cur as a re­sult of this process. Dr. Rona Gra­ham is study­ing how pro­teins in­volved in death cell path­ways are reg­u­lated with ag­ing and how they may be al­tered dur­ing the de­vel­op­ment of neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases.”

“A lot of our work will be on cell cul­tures; stress­ing the cells and then an­a­lyz­ing the pro­teins,” com­mented Dr. Gra­ham. Asked if her work is re­lated to preven­tion or treat­ment, she an­swered: “We al­ways hope to be able to pre­vent dis­ease but it’s a tall or­der. If we can just de­lay a dis­ease like Alzheimer’s un­til the per­son is ninety in­stead of seventy-five, that would be a step for­ward.”

Dr. Gra­ham will also do some teach­ing at the Sher­brooke univer­sity. “I cer­tainly come from a long line of teach­ers. My mother, Maggi, taught art and my fa­ther, Dun­can, taught ge­og­ra­phy. They were both at Stanstead Col­lege for about thirty years. I’ll do some teach­ing in the lab with grad stu­dents and some in classes.”

There is a very per­sonal side to the piv­otal and im­por­tant re­search be­ing

from page 3 car­ried out by Dr. Gra­ham: in 2007, her mother Maggi died from Alzheimer’s dis­ease. Asked if it was her mother’s death which mo­ti­vated her to re­search neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease, she replied: “I had been do­ing re­search on Hunt­ing­ton dis­ease so I was al­ready fo­cussed on neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease. I had just started to think about Alzheimer’s dis­ease when my mother was di­ag­nosed with it.”

“There has been a huge amount of stride made with re­gard to neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases. With the amount of re­search go­ing on we are get­ting closer to treat­ment. It’s ex­cit­ing times and we are dis­cov­er­ing a lot,” she added.

Be­ing awarded the Canada Re­search Chair was great news for Dr. Gra­ham. “I can’t es­ti­mate the im­pact this will have. It frees me to fo­cus on the re­search in­stead of con­stantly try­ing to raise the money to keep the lab afloat. Labs are clos­ing across the coun­try; in bad eco­nomic times re­search gets hit hard. This award gives me the time to do the crit­i­cal ex­per­i­ments and be more ef­fi­cient. It is also a pres­ti­gious ti­tle and will help set my ca­reer.”

Dr. Gra­ham has no­ticed some im­prove­ments to Stanstead since the days when she called the town home. “I used to visit about ev­ery five years but I did no­tice some changes re­cently. I thought the Stone­henge (Stone Cir­cle) was fan­tas­tic and it was so nice to see new shops in Rock Is­land. I liked the Gran­ite Mu­seum and the new park with the gran­ite sculp­ture in down­town Rock Is­land looks re­ally good,” she com­mented.

“I’m very happy to be back in the Town­ships; it’s a beau­ti­ful part of the world. And it was 23 de­grees last week! I also re­ally like the peo­ple here. Although I’m hav­ing to re­mem­ber my French, it’s com­ing right back. Thank good­ness for my school­ing with the Ur­su­lines!” con­cluded the dis­tin­guished sci­en­tist. In mem­ory of a much loved brother,

whose tragic death oc­curred March 30th, 1949. Noth­ing can ever take away The love a heart holds dear, Fond mem­o­ries linger ev­ery day, Re­mem­brance keeps him near.

Mer­rick Belk­nap

from page 7

Photo cour­tesy

Dr. Rona Gra­ham, seen here in her lab­o­ra­tory, re­cently re­ceived a Canada Re­search Chair for her work to find treat­ments for dis­eases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkin­son’s.

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