Researcher returns to roots
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.
from page 7
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.