Prestigious Gairdner award winner visits campus

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dr. Lynne Maquat, recipient of the 2015 Canada Gairdner International Award.

On Tuesday, Dr. Lynne Maquat, recipient of the Canada Gairdner International Award this year, visited campus and met with students, faculty, and the Waterloo community.  

Maquat, a professor in both Biochemistry & Biophysics and Oncology at the University of Rochester, received the prestigious biomedical award for the discovery of nonsense-mediated mRNA decay, a mechanism that destroys mutant messenger RNAs in human cells which is critical in both normal and disease states.

Her day began with a lunch with six Science student researchers and entrepreneurs from iGEM and Velocity Science. Maquat, who is also Director of the Center for RNA Biology and Chair of Graduate Women in Science, spoke with students about their current involvement in research and their futures.

We often have naive conceptions of the kind of efforts it takes, or what kind of achievements are most important,” said Steven ten Holder, a student entrepreneur in the Velocity Science program, “In particular, she mentioned that having many publications in lower quality journals was not nearly as valuable as having a single great publication in one of the great journals.”

Alicia Dubinski, a student research on the Waterloo iGEM team, appreciated Maquat’s honesty in talking about roadblocks students face as they transition from undergraduate to graduate programs. Her discussion with Maquat is inspiring her to pursue graduate studies.

In the afternoon, Maquat gave a research oriented lecture to a full house of faculty and students. She spoke in detail about the mechanism of nonsense-mediated mRNA decay, which helps keep mutated mRNAs from going on to form truncated proteins and the role of this process in a normal and diseased cell.

During the question period, both professors and students chimed in. Maquat enthusiastically jumped in to explain some concepts by drawing them out.

In the evening she gave a public lecture aimed at young scientists. She spoke of her personal journey and the lessons she learned, including learning to be flexible with her plans in order to prepare for new and unexpected opportunities.  

Maquat also reminded students that getting a good education in fundamental science is critical for pursuing research.

Science is like learning another language, you just have to delve in,” said Maquat.

The Gairdner Awards, Canada’s most prestigious biomedical awards, recognize scientists who have made original contributions to medicine. A number of laureates have gone on to win a Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Maquat will continue on her tour along with other Gairdner award winners and give lectures at various universities across Canada.