The Next Generation

The Alberta Prion Research Institute is committed to the development and training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Over 360 highly-skilled research technicians, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students have been trained in funded labs since April 2005.


The research being done in Alberta labs would not be possible without the hard work and dedication from graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Holger Wille values his students and postdoctoral fellows and the work they do in his lab: “an integral part of my work is to train students and postdoctoral fellows. They do a lot of the hands on work. It is a great learning experience for them.”


In August 2012, the Alberta Prion Research Institute launched Expanding Horizons, a professional development program that provides research trainees with access to coaching and mentoring. Providing students and postdoctoral fellows with training outside of the lab setting will make them more well-rounded and knowledgeable researchers. It will also equip them with valuable skills that are transferable to careers in government, industry or other sectors. Sessions offered since the launch have focused on grants crafting and writing, career options in industry, interview skills, science communications and media relations.


The Alberta Prion Research Institute hosts events and workshops where trainees get the opportunity to meet with and learn from internationally-respected scientists. The Institute also provides travel grants to students and postdoctoral fellows to attend international workshops and conferences. John Gray, a graduate student working with Stefanie Czub, says “my professional development in prion science and networking skills have been bolstered by the Prion Institute’s support for my attendance at scientific meetings and congresses.”


Working with world-class prion researchers in state-of-the-art research labs makes a huge difference in their studies and their research. Charles May is a postdoctoral fellow who was recruited from the University of Kentucky to work with David Westaway: “the move has had a positive impact on my research. I get to show my data to leaders in the field. I have access to their knowledge and guidance. Their different backgrounds also provide different perspectives into my research.” Danielle Gushue, a graduate student working with Judd Aiken and Debbie McKenzie, says “I get so many different training and research opportunities because of the diverse backgrounds of the senior researchers.

Dr. Aiken believes that trainees are essential for research and embraces his role as a teacher and mentor, both in the classroom and in the lab. “Really good graduate students make a difference. I enjoy watching a student come into the field and get excited about the uniqueness of prion research and flourish in the environment.”


And they are flourishing. Trainees in funded labs have won university, provincial, national and international scholarships, awards and prizes. They have presented posters and given scientific talks at conferences. They have been published as lead authors of research papers in scientific journals. The Alberta Prion Research Institute is proud to be working with the next generation of leading prion researchers.



Trainee Awards and Honours in 2013-14


Claudia Acevedo-Morantes (Holger Wille lab): 75th Anniversary Graduate Student Award, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Alberta

Laura Ansell (Roger Thompson lab): Alzheimer Society of Canada Research Program Doctoral Scholarship

Derek Dee (Michael Woodside lab): Protein Science Young Investigator Travel Grant and Protein Society Finn Wold Travel Award, The Protein Society; Boston, USA

Camilo Duque-Velasquez (Debbie McKenzie lab): Honourable Mention Poster, Alberta Prion Research Institute Prize, PRION 2013; Banff, Canada

Kristen Marciniuk (Scott Napper lab): Honourable Mention Poster, Kinetics Foundation Prize, PRION 2013; Banff, Canada

Charles Mays (David Westaway lab): Junior Faculty Award, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases Congress 2013; Florence, Italy

Charles Mays (David Westaway lab): First Place Poster, University of Alberta Department of Medicine Research Day; Edmonton, Canada

Robert Mercer (David Westaway lab): Third Place Poster, Calreticulin Workshop 2013; Banff, Canada

A. Grant Norman (Valerie Sim lab): University of Alberta Doctoral Recruitment Scholarship

Mridula Swayampakula (Michael James lab): Honourable Mention Poster, Alberta Prion Research Institute Prize, PRION 2013; Banff, Canada

Mridula Swayampakula (Michael James lab): University of Alberta Pansy and George Strange Graduate Scholarship