BBDC Studentship Success Stories

March 29, 2022
By Krista Lamb

An ongoing goal of the Banting & Best Diabetes Centre (BBDC) is to financially support exceptional undergraduate and graduate students who are pursuing a career in diabetes research. The BBDC has provided funding for more than 350 summer studentships and over 430 graduate studentships, many of which helped launched the careers of some of the world’s leading diabetes researchers. Below, we share the experience of four of these outstanding studentship recipients who now hold academic positions across Canada.

Jennifer Estall, PhD
Researcher and Associate Research Professor
Institute de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM) and McGill University

photo of Jennifer EstallBBDC Funding:
– Novo Nordisk Studentship 2000/2001
– Novo Nordisk Studentship 2003/2004

Dr. Jennifer Estall completed her PhD in the lab of Dr. Daniel Drucker with the support of funding from the BBDC. She did her postdoctoral studies in Boston with Dr. Bruce Spiegelman at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School. She is now the Principal Investigator in her lab at IRCM in Montreal, where she is studying mitochondrial biology and the transcriptional regulation of metabolism.

“Being a part of the BBDC during my PhD was an amazing opportunity that had a huge influence on my career. The BBDC is an exciting environment rich in history and distinction. My early training was supported by the BBDC through a doctoral scholarship, allowing me to train in a great lab (Dr. Dan Drucker), where I learned the essential skills and values that became the cornerstone of my own lab. Travel awards from the BBDC allowed me to present across North America, expanding my network and opening doors to many new opportunities as a young scientist. The annual BBDC Scientific Days sparked long-lasting friendships that have formed the basis for collaborations today. Training at the BBDC inspired and shaped my early passion to demystify diabetes, to understand its causes and complexities.”

Tony Lam, PhD
Professor and Senior Scientist
University of Toronto and University Health Network

photo of Tony LamBBDC Funding:
– Summer Studentship 1998
– Novo Nordisk Studentship 2000/2001

Dr. Tony Lam is a professor in the Departments of Physiology and Medicine at the University of Toronto and a Senior Scientist at the University Health Network. He is also a Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Diabetes and Obesity and J.K.McIvor Endowed Chair in Diabetes Research. Dr. Lam studied under Drs. Amira Klip and Adria Giacca during his time as a summer and graduate student at the University of Toronto, respectively. Now, his team studies novel therapeutic molecular targets in the gut and the brain that lower glucose and lipid levels as well as body weight.

“I received a BBDC summer studentship under the supervision of Dr. Amira Klip, and a graduate studentship under the supervision of Dr. Adria Giacca. These two funding opportunities opened my eyes to diabetes research and ignited a lifetime commitment for myself to pursue a career in research.”

Gareth Lim, PhD
Researcher and Associate Professor
The CHUM Research Centre (CRCHUM) and the University of Montreal

photo of Gareth LimBBDC Funding:
– Novo Nordisk Studentship 2004/2005
– Novo Nordisk Studentship 2005/2006

Dr. Gareth Lim completed his PhD in physiology at the University of Toronto with Dr. Patricia Brubaker. He then did his postdoctoral studies under Dr. James Johnson at the University of British Columbia. He now leads his own lab at CRCHUM in Montreal where he is studying the roles of molecular scaffold proteins in the context of metabolism and metabolic diseases. He is a Canada Research Chair in Adipocyte Development.

“Between 2004-2006, I was fortunate to have received BBDC Novo Nordisk Studentships, which, in my opinion, paved the way for future success as a graduate student in Dr. Patricia Brubaker’s lab. This support helped secure graduate scholarships from CIHR and Diabetes Canada (then the Canadian Diabetes Association), and it provided opportunities to expand my research objectives by branching out into new areas and attend conferences to learn new concepts. The opportunities provided by BBDC funding were pivotal in my development to become an academic researcher.”

Patrick MacDonald, PhD
Professor and Researcher at the University of Alberta and the Alberta Diabetes Institute
Director, IsletCore

photo of Patrick MacDonaldBBDC Funding:
– Summer Studentship 1998
– Novo Nordisk Studentship 1998/1999
– Novo Nordisk Studentship 1999/2000

Dr. Patrick MacDonald completed his PhD with Dr. Michael Wheeler at the University of Toronto, with funding support from the BBDC. He then did his postdoctoral fellowship at Lund University and the University of Oxford before returning to Canada. He is now the principal investigator in his lab at the University of Alberta and the Alberta Diabetes Institute, where his team is focused on pancreatic islet function and how to improve the lives of those with diabetes. In 2010, seeing a lack of access to human tissue available for research, MacDonald established IsletCore, which makes donor tissues that were not viable for transplant available for research teams.

“Support from the BBDC is what got me into diabetes research. As a BBDC-funded summer student in the summer of 1998 I had my first real taste of what it meant to work in a research lab. I was fortunate after this to be supported by the BBDC through my graduate career with Prof. Mike Wheeler, in the form of studentships and other opportunities. The BBDC’s Annual Scientific Day exposed me to what was (and still is) a fantastic local community of researchers interested in broad topics impacting diabetes, and BBDC travel support allowed me to attend my first international science meetings! These opportunities were crucial in propelling my career, in learning how to do science, and ultimately to come back to Canada to be part of the diabetes research community here (even if I’m on the other side of the country).”

Learn more about the BBDC’s funding programs for undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.