Dr. Yannick Benoit joins elite group of early career scientists

Faculty of Medicine
Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
Faculty of Medicine

By David McFadden

Research Writer, University of Ottawa

Dr. Yannick Benoit with his team
Dr. Benoit is being recognized by the Gairdner Foundation for his exceptional research achievements so far and his future potential.

Dr. Yannick Benoit has been racking up accolades for his strong work at the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine since his arrival in 2017. He’s earned an Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Ministry of Research; his lab has received coveted grants; he’s published in high-impact scientific journals.

The principal investigator and assistant professor in the Cellular and Molecular Medicine (CMM) department has just received his latest honour – and it’s a big one. He’s being recognized by the Gairdner Foundation for his exceptional research achievements so far and his future potential.

Dr. Benoit is one of six national winners of Gairdner’s 2022 Early Career Investigator competition. It’s the second year that the Gairdner Foundation – established in 1957 with the aim of recognizing international excellence in research that impacts health – is shining a specific spotlight on extraordinary young scientists across Canada.

“I was very surprised to be selected! There are so many great early career investigators across the country. It makes this distinction even more significant in my eyes,” Dr. Benoit says.

He will present his work as part of the foundation’s laureate symposium in Toronto later this month. Dr. Benoit was selected by two new Gairdner laureates – one of the top honours in medicine – for his promising research on the epigenetic mechanisms affecting cancer cells in colorectral tumours.

Dr. Benoit’s team is working to unveil how epigenetic “markers” effectively turn genes on or off and govern stem cell identity in colorectal tumours and in tissues lining the intestines. A major goal is the development of novel anticancer agents that can target epigenetic features of colorectal cancer stem cells.

There’s potential for big swaths of the population to be directly impacted by his lab’s findings down the line. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer across the globe. Here in Ontario, it’s the second leading cause of cancer deaths, with more than 3,000 people who will die from colorectal cancer this year alone.

Statistics only tell a portion of the tale. Dr. Benoit says he occasionally receives emails from patients battling metastatic tumours or facing therapeutic failure, bringing the impact for individuals and families into very sharp focus.

“They can ask me what to expect from our recent discoveries on cancer stem cells, or how soon the new molecules we are chasing might benefit their health. It is heartbreaking knowing there is still so much work to do. But it also fuels the motivation to work harder,” he says.

How does Dr. Benoit define success moving forward? It’s all about teamwork and mentoring the next generation of top research talent. He measures his lab's success based on training quality and the growth achieved by each team member.

“Seeing enthusiastic trainees shift gears as scientists and individuals while under my supervision is very rewarding,” he says.

As his work is increasingly recognized, Dr. Benoit credits the rich research ecosystem and supportive environment at the uOttawa Faculty of Medicine.

“I feel privileged to be part of the Faculty of Medicine here at uOttawa. I really appreciate the support and the interactions I had with our community during these early years of my career as an independent investigator,” he says. “And hopefully, it is just the beginning!”

Benoit team