Researcher at age 19!
By Cindy Demontigny
Bent over a microscope, Jamie Ghossein carefully harvests cells from the kidney of a mouse. The cells are being studied to track a receptor called EP3 (prostaglandin E2/receptor 3) that could potentially assist in treating certain types of kidney disease (or even diseases such as diabetes, which can affect the kidneys).
This is precision work, and Jamie carries it out masterfully, as though he had several years of experience under his belt. Yet Jamie is only 19 years old and for two years has already been a team member at the Kidney Research Centre. For Jamie, finding a treatment to improve quality of life for those suffering from kidney problems is a goal with personal significance. Three of his family members need daily dialysis treatments.
“I’ve always had a passion for science, and I worked really hard to get good grades. At the end of my high school studies at Franco-Cité, I received an Undergraduate Research Scholarship from the Faculty of Science. That let me join a research team in the weeks following my graduation. I worked with the team all summer, and then I started my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. That gave me lots of experience in the lab and was the starting point for my career as a researcher.”
Jamie already has a publication to his name. He is an author of an article that will appear shortly in the journal Diabetologia.1
In addition to his laboratory work — which he has been able to continue during his studies — Jamie takes part in provincial competitions, such as the Undergraduate Science Case Competition (USCC), where his team came second in 2015 out of more than 700 students. Their presentation was on a new way to use estrogen to reduce the frequency of seizures.
“My experience in the lab has allowed me to develop my critical thinking skills quickly and to see how theory and experiments are related. I’ve learned new techniques that I hope to now share with my classmates.”
A talent for teaching
On top of being a researcher, Jamie has discovered that he has a talent for teaching. Along with other scholarship recipients, he formed a science club (the Undergraduate Research Initiative) that gives all students from the Faculty the opportunity to hone their research skills. At the beginning of the year, the club launched a contest similar to the USCC, and nearly 200 students signed up. Some 20 competitors made it to the finals and will be representing the University of Ottawa at the next provincial competition of the USCC.
“Without this scholarship and the support of members of the Faculty, I never would have been able to put these initiatives in place,” says the young researcher. “The scholarship hasn’t just helped me — it has also benefited all those who’ve participated in the club’s activities.
"The students in this faculty are the scientists of tomorrow. Some will go on to make major discoveries that improve our lives. But for that to happen, they need to have opportunities like the ones I had, and more scholarships that promote research need to be made available to them.”
The Undergraduate Research Scholarships from the Faculty of Science are awarded annually to 16 high school or CEGEP students who register in one of the Faculty of Science's programs.
1 Ramzi Hassouneh, Rania Nasrallah, Joe Zimpelmann, Alex Gutsol, Jamie Ghossein, David Eckert, Richard M. Breyer, Kevin D. Burns, and Richard L. Hébert: PGE2/EP3 receptor inhibits water reabsorption and contributes to polyuria and kidney injury in streptozotocin diabetic mice. Diabetologia, 2016.
At 19 years old, Jamie Ghossein is the youngest researcher on the team at the Kidney Research Centre. Photo: Robert Lacombe