First Recipient of Ivan Beck Memorial Scholarship chosen

"I remember Dr. Beck speaking about the important role of clinician scientists in the realm of biomedical research,” says David Rodrigues, the first recipient of the Ivan Beck Memorial Summer Studentship. “His words have helped guide me to the path that I am currently pursuing.”

David is a first year medical student who has a strong interest in digestive diseases and hopes to be on the front line of treating and studying these diseases in the future. With the support of the scholarship, David will be working under Dr. Nicola Jones at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario this summer. His area of interest is in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), specifically Crohn’s disease. This is good news for Canadians as we have one of the highest incidence and prevalence rates of IBD in the world with as many as 240,000 people affected.

Inflammatory bowel diseases are comprised of at least two separate disorders that cause inflammation (redness and swelling) and ulcerations (sores) of the small and large intestines. Ulcerative colitis affects only the lining of the large bowel whereas Crohn's disease can occur anywhere in the digestive tract. Malnutrition and blood disorders are common conditions in IBD and almost half of IBD patients have additional health issues affecting their joints, skin, eyes, and biliary tract that may be more debilitating than the bowel symptoms. Many will endure multiple surgeries.

David will use the $8,000 scholarship, which is provided jointly by the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation and the Canadian Association Gastroenterology, to study the potential regulation of key autophagy genes by microRNA (miRNA) silencing pathways.

David explains that miRNA can regulate the creation of the very proteins that make our bodies function, a phenomenon called 'gene silencing'. Without adequate regulation, processes which are controlled by proteins can cause disease. Several gene mutations have been associated with Crohn's disease including proteins involved in a process called autophagy, which plays a part in our immunity to bacterial infection and inflammation along the digestive tract.

The research David will be involved in at The Hospital for Sick Children will focus on determining if, and how, these autophagy genes are regulated by miRNA gene silencing pathways. The results of these studies will provide the basis for determining if alterations in these miRNA are involved in the cause and/or development of Crohn’s disease.

David says he is honoured to receive Dr. Beck’s award. He has recently met several patients with IBD and is learning first-hand how significantly the disease affects the physical, emotional and social well-being of those afflicted. David asserts that “achievements in this field of research may support the development of novel therapies in the future and therefore have the power to provide hope to patients suffering from these poorly understood diseases.”

Enhancing lifelong health

The Canadian Digestive Health Foundation believes our ability to help establish, enrich and protect a healthy gut microbiota is the key to lifelong health