About Us
HISTORY

Welcome to the Department of Biochemistry and Medical Genetics, otherwise known as BMG. Biochemistry, as a separate department, dates back to 1919 when it was formed as one of the pre-clinical departments of the newly established Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, Max Rady College of Medicine, of the University of Manitoba. Professor A.T. Cameron was appointed as the first Head of the Department. The history of human genetics in Manitoba dates back to 1944 when Dr. Bruce Chown, with Dr. Marion Lewis, established the Winnipeg Rh Laboratory. Dr. John Hamerton, later to become head of the first independent Human Genetics department, came to Winnipeg in 1969 to replace Dr. Irene Uchida, a pioneering cytogeneticist. Increasing complementarity of the research interests of many members of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Department of Human Genetics, led to the merging of the two departments in 1998. Dr. Barbara Triggs-Raine is the current head.

BMG is located on the Bannatyne Campus, the main medical and health sciences campus of the University of Manitoba. In addition to laboratories, common research support facilities and equipment are available to our faculty and students. The department is home to biochemistry, molecular biological sciences, and medical genetics expertise, practiced in an intellectually enriching research and teaching environment in the Max Rady College of Medicine and Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Excellent and dedicated faculty members work closely with graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, residents in genetics, and clinical geneticists to advance our understanding of complex and diverse biological processes. BMG also participates in an accredited Royal College Training Program in Medical Genetics as well as Canadian College of Medical Geneticists fellowship training. Our faculty are locally, nationally, and internationally recognized and have received numerous prestigious awards for their accomplishments in teaching and research. Moreover, our faculty members contribute significantly in providing health care services to individuals and families affected with genetic and metabolic disorders.

Further information on our department, including faculty research interests, available training programs, as well as news and events, can be found using the navigation menu on the left side of this page.

MISSION STATEMENT

The department’s fundamental mission is to provide scholarship in teaching, innovative research, and best practices in patient care. This mission includes advancing the frontiers of knowledge in biomolecular research, dedication to research underpinning the prevention and treatment of genetic and other diseases, and disseminating our knowledge, discoveries, and inventions. Our activities are pursued in a respectful and collaborative learning environment with the aim to better the health of Manitobans, Canadians and individuals worldwide.

GOALS

To promote excellence in teaching, research, and patient care, our specific goals are to:
• provide a stimulating educational experience that will motivate our students to become outstanding independent investigators, practitioners, and teachers;
• promote an interdisciplinary and collaborative research environment among students and faculty; and
• provide clinical/medical services of the highest quality to individuals or families with problems in areas of clinical genetics and certain types of birth defects

Changing Places and New Faces

In 2019 our Department recruited its newest computational biologist, Dr. Britt Drögemöller. Dr. Drögemöller will join us as an Assistant Professor in the Department in April of 2020. She completed her MSc and PhD in Genetics at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of British Columbia. Her research, under Dr. Colin Ross, has focused on using large-scale genomic analyses for precision medicine applications. In this position, she has led studies that incorporate genomic and bioinformatic analyses to identify the genetic predictors of severe adverse drug reactions to treatments. She developed an interest in complex regions of the genome as a graduate student, and has been involved the identification of structural variants that cause rare and potentially treatable inborn errors of metabolism. Dr. Drögemöller is looking forward to joining the Department although the COVID19 crisis will mean that her interactions remain remote for the time being.


Dr. Britt Drögemöller

We also had several changes in office staff over the past year.  We said good-bye to Ms. Lisa Zhang who moved to work in an area closely related to the research degree she is pursuing. Although we miss her very much, we have been fortunate to attract great new staff.  Mr. Annan Sher joined us in December to assist with the genetic counselling program as well as departmental equipment and facilities. Two former departmental graduate students, Mr. Nikho Hizon and more recently Ms. Chloe Lepage, have stepped in to assist with our academic portfolio. 

In 2019, Dr. Louise Simard moved from her administrative role as an Associate Dean, Graduate Studies to Acting Dean, Graduate Studies. This new role is keeping her very busy but continues to allow her to contribute to her passion for graduate studies.

Dr. Daniel Gietz retired from the Department in December 2019 after 30 years of service. Dr. Gietz is recognized internationally for his contributions to yeast genetics. His laboratory made significant advances in transformation of yeast that were vital to the progress of the field. We wish him well in his retirement!

Celebrating Outreach

Dr. Francis Amara and Dr. Etienne Leygue visited Sierra Leone in the spring of 2019 to teach and train future leaders in STEM. While in Sierra Leone, they established teaching and research partnerships with the Department of Biochemistry, College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, University of Sierra Leone. Since then, Drs. Amara and Leygue have been appointed as adjunct professors in the Department of Biochemistry. They are planning to return to Sierra Leone in late 2020 to develop courses in Molecular Biology, and offer hands-on activities in gel electrophoresis and protein analysis. During this period, Dr. Amara will oversee progress made so far in construction of the STEM and Biomedical Center, which will provide training opportunities in professional development for Sierra Leone.


Fourah Bay College of the University of Sierra Leone


STEM and Biomedical Science Building under construction

Dr. Mojgan Rastegar established the new "Human Rett Syndrome Brain Bio-Repository Laboratory" located within the Children's Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba (CHRIM). Establishment of this new lab was supported by private donations from Rett Syndrome parents and the Ontario Rett Syndrome Association (ORSA). Rett Syndrome parents from British Columbia, Ontario, and Manitoba, as well as ORSA President (Kevin Morton) were among the attendees at the grand opening of this new laboratory in September 2019.


Opening of Rett Syndrome Brain Bio-Repository

Our department worked with event coordinator Kristine Macalinao to host “Let’s Talk Science-GeneTalks High School Symposium” on May 14, 2019. More than 50 high school students were introduced in the morning to CRISPR/Cas9 and careers in genetic counselling.  After a lunch break, they spent the afternoon rotating in small groups to four different hands-on experiences. With the assistance of our faculty and graduate students, and other Departmental staff and trainees, we supported a memorable event that was appreciated by the students! Dr. Kirk McManus and his research team also organized and participated in numerous outreach activities aimed at inspiring the next generation of STEM researchers through laboratory demonstrations and tours. These tours included girls and parents involving the WISE-kidnetic Energy Girls club (with help from members of Dr. Pingzhao Hu and Dr. Sabine Mai’s labs) and the Aboriginal Nursing Cohort Initiative (ANCI). Here, kids, siblings, parents and nursing students were introduced to bioinformatics and microscopy and their applications in cancer research studies.


High school student and mentor loading a gel

The Genetic Counselling Program celebrated the accomplishments of the Class of 2019 on September 14, 2019, following the Annual Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors Conference, where they presented their Masters research.  The development and implementation of this program could not have been accomplished without the hard work of all supervisors and instructors who provided teaching, mentorship and support to the students within the University of Manitoba and the Shared Health Genetics and Metabolism Program.


Class of 2019 Graduates left to right: Angela Krutish, Rachelle Dinchong, Ashleigh Hanson

Jim Davie and MSc student Tasnim Beacon gave talks at the 41st annual Asilomar Chromatin, Chromosomes & Epigenetics Conference and were recruited to the organization committee for the 42nd meeting.

Faculty Awards and Recognitions

Dr. Cheryl Rockman-Greenberg, a clinician scientist and metabolic geneticist, is a Distinguished Professor in the Max Rady College of Medicine, Departments of Pediatrics & Child Health and Biochemistry & Medical Genetics. She has been the recipient of several awards in the last 2 years, recognizing her contributions over the past 40 years to basic and translational research in the area of rare hereditary inborn errors of metabolism. These include induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in April 2018, induction into the Order of Manitoba in July 2018 and most recently inducted as an Officer of the Order of Canada in December 2019.


Dr. Cheryl Rockman-Greenberg

Dr. Jim Davie was designated a Distinguished Professor, which is bestowed on academic staff members who have demonstrated outstanding distinction in research, scholarship, creative endeavours, professional service and teaching. Continuing in his role in professional service, he joined the Board of Canadian Science Publishing this year. Ms. Shannon Chin received the 2019 AGCPD Supervisor of the Year award. She also received the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors Professional Practice, Innovation and Advocacy Leadership Award, which recognizes a member who has worked to promote high standards of practice, encourage professional growth and increase public awareness of the genetic counselling profession in Canada. Ms. Charity Fan received the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors New Leader Award, which recognizes a member within five years of graduation who has contributed substantially to the genetic counselling profession and shows great promise to contribute in the future. Dr. Barbara Triggs-Raine was recognized with the 2018/19 Manitoba Medical Students’ Association BScMed Supervisor Mentorship Award.


2019 Fan- New Leader; Chin- Professionalism Award

Dr. Tamra Werbowetski-Ogilvie’s research in medulloblastoma was featured in Nature Research as part of a series on the “Spotlight in Canada”, and received funding from the “Rally Foundation for Pediatric Cancer”. Dr. Kirk McManus was successful in obtaining a CIHR Project grant titled, “Exploring and exploiting reduced USP22 expression in colorectal cancer”, and Dr. Geoff Hicks together with investigators Drs. Brenda Elias and Garry Munro successfully obtained a CIHR project grant entitled “Translating to the Community (T2C): A social epigenetic study of FASD.” . Dr. Meaghan Jones along with co-applicant Dr. Ayesha Saleem (Kinesiology and Recreation Management) received an inaugural New Frontiers in Research Fund for their project titled, “Reversing frailty through transmission of epigenetic age by extracellular vesicles”, which was featured on CTV news. Dr. Mojgan Rastegar and co-applicants Dr. Marc Del Bigio and Dr. Jiuyong Xie received a Rady Innovation Fund for their project entitled “A multi-omic study of the human brain to uncover the mechanism of Rett Syndrome”. Ms. Jessica Hartley and Ms. Angela Krutish (MSc GCP 2019) were awarded the 2019 Audrey Heimler Special Projects Award from the National Society of Genetic Counsellors for their research “The Impact of the Genetic Assistant Position on Genetic Counselor Productivity.” 

Future Leaders

Departmental trainees at all levels demonstrated their commitment to excellence and innovation in research, acquiring many provincial and national awards in 2019. Graduate student recipients included Selina Casalino (CIHR CGS-M); Cassie McDonald and Samantha Lee (UMGF Scholarship), Yong Won Jin, Leo McKay, Kazem Nejati Koshki (Research Manitoba MSc Studentship); Kailee Rutherford (2020 Research Manitoba / Rady Faculty of Health Sciences Graduate Entrance Scholarship); Tasnim Beacon (MSc), Lucile Jeusset (PhD) (CancerCare Manitoba/Research Manitoba Studentship); Marjorie Buist (Tri-Council Master’s Supplemental Award (TMSA); Laura Thompson (2019 Simon and Sarah Israels Award); Claire Morden (Women’s Health Research Foundation of Canada Graduate Scholarship), and Khatereh Saei Arezoumand, Mehrafarin Ashiri, Mohd Wasif Khan, Doris Onuzulu, and Le Tram (International Graduate Student Entrance Scholarship).

Undergraduate students were also recognized with many research awards. Recipients included Morgan Hiebert and Sari Glow (2019 NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award); Cindy Atayan and Nikolas Furletti (2020 NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Award); Emily Barker (GlycoNet Summer Research Award); Matthew Genung (BScMed Award Manitoba Neuroscience Network Award for an Excellent Research Project in Neurosciences) and Steven Cooper (BScMed Award for Molecular Biochemistry with Potential for Commercial Application,ADE & Co. and Dr. James C. Haworth Memorial Award for excellence in research related to hereditary disease); Trista Xu and Ally Farrell (2020 RIOH Summer Studentship).

PhD student Berardino Petrelli was a 3MT finalist for his work entitled “Using vitamin A to mediate FASD”.  MSc student Qian Liu (Dr. Pingzhao Hu Lab) won the Best Oral Presentation Award in 2019 IEEE 7th International Conference on Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Conference. MSc student Zahra Sepehri was the recipient of two travel awards to attend the Keystone Symposia on Epigenetics and Human Disease (X5) conference held at the Fairmont Banff Springs, Banff, Alberta, Canada in March and the 6th Canadian Conference on Epigenetics/IHEC Annual Meeting held in Banff Alberta in November. Tasnim Beacon was sponsored by Canadian Science Publishing to attend the Bioinformatics Network Alberta held in Lethbridge. At that conference, Tasnim, as Special Editor for Biochem Cell Biology, identified potential authors for a special issue on Genome Biology.


Qian Liu receives 2019 IEEE award

 
Dr. Barbara Triggs-Raine
Professor & Head, Biochemistry and Medical Genetics