Meet some of the undergraduate students in the Division of Medical Sciences

At the University of Victoria, researchers in the Division of Medical Sciences (DMSC) are making important advances in the field of neuroscience. Here are three examples:

  • Dr. Leigh Anne Swayne's work on ion channels — pores in cellular membranes that mediate electrical activity between cells — could one day improve health outcomes for patients affected by conditions like Schizophrenia and Austism spectrum disorders.
  • Dr. Brian Christie is not only developing objective, evidence-based protocols for diagnosing concussions; he's also helping to improve concussion recovery while reducing the risk of premature return to play and re-injury following a concussion.
  • Dr. Stephanie Willerth is designing stem cells that could, via transplantation, treat diseases like Parkinson's, and even repair damaged tissue in the spinal cord.

What do these researchers and their successes all have in common? The research teams they employ — teams that include bright, hard-working undergraduate students. These budding scientists, still early in their careers, are nonetheless contributing in a big way to significant discoveries in medical science.

Learn about a few of these remarkable students below.


ebElizabeth Brockman

Elizabeth is a fourth-year biology student from Saskatoon, SK. She has an avid interest in clinical and translational neuroscience, and recently completed a Biology Co-op at the NTT Basic Research Laboratories in Japan. She aspires to expand her neuroscientific education by enrolling in graduate school following her convocation in April, 2018.

In the Christie Lab, Elizabeth is completing her honours project on long-term potentiation and depression in FragileX Syndrome. She uses electrophysiology to study the hippocampal signals in the medial perforant pathway of the dentate gyrus in an attempt to normalize neuronal responses of Frm1.


bcBecca Candlish

Becca is a fourth-year Biochemistry student working in the Swayne Lab. She's focused on a membrane channel protein, Pannexin-1, and how it interacts with lipid microdomains in the membrane when stimulated with high levels of extracellular ATP. While previous lab members have found Pannexin-1 is internalized with high levels of extracellular ATP, Becca’s goal is to confirm that lipid microdomains are involved in the mechanism of internalization, which will lead to a better understanding of what factors affect Pannexin-1’s expression on the cell surface.

Becca is originally from Kelowna, BC, and enjoys hiking, running, and playing the ukulele. She’s fascinated by neurobiology and is keen to do more research in genetics the future.


ifIan Fraser

After completing an undergraduate degree in biology, Ian joined the Biomedical Engineering program at UVic, where he’s currently working on his honours project in the Willerth Lab. His project focuses on astrocyte reactivity for use in central nervous system injury modeling. This model is being used in experiments reprogramming cells in damaged tissue to become neurons. In the future, he hopes to work on bioreactor development for tissue engineering.

Ian grew up in the BC Kootenays. He enjoys a multitude of computer games, anything caffeinated, and hiking.


Shikha Khurana

Shikha’s research interests are broad, but in the Christie Concussion Lab, she’s studying how concussions influence a person’s ability to track multiple objects at once. To do that, she’s using the Neurotracker, a computer game that was originally used to measure performance in elite athletes. Specifically, she's using the game to detect recovery from concussion-related symptoms.

Originally from Vancouver, Shikha has been living in Victoria for the past several years. She’s currently studying Kinesiology and, so far, her favorite classes have been in human anatomy, physiology, and care and prevention of athletic injury. Outside of classes, she loves to hike, bike, read, and explore Vancouver Island.


clChris Lee

Chris works in the Willerth Lab, where he’s reprogramming cancerous glioblastoma cells into mature neurons using a novel protein delivery system and a cocktail of small molecules. The goal is for the system to have a high level of control compared to previous viral reprogramming methods, possibly leading to a new treatment method.

Born and raised in Victoria, BC, Chris is currently studying biology at UVic. He's keenly interest in medicine – his dream is to become a pediatrician and continue research into the treatment of brain cancer in children. Chris enjoys sports and currently plays for the UVic Varsity Field Hockey team.


cmConnor Mabbott

In the Christie Lab, Connor is using immunohistochemistry to analyze the hippocampus in a model of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

Connor is from Oakville, Ontario. He likes running and the outdoors, and loves to take advantage of Vancouver Island’s beautiful geography. He enjoys neuroscience and looks forward to gaining more experience in this field.


mwMaria Weaver

In the Swayne Lab, Maria is examining the functional role of Pannexin 1, a recently discovered ion channel in the brain. The Swayne Lab has found that blocking or knocking out Pannexin 1 in vivo leads to an increase in dendritic spine density. Information transfer between neurons can happen at spines, so an increase in these spines may lead to an increase in productive neuronal connections. In order to help confirm whether these new spines are functional, Maria has been working on visualizing markers of functional spines using immunostaining in neuronal cultures. This work has the potential to contribute to the development of new and improved therapies to aid in recovery from brain injury.

Maria is in her final year at the University of Victoria, where she’s completing a combined Major in Biology and Psychology. She enjoys hiking, reading, and spending time with friends and family. Her research interests are focused on synaptic plasticity, especially in the case of recovering from injury.


czCourtney Zoschke

In the Christie lab, Courtney is using electrophysiology-recording techniques to investigate the impact of fetal alcohol exposure on synaptic plasticity in the lateral perforant path input to the dentate gyrus. The goal of this work is to better understand how prenatal alcohol exposure may affect memory and learning.

Originally from Coquitlam, BC, Courtney is working towards a Kinesiology degree from the University of Victoria. Her passion for kinesiology developed from her involvement in competitive sports and a general interest in the human body, including mechanisms by which chronic disease and pathology occur. In her spare time, Courtney tries to stay active, be it through sports, hiking, weight-training, or yoga.