Hands-on research opportunities pave a path to med school

Science

- Vimala Jeevanandam

MacGillivray. Photo: UVic Photo Services.

It took some tussles with a few raccoons and a bald eagle for undergraduate Landon MacGillivray to realize that while he dearly loves animals, he wanted to work with more accommodating patients.

MacGillivray spent his childhood in Kamloops, playing hockey and discussing the finer points of science with his parents. Inspired by his experiences and conversations his father, who works as a science teacher, MacGillivray started at UVic as an undergraduate biology student, with the idea of being a wildlife veterinarian.

MacGillivray also volunteered with the BCSPCA Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre. “It was a great experience,” says Landon. “But the thing with wild animals is they don’t understand that you are trying to help them. Sometimes I wanted patients that just said thank you and didn’t try to bite me.”

Soon, MacGillivray will get that chance. This fall he will be heading to medical school at UBC.

Inspired by organic chemistry, MacGillivray decided to switch his major in his second year. “Everything in chemistry happens for a reason. It was exciting to see patterns happening at a molecular level,” he explains. “You could take these patterns and create these interesting structures that have important applications in medicine and industry.”

At the end of the class, MacGillivray asked his professor, Dr. Scott McIndoe, how he could get involved in research. Under McIndoe’s supervision, he learned to use a mass spectrometer to examine palladium homocoupling reactions—a type of reaction with nearly endless pharmaceutical and industrial applications.

From there, MacGillivray was awarded a JCURA, giving him the opportunity to study in McIndoe’s lab and in Dr. Fraser Hof’s, on a joint project to develop a ‘smart’ sensor that identifies lysines. Lysines are amino acids that are important for gene expression regulation. However, if they become modified through overmethylation, they are known to be involved in aggressive cancers. “My research used a fluorescent-tagged molecule to bind and disrupt modified lysine’s cellular activity,” he says. The creation of ‘smart’ sensors will help provide researchers with achemical understanding of life processes involved in human development and disease.

“Lab work confirmed how passionate I am about chemistry. I gained an awareness of the difference between interest and passion,” says MacGillivray. “I don’t mind staying extra hours in the lab. I want to solve the problems given to me, and when I have a breakthrough it’s incredibly rewarding.”

Even though MacGillivray won’t be continuing his research after this summer, he’s grateful for what he’s taken from the experiences he received from hands-on involvement in primary research. “You gain a huge amount of problem-solving skills trying to figure out what is going on and how conditions need to change to get better results. My instructors had high expectations of me; they encouraged me to work hard. I’ll carry that with me to med school.”

MacGillivray won’t be the first doctor in his family. He’s following in the footsteps of his sister. “She’s super-human,” he says. “She’s ambitious and she’s always looking to give back to the community.”

MacGillivray follows in his sister’s footsteps there as well. Whether it’s through volunteer service in South Africa, where he helped deactivate poacher snares on wildlife reserves, or building community with first-year science students at UVic, Landon is always looking to give back. This summer he’ll be working at a summer camp, arranging and supervising activities with teenagers with special needs. MacGillivray credits the example of his mother’s kind-hearted spirit as his motivation to help others. As a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation in Ontario, MacGillivray has also been supported by his band throughout his education.

After completing his education, MacGillivray hopes to return home to Kamloops and give back there.  

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Keywords: convocation, alumni, student life, wildlife, international, biomedical, biology, Africa

People: Landon MacGillivray, Fraser Hof


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