Grad school is an extraordinary time for learning and growth. Follow your interests, listen, take chances, push yourself, have fun! Reflect on the process and your learning and always remember to take care of yourself.

Natalie Kinloch receives 2019 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship

Congratulations to Natalie Kinloch, who has received a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship for $150,000 to support her PhD program in Health Sciences. Kinloch's proposed research, Genetic and Functional Characterization of the Latent HIV Reservoir Towards an HIV Cure, aims to identify viral genetic features that can be used as targets to stop the HIV virus from replicating, thus moving one step closer to an HIV cure.

May 24, 2019
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Faculty of Health Sciences PhD student

Born and raised in the Vancouver area, I completed my B.Sc. (Honours) in Health Sciences at SFU. I became interested in science, in particular virology and genetics, in high school and through co-op and working in other labs at SFU, I eventually found my way into Dr. Zabrina Brumme’s lab where I’m currently doing my PhD. Outside of the lab, I can be found reading about different places in the world or out on the field hockey pitch.compress by working in my yard. Gardening has become an excellent form of self care, which is so very important to do when you are pursuing graduate studies.  

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COME TO SFU?

I did my B.Sc. (Honours) in Health Sciences at SFU from 2010- 2015. I’ve always been interested in viruses and genetics, so during my undergrad I approached my current PhD supervisor, Dr. Zabrina Brumme, to work in her lab and she suggested I do an honours thesis. I spent eight months working on my own project, which looked at the genetic diversity and evolution of HIV over the course of the epidemic in North America as relevant to the development of an HIV vaccine, and quickly realized how much I loved research and how meaningful it can be to be part of a wider community of people all putting their heads together to try to help others around the world. This experience inspired me to pursue graduate studies in the same lab so I could continue to study HIV genetics. I love the close-knit community at SFU, in FHS and within our lab group; this family-like atmosphere has created a supportive culture that has been so critical to my success. I have been so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from a passionate group of peers from all disciplines during both my undergrad and in graduate school and to collaborate and work with folks from all over the world. This has given me a more diverse perspective on science and research, which is invaluable for a young researcher today. All of these factors together led me to stay at SFU for grad school!

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RESEARCH AND/OR PROGRAM.

During production of new viruses in an infected cell, HIV regularly makes mistakes in copying its genome. This means that, in an infected person, there is a diverse pool of viruses that are all related but genetically distinct from one another. These viruses are constantly infecting new cells and producing more viruses. This diversity makes HIV hard for the body’s immune system to attack, particularly because the sequence of some of these viruses allows them to specifically evade killer immune cells. When an infected person goes on antiretroviral drugs, infected cells stop producing new viruses. However, cells that were already infected can go dormant and if antiretroviral therapy is ever stopped, these viruses can wake back up and infect new cells. This pool of viruses laying dormant in an infected person’s body, referred to as the latent HIV reservoir, are the target of intervention strategies aimed at achieving an HIV cure. However, the diversity and other genetic characteristics of these latent viruses are largely unknown, making them difficult to target. My research aims to get a better understanding of these attributes with the goal of helping to inform a portion of an HIV cure strategy, such as a vaccine to stimulate the immune system to kill off these reservoir cells.

WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY ENJOYING ABOUT YOUR STUDIES/RESEARCH AT SFU?

Please see response to “why did you choose SFU?” question. In addition to the things described in that previous response: I love having the opportunity to learn every day and explore new ideas. I love the challenge of research and working on a project I care a lot about! 

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PROGRAM/POSTDOC POSITION TO SOMEONE STILL SEARCHING FOR A PROGRAM OR POSTDOC POSITION?

The Faculty of Health Sciences MSc/PhD program is an interdisciplinary program aiming to develop student’s expertise in their chosen field of study/research area, but also to create well-rounded researchers who have cross-disciplinary knowledge, awareness and communication skills. Students take core interdisciplinary courses in addition to ones specific to their field of study. This interdisciplinary format gives students the opportunity to learn and work with their peers from different disciplines. These skills are invaluable to young researchers today.

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE GRADUATE STUDENTS/POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWS?

Grad school is an extraordinary time for learning and growth. Follow your interests, listen, take chances, push yourself, have fun! Reflect on the process and your learning and always remember to take care of yourself, your work will always be there but you are important too!

Contact Natalie: nkinloch@sfu.ca