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An Australian adventure: winning the Outstanding Young Investigator Award

Published: 09 May 2019
Category: Prizes, awards and grants
By Robert Laprairie

In 2018, I was selected as the Outstanding Young Investigator by the British Pharmacological Society and the Australasian Society for Clinical and Experimental Pharmacologists and Toxicologists (ASCEPT)! This award gave me the opportunity to travel to the Florey Institute and the University of Melbourne where I learned from and worked alongside Drs. Laura Jacobson, Daniel Hoyer and Andrew Lawrence. I’ve been asked to share my amazing experience here. I want to start out by thanking the British Society and ASCEPT for this opportunity and their ongoing support.

A little bit about myself: I’m originally from Saskatoon, Canada. I hold a BSc (Biochemistry, University of Saskatchewan, 2010), MSc (Neuroscience and Pharmacology, Dalhousie University, 2012), and a PhD (Pharmacology, Dalhousie University, 2016), and worked as postdoctoral fellow at The Scripps Research Institute. Last year I joined the College of Pharmacy and Nutrition at the University of Saskatchewan as the GlaxoSmithKline-Canadian Institutes of Health Research Research Chair in Drug Discovery and Development. Research in the newly-minted Laprairie lab is focused on understanding the pharmacodynamics of cannabinoids – compounds structurally or functionally related to ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – at the cannabinoid receptors (CB1R, CB2R). I have been a member of the Society since 2011.

Recently, I have become interested in the cross-talk between CB1R and orexin receptors. Both receptors are expressed at high levels in the same neurons where the regulate sleep, appetite, and reward. While the molecular pharmacology of this cross-talk is very interesting in and of itself, I knew that I would also want to explore the interactions between these receptors in vivo. That’s when the opportunity to work with Laura, Daniel and Andrew presented itself. I had been following their work and felt I could benefit a lot from learning from them – particularly their shared expertise in sleep and reward.

I travelled to Melbourne in February of 2019 and spent 3 weeks in Australia. During that time Laura, Daniel, and Andrew’s labs were extremely open and helpful. I was able to sit in and learn surgical techniques, sleep recording and data analysis, and several behavioural assays that I am excited to implement with my own lab back in Canada.

I am particularly grateful for the spirit of openness and the willingness to share and collaborate that I encountered with every member of their labs. It was an honour to be able to drop into their group and gain so much from them in such a short period of time.

I was also able to meet with postdocs and students and discuss their data, projects, and career goals. I am excited that from this trip and learning experience we will be able to move forward and collaborate together on new and interesting projects – building off our shared expertise – and I have already gained from their mentorship and perspective as established researchers.



While in Australia, I also had the opportunity to share my lab’s research with the Department of Pharmacology at U Melbourne and The Lambert Initiative at the University of Sydney, as well as meet with colleagues at RMIT and Monash University. Personally, this was a wonderful opportunity for me to share the excellent work that my trainees and I have begun and I am thankful that I was able to do so.

Once again, I want to thank the BPS, ASCEPT, Laura, Daniel, and Andrew, and all of the members of their labs for their support and tremendous hospitality. I am excited to continue the work we have only just started and see where the data may lead us.

 

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