THUNDER BAY – Healthbeat – Between Lakehead University, Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, students have no reason to leave Thunder Bay to pursue their passions in science, medicine and research. Sean Cuninghame and Robert Jackson are two very talented and passionate local examples of this.
Both are originally from Thunder Bay, attending St. Ignatius and Hammarskjold High School and then transitioning to Lakehead University for their undergraduate degrees. Both students had an interest in science in high school which led them to apply to science programs at Lakehead University. “Computer programming and biology were my main interests in high school and I wanted to find a way that I could combine them as I moved into university,” said Jackson.
Home Grown and Dedicated
The boys were never interested in leaving the city permanently. Cuninghame explained, “My friends and family are here and Thunder Bay has everything you could be looking for.” Gaining hands-on experience by working in the lab with professors at LU was one of the first ways that Cuninghame applied himself to working directly in the field.
Currently both Cuninghame and Jackson work under Dr. Ingeborg Zehbe, a scientist at TBRRI, focusing on Human Papillomavirus (HPV) type 16 and how it relates to cancer. More specifically, they’re studying how different genetic subtypes of HPV 16 affect cellular processes. Cuninghame is studying how changes in cellular metabolism by these subtypes affect their cancer-causing potential, while Jackson is exploring the role of viral life cycle in this process. Having recently completed his Master’s Degree, Jackson has continued his work under Dr. Zehbe, but has also branched into the world of academia by teaching a course this summer at Lakehead University. Teaching is a passion that Jackson discovered along his journey through post-secondary education and working as a Graduate Assistant. “I want to share my experience and passion for science with other people,” he said.
Their work in Thunder Bay has offered both young men opportunities that they wouldn’t have been able to find anywhere else. The state-of-the-art equipment and collaborators available at TBRRI have given these bright minds the opportunity to present at an international conference in Puerto Rico and to contribute to several peer-reviewed publications.
The duo offered words of wisdom for other younger people trying to follow in their footsteps. “Success comes from being well-rounded and learning to have strengths in a variety of areas. Ask questions, be curious and present passion and dedication to all of your work. With this you will be able to drive creativity from an analytical point of view.”