2014 Ontario Women’s Health Scholars: Bios

Postdoctoral Awards

Alex Kitson

Alex Kitson is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s department of Nutritional Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine. His research focuses on factors affecting the metabolism of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid which is important for fetal brain development and brain health of expectant mothers. Testing on rats, he plans to explore the effect of supplementing the fatty acid in the diet during pregnancy. Kitson hopes his research will inform dietary DHA recommendations during pregnancy that will optimize fetal brain development as well as maternal brain health.

PhD Awards

Dziyana Kraskouskaya

Dziyana Kraskouskaya immigrated to Canada from Belarus to get her bachelor degree in molecular biology from the University of Toronto. She then pursued her PhD in organic chemistry, during which she initiated a project to develop fluorescent agents that would enhance our understanding of cancer onset and progression. The sensors will be used to study how women’s cancers develop and to create new therapies to fight them. Kraskouskaya hopes to pursue a career in innovative science that would expand the available technological toolbox for fighting devastating diseases.

Kristin Marks

Kristin Marks is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo. Her research interests include changes in omega‐3 fatty acid composition during pregnancy that assists fetal brain development. Marks is also interested in sex differences in tissue fatty acid composition, since that may contribute to sex differences in disease risk. She is currently investigating how estrogen contributes to regulating fatty acid metabolism, and may contribute to sex differences in fatty acid composition. Estrogen is a potent hormone that influences numerous biological pathways in many different tissues. Estrogen can directly regulate gene expression by binding to a receptor that can bind to sequences of DNA. She hopes her research will further the understanding of fat metabolism, and will allow for more specific dietary recommendations for women at different stages of their lives.

Kara Hawkins

Kara Hawkins is a doctoral student at York University who has both practical and theoretical experience with neuropsychology. Inspired by her work experience with the neuropsychology department at Baycrest, a geriatric research and care centre, Hawkins is now carrying out her doctoral studies in the neurophysiology of complex motor control. In her research she will use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare the brain structure and function of women at increased genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease to healthy women of a similar age. Hawkins hopes a novel cognitive motor assessment tool will produce a behavioural measure for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and provide insight into the underlying brain changes associated with the early stages of the disease.

Master’s Awards

Tara Gralnick

Tara Gralnick is a Master’s student in the Department of Psychological Clinical Science at the University of Toronto. Her research interests involve the relationship between different types of patients and their psychopathological outcomes, with a particular focus on the role of personality and gender in the development, expression and treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders. Specifically, Gralnick plans to examine the effect of rumination on the treatment and recurrence of depression in women undergoing cognitive-behavioural therapy or taking antidepressants. She hopes to learn more about the short -and long-term effects of two styles of rumination: brooding and reflection. It is expected the research will help doctors select the best treatment for women suffering from depression.

Maurice Pasternak

Maurice Pasternak wanted to incorporate his interests in sound and medicine and found a union in the form of medical biophysics research while at Ryerson University. There, he investigated the ability of high-frequency ultrasound to detect changes in single breast cancer cells as they progressed. His findings indicated that high-frequency ultrasound may prove to be sensitive to the mechanisms of cancer cells as they undergo death. Now a Master’s student in the Interdisciplinary Lab Medicine and Pathobiology program at the University of Toronto, Pasternak’s research focuses on breast cancer cell death, using a novel and non-invasive technology – high-frequency ultrasound. His research will attempt to identify the agents that allow high-frequency ultrasound to detect cancer cell death. He hopes to prove that the ultrasound may be used as a fast, non-invasive and accurate technique to determine the efficacy of breast cancer treatment.