Award takes graduate student on study experience in Australia

Faculty of Graduate Studies

Award takes graduate student on study experience in Australia

Funding support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Michael Smith Foreign Study Supplement program is taking Val Andrew Fajardo on a study experience Down Under beginning in May.

The master's student in Applied Health Sciences will work with a team of world-renowned researchers at the Muscle Cell Research Group at La Trobe University, in Melbourne. Fajardo will spend three months learning a groundbreaking technique, pioneered by the La Trobe team, to mechanically skin single muscle cells.

When he returns to Brock, Fajardo will use the technique to advance his research into analysing the components found in sarcolemmal membranes of muscle cells. His research applies to a range of health issues such as obesity, diabetes and muscular dystrophy.

As a recipient of a 2009 CIHR Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship, Fajardo was eligible to apply for the study supplement award.

“As well as using the method for my purposes, another benefit from this research trip will be learning other applications for it from various researchers there,” says Fajardo. “I expect only great things from this trip. I hope my expected new-found knowledge will benefit other investigators at Brock and elsewhere in Ontario who wish to learn and start using this technique.”

Imagine a muscle cell as a cylindrical tube that is a fraction of the width of a single human hair. The sarcolemmal membrane is the casing around the tube and it is important to the life of a muscle cell for a number of reasons. Within this casing, explains Fajardo, are the tools and machinery necessary for biological processes to occur in muscle, such as contraction, energy metabolism and storage. The casing also protects the cell from outside influences.

In order to study the sarcolemmal membrane, it must be removed from the cell. Fajardo says that the Australian team's technique allows for the complete membrane to be skinned from the cell as opposed to traditional methods in which only fragments of the membrane are isolated.

“These traditional methods have been questioned for their purity of sarcolemma membrane and the possibility that the fragment could be contaminated with other membranes,” he explains. “As well, there were questions as to if the fragments of sarcolemma were really representative of the whole sarcolemma. So, there are many advantages to learning this new technique for my research.

“I also view my trip as establishing a link between the Centre for Muscle Metabolism and Biophysics here at Brock University and the Muscle Cell Research Group at La Trobe University. It is a connection that may potentially be fruitful in terms of advancing science in our field and leading to future collaborations between the two institutions.”

Fajardo's master's research is supervised by Community Health Sciences Professor Paul LeBlanc who is involved in research into the important role skeletal muscle has in health.

While in Melbourne, Fajardo will be supervised by Dr. Graham Lamb, a principal investigator with the Muscle Cell Research Group. Lamb and his colleagues, including Dr. Robyn Murphy and Dr. George Stephenson, are known around the world for major discoveries into how human muscles work.


Val Andrew  Fajardo

Val Andrew Fajardo