When Jonathan Simone (BSc ’13) crosses the stage at Brock’s Fall Convocation next week, he will do so as an international award-winning cannabinoid researcher.
This summer, five years of hard work culminated in the Brock University PhD candidate receiving a top honour at an industry conference in Leiden, Netherlands.
The International Cannabinoid Research Society named Simone a recipient of the Predoctoral Scientific Achievement Award at the 28th Annual International Cannabinoid Research Society Symposium on the Cannabinoids.
The 33-year-old Vaughn native was one of five recipients of the award at the June 30 to July 5 conference.
“It is always an honour to present research at a conference of this quality, with the most influential scientists in the field in attendance,” said Simone, who will receive his PhD at Brock’s Oct. 12 Convocation ceremony. “My presentation this year was especially meaningful as this was my last conference as a graduate student and the research I presented was the result of several years of hard work.”
Working under the supervision of Cheryl McCormick, Professor and Associate Dean Research and Graduate Studies for the Faculty of Mathematics and Science, Simone has been part of a research team focused on developmental, social and behavioural neuroendocrinology.
His research contributes to a growing understanding around the developmental consequences of exposure to cannabis and cannabinoid drugs in adolescence.
Simone has sought to gain an understanding of how the endogenous cannabinoid system — the system in the brain through which cannabis exerts its effects — regulates emotional behaviours, such as fear and anxiety.
“While most people’s understanding of the endocannabinoid system is in the context of cannabis use, less is known about the extremely important role this system plays in virtually every aspect of mammalian physiology,” said Simone.
While the endocannabinoid system has emerged as a key regulator of adolescent development in recent years, specific contributions are not well understood.
Moreover, the majority of behavioural neuroscience studies have focused primarily on male over female animals. This, as Simone explained, “is problematic particularly because females are more than twice as likely as males to develop psychopathologies such as anxiety disorders.”
Gender differences also play a role in how males and females respond to pharmacological interventions aimed at treating anxiety-like disorders, with cannabis-based drugs being no exception.
The importance of studying both groups is not lost on Simone.
“If we truly want to build towards the development of effective therapies for psychopathologies like fear and anxiety disorders, it is extremely important that we develop a solid understanding of how these behaviours are regulated in both sexes.”
His award-winning research demonstrates that cannabinoid receptor signaling in adolescence contributes to the development of social behaviours in female rats and highlights the endocannabinoid system as a potential target for the treatment of social anxiety disorders.
Simone was also able to identify specific regions in the brain involved in the regulation of social behaviours.
Along with walking away from the conference with a prestigious award, Simone checked off a few other items from his bucket list. The conference gave him an opportunity to meet Raphael Mechoulam, considered the father of cannabinoid research, an interaction which Simone described as “surreal.”
Other highlights included exploring Den Haag, Amsterdam and Rotterdam in addition to Leiden. Simone visited the oldest university in the Netherlands, the University of Leiden and walked through the botanical gardens where another influential figure, Carl Linnaeus – considered the “father of modern taxonomy” – did his groundbreaking work.
More recently, Simone has accepted the position of Director of Research and Clinical Studies with Aphria, a Health Canada licensed producer of medical cannabis products and a leading global cannabis company with operations on five continents.
As he moves on to the full-time role, Simone is quick to reflect on his time at Brock.
“It has been such a privilege to work with and learn from my supervisor and committee members,” he said. “You can’t help but feel fortunate when you have such amazing scientists and mentors to guide you and help you develop as a scientist.”