Double honours recognize research excellence

Having grown up on a 100-acre farm in an area of rural Ontario known as the 'heart of tobacco country', Sarah Svenningsen, PhD'16, sees a connection between her upbringing and her motivation to pursue respiratory research.  

“The severity of respiratory diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is an under-recognized health issue, and one that I feel compelled to change for the better” she said.
As the recipient of the inaugural John P. Robarts Award and the 2016 Collip Medal, Svenningsen is well on her way to achieving this goal.
Having recently completed her PhD in medical biophysics at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and Robarts Research Institute under supervisor Grace Parraga, PhD, the distinguished graduate is now pursuing a postdoctoral research fellowship jointly with the Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health at McMaster University and Robarts.
“It is truly an honour to be the recipient of these prestigious awards, and to be associated with the impressive group of Collip recipients,” she said. “Receiving awards of this calibre motivate me to remain focused and to strive for continued excellence as I begin the next chapter of my career.”
During her postdoctoral fellowship, Svenningsen will be focusing on a CIHR-funded project to develop new imaging measurements of asthma that can be used to better characterize patients and guide treatment decisions with the intent to improve patient outcomes.

“Unfortunately, for many patients with severe asthma, current therapies do not improve symptoms or risk of disease worsening, necessitating hospital visits, lost school or work days and poor quality of life,” she explained. “We think these measurements will be sensitive to disease abnormalities in asthma and provide us with additional information that current clinical tools cannot provide.”  

Svenningsen is planning to pursue a faculty position in Canada upon completion of her postdoctoral work in two years. She says her continued connection with Robarts is a key factor in her success.

“The atmosphere at Robarts has been imperative to my growth and accomplishments as a graduate trainee,” she said. “Access to state-of-the-art technologies and mentorship by world-renowned scientists has provided an ideal platform for research and academic excellence.”