Sept. 17, 2019

Postdoctoral scholar invites Indigenous women to seek out career in science

Dr. Wendie Marks digs deep into understanding the brain and brain disorders

She has 30 awards to her name, including a Governor General’s medal, has published more than a dozen research articles, holds a future position as an assistant professor in Nova Scotia, and has completed a competitive postdoctoral fellow in the pathology of brain disorders. Already an accomplished researcher, Dr. Wendie Marks, PhD, was not content until she was accepted as an Eyes High postdoctoral scholar at the University of Calgary.

“I was so happy to be accepted because I have always wanted to continue my studies at the University of Calgary,” says Marks. “What really pulled me to this university is that it has one of the leading neuroscience programs in Canada intersecting with the field of metabolomics. This is so special, so unique, that I wanted to be a part of the program.” Metabolomics is the study of the chemical fingerprints that cellular processes leave behind in the body.

  • The University of Calgary is celebrating our postdoctoral scholars during the National Postdoc Appreciation Week of Sept. 16-20, 2019 to recognize the significant contributions they make to research and discovery.

Marks is a member of the Canadian Association for Neuroscience Equity Diversity and Inclusion Committee which is dedicated to improving engagement and visibility for minority groups within the field of neuroscience. “I want Indigenous women involved in science because they build creativity and strength into research,” she says.

Marks attributes some of her focus and determination in her scientific pursuits to her background. She is Ojibway, of the First Nation of Wauzhushk Onigum (Rat Portage) near Lake of the Woods, Ontario. “I feel it’s important to be involved with and contribute to the Indigenous community because it is a heritage that I am proud of,” she says. As a graduate student, she was a member of the Aboriginal and Indigenous Graduate Student Council at the University of Saskatchewan and also served as an Indigenous student representative at several forums, conferences, and meetings.

Dr. Morris Scantlebury, MD, a pediatric neurologist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and neuroscientist in the Cumming School of Medicine, and Dr. Jane Shearer, PhD, a molecular biologist investigating the gut-brain connection in neurological disorders, supervise Marks. They’re both members of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine. (CSM). “The great benefit of working with these two investigators is the intersection of their scientific fields, together they really offer me an opportunity to grow in my research,” Marks says. “I am focused on examining how diet can potentially improve the outcomes for newborns with infantile spasms, a very challenging disorder to manage.”

“We are extremely fortunate to have Marks join our team. She brings expertise and an enthusiasm for understanding the gut-brain axis in health and disease,” Shearer says. “I’m confident she will accomplish great things to help our babies with epilepsy,” notes Scantlebury. 

Shearer_Scantlebury

Marks is supervised by Dr. Jane Shearer and Dr. Morris Scantlebury, both members of ACHRI

Riley Brandt, Laura Herperger

The research programs of Drs. Shearer and Scantlebury are supported by community funds through the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation. In addition, the funds directed toward Dr. Shearer support her research of neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD). The goal is to help families with children living with an NDD diagnosis such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other complex brain disorders, to receive the best care to improve their child’s biological, social, developmental and behavioural needs.

Marks has always felt the brain should be studied, not in isolation, but in reference to the entire body. She completed her doctorate studies at the University of Saskatchewan and continued with a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology there. In her research she examined the alterations in behaviour, learning and memory produced by repeated exposure to the stress hormone corticosterone. She was also able to investigate the potential of novel drug compounds to reverse the negative behavioural outcomes in animal models of schizophrenia and epilepsy.

Sitting at her lab bench, Marks calmly examines animal brain cells through a microscope. But her voice is deeply animated, lifting higher and brightly as she expresses her wonder at what she is sees.  “There’s just not enough known about this amazing instrument of the body, and I am so excited to be part of uncovering even a very small part of its scientific secrets,” she says. The year will be a good one.

Dr. Morris Scantlebury, MD, is an assistant professor in the departments of Pediatrics and Clinical Neurosciences at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), a pediatric neurologist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, and a member of the CSM’s Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI).

Dr. Jane Shearer, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Cumming School of Medicine and a member of CSM’s ACHRI.