Kutanzi earns Vanier Canada award

Kristy Kutanzi grew up in the Alberta hamlet of Grassy Lake, with a population of less than 1,000 people and more than 7,000 kilometres from Ukraine. Dr. Olga Kovalchuk grew up in the shadow of Chernobyl, site of the worst nuclear power plant disaster in history.

Despite their divergent backgrounds, they are now linked as researchers, delving into the field of epigenetics and its potential role as a basis for a number of health problems, including cancer. Kutanzi (BSc '06), now a PhD student working with Kovalchuk in the Department of Biological Sciences, has been awarded a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship as a result, a prestigious doctoral scholarship valued at $50,000 per year for up to three years.

"Success in my field of research is something that I have always worked hard to achieve and will continue to do so," says Kutanzi. "Although I was surprised to receive the Vanier, I feel that this recognition is a reflection of the merit of my field of research."

Her proposed research is entitled, "Epigenetic dysregulation in estrogen-induced mammary carcinogenesis" which she describes as, "addressing the role of estrogen in the development of breast cancer."

"The Vanier brings national recognition to the value of researching breast cancer development, particularly during the early stages when there is a greater chance of successfully treating the disease," says Kutanzi. "This award is an important step in raising awareness of the research being conducted to better understand how to prevent and treat cancer."

The Vanier program is in its first year, having been launched by the Government of Canada in 2008 with an initial $25-million investment. The program aims to attract and retain world-class doctoral students by supporting students who demonstrate a high standard of scholarly achievement in graduate studies in the social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and engineering and health.

Kutanzi is one of 55 recipients chosen by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), one of three federal research granting agencies responsible for the administration of the award.

"This scholarship allows me to focus on cutting edge research in the field of epigenetics, and provides me with the funding to present my results at international conferences," says Kutanzi. "Attendance at these scientific conventions is crucial for developing collaborations, potential employment opportunities and gaining insight into the current and future prospects of my field. Moreover, this award serves as recognition of the high quality of the University of Lethbridge's graduate program."

Kutanzi's interest in cancer epigenetics was sparked when she was still an undergraduate student. She would carry that interest to her graduate and now doctoral studies and sees a future that has her continuing work to combat the world's health problems.

"I could definitely see myself working in collaboration with governmental institutions, such as Health Canada, to explore the long-term health problems associated with the lifestyle and environmental factors that affect Canadians," she says.