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June 6, 2002 Travis Chalmers' head start was at the Science College



Travis Chalmers

Travis Chalmers

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Robert Scalia

If it weren’t for tiny crustaceans and electro-luminescent polymers, Travis Chalmers probably wouldn’t be sitting pretty in McGill University’s pharmacology department.

“I don’t think I would have gone into research otherwise,” he said simply. “I probably would have gotten out of science all together.”

The 23-year-old, who managed to reap $11,000 in undergraduate grants at Concordia, credits the Science College for opening his eyes to the thrill of hands-on scientific research.

He still remembers his first research project in aquatic ecology under Dr. Edward Maly’s supervision. They were studying the behaviour of male and female copepods — tiny crustaceans that outnumber insects on our planet — in the presence of a certain predator.

Chalmers would later dabble in organic chemistry, with the electroluminescent polymers and gene expression in plants. This type of cross-stream exposure led naturally to pharmacology, a field he affectionately describes as a mishmash of biochemistry, psychology and molecular biology.

At McGill, Chalmers has shifted his attention to altering the gene expression of rats with a new class of drugs called peptide nucleic acids.

Gene expression denotes the amount of specific proteins in a given cell. In particular cases of schizophrenia, for example, it has been discovered that certain dopamine-related proteins are more highly expressed. Using these new drugs to decrease the expression of those proteins may alleviate some of the symptoms for future sufferers.

Chalmers hopes to help develop such drugs in industry one day. He has already decided to transfer into pharmacology’s doctoral program to ensure a research-based future.

Is human research the next logical step? Not quite, said Chalmers. He doesn’t want to face the ethical hurdles involved in studying protein behaviour in the human brain. “I really prefer basic research,” he said. “There’s much more freedom there.”