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Medical researcher Cecilia Flores takes her PhD to Harvard

Cecilia Flores came to Concordia from the University of Mexico City partway through her undergraduate degree in 1990. Now she's doing postdoctoral work at the Harvard Medical School.

The Concordia connection was through a professor of pharmacology with whom she was doing volunteer laboratory work. He knew Professor Jane Stewart, and strongly recommended that she contact her. She was impressed with Concordia's psychology program, specifically the psychobiology one, and decided to finish her studies here.

GG-Flores"I immediately liked Concor-dia," she recalled. "It was very nice for me to find students from all over the world, of different ages, and from different backgrounds." She was plunged into life in English, which she had only studied at school in Mexico, but she soon felt at home.

"Dr. Stewart was especially helpful to me," she said. "She offered me the opportunity to work in her laboratory at the Centre for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology (CSBN)." As she took her courses, she was learning in the lab how to go about answering these questions experimentally, and attending Dr. Stewart's weekly laboratory meetings.

"As I look back, something that also influenced me significantly was taking a course in physiological psychology with Dr. Peter Shizgal. For me, one of the most fascinating endeavours is to try to understand how the brain works. Physiological psychology not only deals with the study of possible mechanisms underlying brain functioning, but also with the study of how specific brain functions are finally translated into behaviour."

After her BSc, she started work on her Master's in experimental psychology in Shizgal's laboratory, and was drawn to the field of brain plasticity.

"Both the developing and the adult brain have a continuous capacity to change," she explained. "Exposure to certain stimuli at a particular time in life can leave long-lasting consequences that influence and determine future responses to different events. By virtue of the plasticity of the brain, we are different from each other, we can learn from experience, and we can become more or less vulnerable to diseases."

Her PhD work in Stewart's lab focused on a class of brain chemicals called neurotrophic factors. She studied the role played by one of these substances in the long-lasting changes in brain function that take place as a result of repeated exposure to drugs of abuse in adult rats.

"Neurotrophic factors are brain proteins that stimulate differentiation, growth and survival of neurons during brain development, and are now proving to play a crucial role in the brain plasticity that takes place in the adult animal. The experiments I conducted for my PhD provided the first evidence that a neurotrophic factor, basic fibro-blast growth factor (bFGF), is critically involved in the development of long-term changes induced by exposure to the stimulant drug amphetamine."

Flores has just started working at Harvard Medical School in the laboratory of Dr. Joseph Coyle, on a postdoctoral fellowship from the Schizophrenia Society of Canada/Medical Research Council.

Flores not only acquired several degrees at Concordia, she also met Andreas Arvanitogiannis, another researcher at the CSBN, who became her husband.

Last June, we had Arvanitogiannis on the front page of CTR when he won a prix d'excellence from l'Académie des Grands Montréalais, an initiative of the Montreal Board of Trade, for the best doctoral thesis defended in 1998. He is also doing postdoctoral work at the Harvard Medical School. - Barbara Black


More Great Grads

 Part 1      Part 2      Part 3      Part 4


Convocation awards

* Governor-General's Silver Medal, for the highest-ranking undergraduate:Anne Véronique Campbell and Benoît Goudreault-Émond

* Birks Medal, for Bachelor of Arts: Afton Colby Lewis

* Anne Stokes Medal, for Bachelor of Education: Eric Lamoureux (fall 1999 graduate)

* Mappin Medal, for Bachelor of Science: Anne Véronique Campbell

* Administration Medal: Marianne Sheshko

* Charles E. Frosst Medal, for Bachelor of Commerce: Jean-Michel Langlois

* Chait Medal, for Bachelor of Engineering: Benoît Goudreault-Émond

* Computer Science Medal: Kun Han

* Alfred Pinsky Medal, for Bachelor of Fine Arts: Guy Laramée

Wayne Kennedy: Exploring Khmer culture


For the last two years, Wayne Kennedy has been a frequent visitor to the Khmer Pagoda of Canada, a Buddhist temple in Côte-des-Neiges that serves Montreal's Cambodian community. In the course of research for his Master's thesis in Art Education, Kennedy tried to uncover what significance the temple's colourful paintings and golden statuettes had for its worshippers.

The religion tends to define the culture, said Kennedy, who is seen above with a mural depicting the stages from birth to death. For his thesis, Kennedy interviewed six members of the temple, many of whom had stories of tragedy and courage to tell about their lives under the Khmer Rouge, the Communist regime accused of executing an estimated two million Cambodians.

In the last four years, Kennedy has been involved with various Buddhist communities -- Thai, Burmese and Bangladeshi -- picking up some Pâli, an ancient regional language, along the way. Kennedy has been accepted to the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, a division of the University of Toronto, where he will be pursuing a doctoral degree. He hopes one day to be able to travel to Southeast Asia and visit the countries whose cultures he has been studying.

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