Congratulations to Ninon Freidel, the first year UBC Neuroscience graduate student who was awarded the Syd Vernon Graduate Student Award this year! The Syd Vernon Fund for the Disabled was established in 1989, supporting the betterment of persons with mental, physical or sensory disabilities ever since. The fund also supports the advancement of education for those committed to working with people with disabilities and their families. To learn more about this year’s winner, we asked her some questions about her experiences with research.

Could you provide a brief overview of your lab/research in neuroscience?

As a trainee in the Beasley Lab at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, my research explores how the immune system is implicated in psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia (SCZ). Studies have revealed a link between the immune system and SCZ. One key player in this connection is the complement system, a powerful defense mechanism that enhances inflammation and protects the body. Intriguingly, the complement system also plays a key role in synaptic plasticity, eliminating synapses via microglial activation. My project aims to determine whether the expression of complement inhibitors (CSMD1, CFI, FH) is altered in post-mortem brain tissue samples from individuals with schizophrenia and explore their relationship with synaptic density. This research may lead to the identification of possible biomarkers while paving the way toward the development of complement-based therapies for SCZ.


What inspired you to pursue this research area?

In order to complete my high school International Baccalaureate program, I wrote a comprehensive manuscript on a topic of my choosing. I settled on writing it in French, on In Search of Lost Time by Proust. Although it was a literary essay, it inspired personal reflection on the subjectivity and distortion of memory, sparking my curiosity in neuroscience. During my undergraduate studies, I became fascinated by the emerging evidence linking immune system dysregulation to psychiatric disorders. Witnessing the profound impact neuropsychiatric disorders have on individuals and their families reinforced my commitment to this field, fueling my passion to contribute to the development of novel therapeutic strategies.

How do you envision the Syd Vernon Graduate Student Award benefiting your research goals?

The Syd Vernon Graduate Student Award will provide essential financial support to advance my project. This funding will facilitate my collaboration with experts in the field and enable my attendance at key conferences to present findings, ultimately enhancing the impact of my research, fostering professional growth, and contributing to a broader understanding of psychiatric disorders. Importantly, this award will allow me to achieve a better balance in my school, work, and life schedule, thereby increasing my research output.

What are some of the key findings or milestones you’ve reached in your project thus far?

So far, I have quantified and analyzed the mRNA expression of complement inhibitors CSMD1, CFI, and FH in samples from individuals with schizophrenia. These analyses have provided valuable insights into the differential expression patterns of these inhibitors in psychiatric conditions. In the coming months, I will quantify protein expression of these complement inhibitors and correlate expression with other markers of synaptic density.

What do you like to do outside of research?

Outside of research, I have a passion for skiing. I was involved in competitive ski racing until I was 18, and afterwards, I started coaching skiing. Moving to Vancouver has been great because I’ve been taking advantage of the mountains and skiing much more frequently!  As the summer approaches, I am excited to explore outdoors by hiking and camping, and hopefully find the time to read some books.