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Inspired by discovery

Kyle Biggar

Most people go through a process of trial and error to figure out what they want to do with their life. Not Kyle Biggar, PhD. Inspired by discovery, the answer of where life would take him was always obvious — at least to him.

“There was never any question about what my undergraduate program was going to be, and there was never any question about where I was going to complete my graduate degree,” Biggar said. “To date, I have never questioned where I went with my career — I have always just been true to my instincts.”

Originally from a small town in Prince Edward Island, Biggar completed a joint honours degree in biology and chemistry at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. From there, he went to Carleton University in Ottawa to complete his PhD in molecular physiology and biochemistry.

When he was looking for a postdoctoral fellowship, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry stood out to him because of its well-integrated research community and its high-end facilities. He was specifically drawn to Shawn Li’s lab because of the research Li, PhD, and his team were working on.

“Shawn’s research goes from the very early stages of discovery and functional characterization to the development of potential therapeutics,” Biggar explained. “It’s pretty much research from A to Z. Even though my roots are very firmly planted in basic research and discovery, this was intriguing to me because I want to expand my research variety and capability.”

Biggar arrived at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry in a great position, having received a two-year Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Scholarship.

While Biggar is working on a multitude of projects at any given time, the research he is currently focused on in Li’s lab is directed at discovering the fundamental mechanisms behind how cells utilize post-translational protein methylation to repair and respond to DNA damage. He is currently working with breast cancer and the development of a selective inhibitor of protein methylation that will be used to sensitize these cells to chemotherapeutic agents.

When asked what keeps him so dedicated to his work, Biggar summed his passion up in one word: discovery.

“It’s all about discovery. What really drives me is developing new techniques, finding new methods and discovering new biological answers,” he said. “That’s why I’m always working on about eight projects at the same time, because there’s always something new to discover.”

This passion has led Biggar to publish more than 25 journal articles. He has also received eight research awards and prizes, including the Governor General’s Gold Medal and University Medal for academic excellence during his PhD studies at Carleton.

However, his passion and success are not limited to the lab. When he’s not working, Biggar fills his time by experimenting with photography in his dark room and sailing competitively. Although he hasn’t been able to sail as much recently, he said he maintained an active sailing career while competing on two sailing teams while completing his PhD. He also has his black belt in Taekwondo.

Because Biggar is currently in the second year of his postdoctoral fellowship, he is beginning to think about what his future holds. He has applied for a Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship, one of Canada’s most competitive and top scholarships. The recipient of this two-year scholarship receives $70,000 of research support per year. If Biggar is successful, Western University, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and Shawn Li’s lab will also contribute additional research funding so he can start his own project.

“Very few people receive the award," he said. "But I am keeping my fingers crossed because I would love the opportunity to continue my research at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.”