A celebration of research

Suzanne Bernier, PhD, was a dedicated researcher and mentor whose passion for musculoskeletal science was contagious. She became a faculty member at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry in 1997 and was a founding member of Western University’s Skeletal Biology research group. This year marks ten years since she passed away after a battle with breast cancer.

To keep her passion for science alive, and in keeping with her wishes, her family, friends and colleagues set up a fund that supports an annual lecture series and trainee award in her honour.

The 10th annual Suzanne Bernier Memorial Lecture in Skeletal Biology will be held on May 1. Cheryle Séguin, PhD, helps to organize the lecture and as one of Bernier’s first graduate trainees, she is committed to carrying on the legacy of her mentor.

“It was a special opportunity to be somebody’s first graduate trainee,” said Séguin, now an associate professor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. “We unpacked boxes together, set up equipment, worked at the bench together doing experiments. I learned directly from her and everything I learned I have used in building my own program.”

Séguin fondly remembers Bernier’s dedication to engaging patients and the broader community with basic science research. With the belief that patients were the impetus behind research, she enhanced and improved outcomes with this approach.

She also believed that scientists have a responsibility to share their research results in a way that community members can understand. Séguin uses the annual lecture and memorial award as an opportunity to bring Bernier’s ideals to life.

Although the loss of such a vibrant and inspirational faculty member is still felt in the Skeletal Biology research group and the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, there is pride in the growth of the lecture - how it showcases musculoskeletal research and continues to attract world-class scientists as speakers.

Each year, as part of the lecture, a trainee carrying out a master's or PhD thesis research in the field of Skeletal Biology is presented with the Dr. Suzanne Bernier Memorial Award based on academic achievement and research accomplishments. The awardee is also given the opportunity to share their latest research findings as part of the memorial lecture. This year, the award will be given to Margaret Sun, PhD Candidate in Physiology and Pharmacology, supervised by Dr. Frank Beier.

Michael Pest, a postdoctoral fellow, was the 2015 award recipient and is a self-described ‘lifer’ at Western. “Professionally, it was a great honour to have my work recognized by my peers and mentors,” he said. “I have great respect for the previous winners of the award, some I had the pleasure of working with during my time here. So, to be placed in the same category as some of these wonderful researchers is very gratifying.”

Lauren Solomon, PhD, who is also a postdoctoral fellow at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry in Microbiology and Immunology, agrees with Pest. She received the award in 2013 and was thrilled to be counted among others who had received the award in the past.

“These individuals were highly respected and productive scientists who I admired, and in some cases, were instrumental in welcoming me to the lab and training me in skeletal biology,” she said.

In addition to their pride in receiving the award, Solomon and Pest agree the lecture enriched their educational experience.

Séguin also points to the Skeletal Biology group’s engagement with the community which honours Bernier’s legacy. Each year, researchers and trainees participate in year-round fundraising efforts for the Arthritis Society and advocate for arthritis research. They call themselves ‘Team Bernier’ in the researcher’s memory.

Through all their efforts, the group hopes to extend Bernier’s research legacy while honouring her love for supporting and developing trainees.

The 2017 Suzanne Bernier Memorial Lecture in Skeletal Biology will be held at 2:00 p.m. on May 1 in the McKellar Room, University Community Centre.

The keynote speaker is Lori A. Setton, PhD, Lucy and Stanley Lopata Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering & Orthopaedic Surgery; Director of Doctoral Studies, Biomedical Engineering; Department of Biomedical Engineering, Washing University.

Her lecture will focus on engineering drug depots to target local inflammation in joint tissues.