Awards and recognition

Four MSL postdoctoral fellows receive Pathway to Independence Award

The Michael Smith Laboratories Pathway to Independence Award aims to support the research and career development of outstanding MSL postdoctoral fellows, and we are excited to congratulate the four postdocs who were selected for this award in 2024. They will lead new projects aligned with their future career research focuses, which could lead to the generation of preliminary data for future grant applications to external funding agencies.

They will begin their projects on April 1, 2024, and in the spring of 2025 will share their project results during an MSL seminar.


Dr. Lars Kruse

Supervisor: Dr. Jörg Bohlmann

Project title: Elucidating short-chain alkane biosynthesis for the development of biofuels

Lars will be investigating the biosynthesis of short-chain alkanes in pine trees to develop new biofuels. Bioengineering the production of short-chain alkanes would provide a carbon-neutral alternative to petroleum-derived fuels used in transportation and aviation. Lars hopes this research will combat climate change by providing a new, renewable source of biofuels.



Dr. Marissa Lithopoulos

Supervisors: Drs. Freda Miller and David Kaplan

Project title: It’s all in the vessels – Exploring the role of the brain vasculature on stem cell function during postnatal systemic inflammation

Marissa’s project will focus on the mechanism underlying the regulation of neural stem cells by brain endothelial cells (cells that line blood vessels), and how childhood infection impacts this regulation. Through her research, Marissa hopes to identify potential targets for future therapies that can improve brain outcomes after childhood infection.



Dr. Ross Jones

Supervisor: Dr. Peter Zandstra

Project title: Uncovering genetic circuit design rules to program human stem cells and development

Ross will be focusing on stem cell differentiation, with the goal of finding ‘rules’ for designing genetic circuits that can be used to guide differentiation towards particular cell types. Ross will be looking more specifically at the immune system and how CAR-T cells can be produced through this process, thus reducing the cost of this effective therapy while also opening the door for the application of genetic circuits in other stem cell-derived immune-based therapies.



Dr. Santanu Sasidharan

Supervisors: Drs. Nobuhiko Tokuriki and Steven Plotkin

Project title: Optimization of de novo designed ACE-2 decoys as mutation-robust therapeutic against beta coronaviruses: Implications for pandemic preparedness

Santanu is looking to use a yeast display system in developing a new methodology for targeting viruses like SARS-CoV-2 through receptor ‘decoys’. Santanu hopes this new approach can optimize the development process, opening the door to faster development of effective therapies for various pathogens in the future.