Awards and recognition

Lauren Durland and Thomas Worthington receive the 2023-24 Zymeworks Fellowship in Advanced Protein Therapeutics

We are excited to congratulate Lauren Durland and Thomas Worthington, the 2023-24 recipients of the Zymeworks Fellowship in Advanced Protein Therapeutics. The award, created in part in recognition of the Noble laureate Dr. Michael Smith, is a partnership between Zymeworks Inc., the Michael Smith Laboratories (MSL), and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology (MBIM) at the University of British Columbia. One student from each department is provided a one-year fellowship of $20,000 to support health science research that aligns with Zymeworks’ focus on immune-based treatments for disease.

MBIM Department Head Dr. Michael Murphy, MSL Director Dr. Martin Hirst, Zymeworks Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Paul Moore, and recipients Thomas Worthington and Lauren Durland pose smiling after the presentation of the Zymeworks Fellowship award certificates.

From left to right: Dr. Michael Murphy (Head, MBIM), Dr. Martin Hirst (Director, MSL), Dr. Paul Moore (Chief Scientific Officer, Zymeworks), Thomas Worthington and Lauren Durland.

Fellowship recipient Lauren Durland (she/her) is a PhD candidate in the biomedical engineering program. She joined the Zandstra Lab at the MSL in 2021 after completing her Honours Bachelor of Science at the University of Toronto, where she specialized in molecular genetics.

Durland’s research is focused on finding ways to reduce costs associated with CAR-T, a cancer treatment that has been effective at engineering patients’ own immune cells to kill cancerous ones. Reducing development costs would in turn allow for a wider range of cancer patients to benefit from this life-saving medication.

“CAR-T cells are currently manufactured from a patient’s own blood cells. The goal of my work is to find a way to generate highly-effective CAR-T cells from stem cells, transforming this therapy from a personalized medicine to a readily available ‘off-the-shelf’ product,” explains Durland.

On receiving the Zymeworks fellowship, Durland shares that it will “provide essential resources to continue working towards my research goals, as well as opportunities to build critical relationships with industry partners.”

Fellow award recipient, Thomas Worthington (he/him), also explains that “being endorsed by a high-impact company like Zymeworks has heightened my motivation and deepened my commitment to my research project.”

A PhD student in the Horwitz lab in the UBC Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Worthington says this fellowship will allow him to fully immerse himself into his research on the connection between Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) infection and the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), a debilitating autoimmune disease that affects countless Canadians.

Specifically, he is investigating the use of immunotherapeutics to clear latent EBV infection and determine whether this approach yields therapeutic benefits in a mouse model of MS.

“I hope that this research may reveal a new avenue for therapeutic intervention and offer relief to individuals afflicted with MS,” says Worthington.

Durland and Worthington were presented their fellowship awards on January 17, 2024. We look forward to learning more about their discoveries as they progress in their research projects.