Summer and graduate studentship grants lead to trailblazing international collaborations

Christen Klinger is working to understand the evolution of a group of deadly parasites, called Apicomplexa. These parasites, include Plasmodium falciparum, a pathogen that contributes to malaria and Toxoplasma gondii and can have serious consequences for children (and their mothers): swelling of the head, damage to the eyes and/or central nervous system and other serious infections transmitted by the mother to the baby during pregnancy.

Christen Klinger and Dr. Joel DacksApicomplexa “must invade host cells to survive,” says Klinger. “It is crucial to understand the ways they build their invasive arsenal…We therefore hope to understand this system in greater detail.”

In 2012, Klinger received a summer studentship grant from WCHRI, and then went on to become a WCHRI funded graduate student in 2014. These grants allowed him to continue his research in Dr. Joel Dacks’ lab: studying the function of this membrane-trafficking system (MTS) in Apicomplexa, which now forms the basis for a large-scale study with other collaborators. “Dr. Dacks has been an excellent supervisor and mentor,” notes Klinger. “He is always willing to take time out of his schedule to discuss issues, both scientific and otherwise. I am truly grateful for his guidance thus far.”

Recently, Klinger was awarded a prestigious Vanier Canada scholarship and will be spending a year in Glasgow, Scotland, in the lab of Dr. Markus Meissner, an experienced and highly respected member of the apicomplexan research community, There, Klinger will learn how to undertake experimental work to complement skills he has learned in his training thus far.

Klinger credits WCHRI’s support for allowing him to further his research and bringing his results to a larger stage. “The WCHRI summer studentship provided me with the opportunity to continue work on my project,” says Klinger. “I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say this led to further opportunities, as I was able to work hard and obtain further funding, including graduate studentships from WCHRI, AIHS, and most recently, through the Vanier Canada graduate scholarship program.”

Looking forward, this rising star is excited about developing his international collaboration and enriching his understanding of the evolution of the MTS. He sees his research as having a global reach and translational benefits for clinical treatment.

When asked if his research will “cure” malaria, he affirms that although developing a cure isn’t the goal for this specific project, his findings may have implications for assisting someone in doing just that. “I think it’s important for people to remember the power of basic research,” notes Klinger. “It really is a precursor to almost all great translational endeavours.”

Christen Klinger received two summer studentship grants and a graduate studentship grant from WCHRI, thanks to the generous support of the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Photo caption (from left): Christen Klinger and Dr. Joel Dacks

Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation