Erin Gill

I am in my 5th year of postdoctoral studies.

Tell us about yourself

I'm a 32 year old science and computer geek who was born in Halifax. I moved to Vancouver to do my PhD 10 years ago and decided to stay when I was finished because it's such a beautiful and eclectic city. In my spare time I love to run, bike, climb and read any books I can find.

What is your Mitacs project?

My project involved discovering new antibiotics. There is a huge need for these, as many bacteria are becoming resistant to existing drugs. Sometimes, humans and disease-causing bacteria make the same proteins. I would computationally compare the human and bacterial versions of these proteins in order to discover the differences between them. Once I found areas of the proteins that were different, I could identify chemicals that would stop the bacterial proteins from working, but ignore the human proteins. These chemicals would either kill the bacteria or stop them from growing, but be harmless to people.

I most enjoyed the opportunity to get to do something that was worthwhile and had the potential to save peoples' lives.
 

What have you enjoyed the most about your Mitacs project?

I most enjoyed the opportunity to get to do something that was worthwhile and had the potential to save peoples' lives.

What have you found most challenging about your Mitacs project?

When doing a research project where you work in both an industrial environment and an academic lab, it can be challenging to meet the goals of both parties. Company shareholders often have different long term goals from academic researchers. However, I learned a great deal about how to balance the needs of both the company and the university lab and communicate the desires of each to the other.

How has your Mitacs experience influenced your career path?

I learned an amazing amount during my time as a Mitacs intern, and could not have acquired such experience in a solely academic environment. I am grateful to Mitacs for giving me the opportunity to gain this knowledge and am considering a career in industry when I seek permanent employment.

How has your Mitacs project impacted the world?

Thousands of people die in North America every year because of drug-resistant bacterial infections. This number is on the rise. Without the development of new antibiotics (or agents to increase their effectiveness), we may soon be facing an era where certain common illnesses are no longer treatable. The body of work that I helped produce contributed to the growing knowledge of a group of scientists who are striving to prevent this from happening.

Thousands of people die in North America every year because of drug-resistant bacterial infections. This number is on the rise. Without the development of new antibiotics (or agents to increase their effectiveness), we may soon be facing an era where certain common illnesses are no longer treatable.
 

What do you predict will be the next big breakthrough in your field of research?

I believe that there will be a paradigm shift in the field of bacterial disease research. Researchers will shift focus from the development of antibiotics to drugs that work with the immune system to help people better fight off infections. Another avenue of research will be anti-infectives, which “disarm” bacterial pathogens by stopping them from producing factors that harm people, but don't kill them, reducing the chance that they will become resistant to these therapies.

Who supports your Mitacs research?

My Mitacs research was generously supported by Indel Therapeutics Inc. and Mitacs.

What motivates you to do research?

I'm primarily motivated by curiosity. I find it fascinating to think that on a daily basis, I come to know things that nobody else on the planet knows! I also love to be challenged, and hate being bored. I am constantly required to find new and better ways to do things, to teach myself to do new things and to absorb new information. I didn't always know that I wanted to do science, but gravitated towards it when a biochemistry professor gave me the opportunity to work in his lab over the summer while I was an undergraduate.

I find it fascinating to think that on a daily basis, I come to know things that nobody else on the planet knows!
 

Tell us about your Eureka moment

The thing about science is that you have to be persistent. If every experiment worked the first time, you might be able to do all of your thesis work for a PhD in six months. Instead it takes four years. For me, it's the fact that I've worked so long and hard at an experiment or project that makes the eureka moments so worthwhile. Sometimes these moments come relatively often, sometimes they come rarely, but the thrill and happiness that comes with them is unparalled.

Mitacs

Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that has designed and delivered research and training programs in Canada for 15 years. Working with 60 universities, more than 6,000 companies, and both federal and provincial governments, we build partnerships that support industrial and social innovation in Canada.


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