Keith Fenrich, Physiology
Ask Keith Fenrich why he chose to study at Queen’s, and he’ll tell you it’s because of its high standards. And he needed high standards, because the university he chose had to be good enough for two people.
An Edmonton native, Fenrich did his undergrad work in Pharmacology at his hometown school, the University of Alberta. During his fourth year, he worked in a lab with a biomedical engineer who specializes in spinal cord injury research. “That lab was my first exposure to research,” he recalls. “It was nice because I was immersed in the procedures immediately. I realized that I really like experimental research and I’m fascinated by spinal cord work and I wanted to learn more about it.”
His calling wasn’t the only thing Fenrich found at the University of Alberta. He also met the woman who would become his wife. “We both wanted to continue our studies,” he recalls. “She wanted to do grad work in Political Studies and I was pursuing my interest in spinal cord research, so we were looking for a university that had good programs in both fields. Queen’s stood out because it met both of our needs.”
Fenrich’s needs included a supervisor with a well-funded lab who was doing interesting research. He found what he was looking for in Dr. Ken Rose, a professor in the Physiology department. “I found his work fascinating,” Fenrich explains. “He was doing really neat spinal regeneration studies. Not too many people were doing things like that.”
Rose’s research focuses on axons – long, thin projections that grow from neurons and project information to other cells in the body. “Axons don’t typically re-grow after spinal cord damage,” Fenrich explains, “which is why people don’t recover from paralysis.”
While most spinal cord regeneration research focuses on axons that form connections between the brain and spinal cord, Rose’s lab is looking at axons that don’t travel beyond the spinal cord. “We’re the first to test whether these axons are capable of regenerating through a spinal cord injury site,” Fenrich says.
Fenrich and his wife arrived at Queen’s in August of 2003. “We liked it immediately,” he says. “The city is great. The university is great. There’s such an incredible research community here. I’ve really enjoyed being part of a group of people who are passionate about their research. And we have access to so many brilliant minds. They invite speakers in from all over the world. It’s an incredible opportunity to meet people and learn new techniques. It’s a great lifestyle.”
In fact, Fenrich was so caught up in the lifestyle that he settled in for a while. He earned a mini-Master’s degree in 2005 and completed his doctorate in 2009. He is still in Dr. Rose’s lab, working on a post-doctoral fellowship that will keep him busy until the summer of 2010, when he’ll move on the spinal cord research lab at the Developmental Biology Institute of Marseille-Luminy in Marseilles, France.
“It’s an exciting field with a lot of opportunity to do some very cool research,” he says. “The results we’ve seen in Dr. Rose’s lab are encouraging. We still have a long way to go, and I’m looking forward to going there.”