School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Caitlin Miron

PhD, Chemistry

Caitlin Miron receiving the award with Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Jim Banting

Caitlin Miron receiving the award from Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development., and Jim Banting Assistant Vice-Principal (Partnerships and Innovation), Queen's University

Caitlin Miron – Recipient of the 2017 Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation (PhD)

by Adenike Ogunrinde, November 2017

Caitlin Miron is the recipient of the 2017 Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation. This award is given to a PhD student who has made a significant achievement in research and development innovation during Mitacs-funded research. Last year, Caitlin received a Mitacs Globalink Research Award which funded a collaboration with Dr. Jean-Louis Mergny at the Institut Européen de Chimie et Biologue in Bordeaux, France. This collaboration was the second of two with Dr. Jean-Louis Mergny, and collectively, these collaborations have not only propelled Caitlin’s PhD thesis forward but also merited the receipt of the Mitacs Outstanding Innovation award.

Though Caitlin pursued a BSc in biochemistry, it was chemistry that she fell in love with over the course of her undergraduate degree. In her second year, she began volunteering in Dr. Anne Petitjean’s lab – a supramolecular chemistry lab which explored using organic chemistry to make molecules that could be assembled into intricate architectures through the use of metal ions, for eventual applications in biological systems. This is where Caitlin discovered the enjoyment she took in creating at the bench and in dabbling in a wide variety of chemistry-based experiments. Consequently, Caitlin went on to pursue a Master of Science degree in this lab and ultimately rolled-up into the PhD program.

 Caitlin’s doctoral dissertation is titled: Dynamic recognition of unusual nucleic acid architectures by cation-responsive switches and other metallo-organic platforms. In sum, DNA has been found to adopt unusual architectures. One type of architecture, called a guanine quadruplex, has been shown to form in the promoter regions of oncogenes (cancer genes), and is implicated in cancer. Caitlin’s research involves finding molecules that stabilize quadruplexes, thereby blocking the expression of these oncogenes, in the hopes that these molecules can be used as anticancer therapeutic agents, either alone or in combination with other treatments. In her first internship in Dr. Mergny’s lab, Caitlin tested a library of potential binders originating from the Petitjean lab and identified a compound that shows some of the best stabilization of quadruplexes that has been seen over the past 30 years. During her second internship (funded by the Mitacs Globalink program), Caitlin explored the effects that small modifications of the lead compound’s structure might have on guanine quadruplex recognition. By taking these compounds from expert to expert, she was able to identify suitable biophysical techniques that she has since brought back to her lab at Queen’s to further her research. Since then, preliminary results suggest that these compounds inhibit cell growth in several human cancer cell lines, and earlier this month, a patent was filed on the novel compounds Caitlin first investigated in France. These results serve as but a case example of rewards made possible by the financial support of funding agencies such as Mitacs.

When I asked Caitlin what skills have helped her during her PhD, she listed good communication, time management and perseverance. “Research doesn’t always go smoothly, so you need to be able to sit back and figure out how to fix things.” Caitlin also recommends ensuring you select a supervisor that will support you throughout the process of graduate school, and pursing opportunities that meet your needs – for example, Caitlin didn’t focus on maximizing her opportunity to teach in the undergraduate course setting during her PhD because she knew she did not want to pursue an academic career.

 When it comes to scholarships, Caitlin said it’s important to always apply for them, even if you don’t think you will win the competition. Applying gives you practice in writing scholarship applications and that is an important skill to hone in academia. What’s also important is having a supervisor who is willing to put in the time to help you hone those skills.

As a final note, Caitlin recommends getting into labs with big names in their respective fields, if possible. Dr. Mergny is one of the top researchers in Caitlin’s field. For Caitlin, conducting research in Dr. Mergny’s lab and having access to experts has enabled her to develop a better understanding of her work and accelerate her research.

After completing her PhD, Caitlin is looking to complete an industrial post-doctoral research position in order to bridge her experience between academia and industry. Caitlin’s long-term goal is to pursue an industrial research career, one slanted towards health applications or perhaps the development of pharmaceuticals. Given Caitlin’s positive attitude and astounding success thus far, I have no doubt she will continue to make great contributions to health-care oriented research in the future.