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Medical milestones

PhD graduate lands dream gig at Harvard University

special feature: Student Success 2019

Part of a special feature celebrating the success of Memorial's graduates. This feature coincides with spring 2019 convocation ceremonies.

By Jeff Green

Justin Pater has some sage advice for those crossing this year’s stage at spring convocation: patience and resilience will lead to great things.

The emerging researcher practises what he preaches.

While completing his PhD in the Faculty of Medicine – under the supervision of alumna Dr. Terry-Lynn Young – Mr. Pater’s persistence led to a medical breakthrough when he discovered the gene mutation linked to hearing loss in children in this province.

“While this is certainly gratifying, the most rewarding aspect of my PhD was that it was meaningful to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Mr. Pater, who is originally from Montague, P.E.I.

“During rural outreach field trips to collect DNA samples and audiology data, I have had the privilege of meeting many families, which provided me with first-hand insight into the debilitating disorder of hearing loss. I am honoured that the knowledge gained through my discoveries can be translated into the clinic to help diagnose and treat hearing loss.”

‘Exceptional’ opportunities

Mr. Pater initially came to Memorial in 2011 to complete a master’s degree in biomedical sciences. Six months into his program, however, his supervisor relocated to Saskatchewan. Being committed to his own studies, Mr. Pater also headed west.

“One thing I learned during those six months was that the Newfoundland population was an exceptional resource for gene discovery research, due to its unique genetic makeup,” he explained.

“This research prospect was very appealing to me, and I contacted Dr. Young about becoming a PhD student in her lab. I returned to Memorial in 2013 and the rest is history.”

Mr. Pater says Memorial was the perfect place to hone his skills as a molecular geneticist and learn how to succeed in a fast-paced research environment.

Harvard post

Armed with that experience, he was able to land a prestigious research position in the United States, even before he defended his thesis.

“I am aiming to obtain an academic appointment back in Canada.” — Justin Pater

“Currently, I am a post-doctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute,” he told the Gazette.

“My research is focused on precision medicine. I use human cell lines, zebrafish and mouse model organisms to identify new therapies for hard-to-treat childhood cancers.

“Even though my journey in Boston has just begun, I’m beginning to map out my next steps,” he added proudly. “Ideally, I am aiming to obtain an academic appointment back in Canada, working primarily in cancer precision medicine, and who knows, perhaps make a return to hearing loss genetics.”

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