Forging the future of disease diagnostics and treatments

How PhD student John Nguyen is making his mark at McGill

John Nguyen was in the second year of his master’s studies at York University, Toronto, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit—a global event that sparked a new sense of purpose and shaped his career path.

Born and raised in Toronto, John earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology, also at York. And for his master’s, he had the opportunity to study in a lab focused on biomedical engineering. His research involved screening the white blood cells in saliva to diagnose potential health issues. As the pandemic emerged, it became clear how his work could be applied in the real world.

“I realized that diseases had an underestimated ability to cripple the world, which raised questions about what we could do to best prepare ourselves for the next major biological catastrophe,” he says. “Dedicating myself to learning about what could be done, I aligned my efforts to this important question.”

Pivoting in response to the pandemic

John and his colleagues quickly pivoted their research to focus on the effect of non-invasive diagnostic testing on rapid screening—a topic that was quickly gaining momentum among researchers around the world.

As he started reviewing this area of research, he consistently saw researchers from McGill making significant contributions to the field, including Professor Maryam Tabrizian, a top biomedical engineering scholar. John decided to apply to the department to pursue his PhD and happily got accepted.

Making his mark at McGill

Together with Professor Tabrizian and Adjunct Professor Lidija Malic at the National Research Council Canada, John is currently working to develop a new method to screen specially curated molecules faster and more inexpensively than conventional methods. Their research opens the door to discovering new and improved therapeutic and diagnostic molecules.

John Nguyen in the lab

“There have been great innovations in this field. But I think we have the expertise and the equipment to really push the boundary,” he says. “The success of this project would mean that something can be clearly changed in the real world with a very clear benefit to society and humanity.”

John plans to continue his research at McGill for at least the next three years, excited about the progress he and his colleagues are making. “Because I’m so enthusiastic about this project and the potential it has to really make an impact on the world, I really want to continue this line of research, investigating how far we can push the envelope on this.”

John feels McGill is the ideal place to pursue his passion and make important contributions to his field. “It’s a place where top scholars in many different disciplines, including my own, are really knowledgeable. There are so many opportunities here and it’s a great place to learn, to develop both your skills and yourself.”

Excited about the future

After he completes his PhD, John is “absolutely open” to staying in Montreal, whether in an academic or industry setting.

“There are several top institutions where you can conduct this cutting-edge research. Many different companies are coming and staying here to recruit graduates of top schools,” he shares. “And the federal government and several companies are funding new vaccine manufacturing facilities in Montreal, which really shows the investment in the city and why I think it’s a great place to stay afterwards.”

Excited for whatever the future holds, John is resolute in his mission to make a real difference in the world.

“I aspire to continue my research on high-throughput molecular discovery to develop new tools for diagnostics and find cures for some of the most prevalent diseases affecting individuals worldwide.”

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