Trainee Spotlight #BlackLivesMatter

by | Jul 15, 2020 | Education, News, Non-Medical, Outreach

Dear Fellow CCIC Trainees and Faculty, 

As previously stated, the CCIC organization stands with Black communities against racial injustice and firmly believes that #BlackLivesMatter , within Canada, the United States, and abroad. With this in mind, I am excited to use our platform to amplify the voices and research of Black researchers in the cannabis and cannabinoid space.

In addition to our recently shared talk by Akwasi Owusu-Bempah (@AOBempah) presented at the 2019 CCIC meeting (http://www.cciceducation.com/posts/cannabis-legalization-and-marginalized-populations), I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to two trainees that I have the privilege of working with in my laboratory at the University of Saskatchewan.

Udoka Ezeaka

Udoka Ezeaka

Udoka is a BSc Honour’s student working with me (Robert Laprairie) at the University of Saskatchewan. Her research project focuses on understanding sex differences in the orexin and cannabinoid systems as they relate to appetite and behaviour. Udoka has always been fascinated with science and has always wanted to help people through medicine. She wants to conduct research that benefits people in the long run and saw undergraduate research as an important stepping stone for her. She became interested in the research going on with our cannabinoid group at USask because she saw the research had the potential to benefit others and because the work was hands on and interesting.

Udoka grew up in London, UK, and moved to Calgary in 2015 with her family. She enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan because her parents had children attending the university and had heard that it was a great school. Prior to joining our group, she had not seen many black students doing research, except in our group. “It’s kind of awkward being the only black person in the room. I always feel I have to do better because I’m afraid of the repercussions and negative associations would have on me and on other black people if I were to make a mistake.” Udoka said to me while we were talking discussing this blog post. She told me that she felt nervous at first, but this continued to get better as she got to know more about out group; and she talked about this with her mom a couple of times. Our group, and in particular Udoka’s mentor Jay (a PhD student in the lab), made her feel welcome and part of the team.

Following the completion of her BSc, Udoka plans to continue with our research group as an MSc student, with long term plans of applying to the College of Dentistry. She has already presented 3 posters and 1 platform presentation and will be included as co-author on a manuscript currently in preparation.

Placid Orji

Placid Orji

Placid is a PhD student working with Dr. Chris Phenix at the University of Saskatchewan and co-supervised by me (Robert Laprairie). His research project focuses on developing 18F-radioloabelled cannabinoids for development as positron emission tomography (PET) ligands. Growing up, Placid loved science and chemistry in particular. He told me that growing up, he always thought he would become a physician because “in African culture, your parents always want you to be a lawyer or a doctor”. He told me he has always had a mind for science and loves to solve problems.

Placid grew up in Nigeria, where he completed his BSc in Chemistry at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Nigeria. Following his BSc, he working in Nigeria for a few years before moving to Denmark to complete an MSc in medicinal chemistry at the University of Copenhagen. While at Copenhagen, his research focused on synthesizing tetrazines for pre-target compounds. During his studies there, Placid learned about Danish culture, as well as German and Swedish culture through the great relationships he developed with his co-supervisors. In 2018, Placid connected with Dr. Phenix over LinkedIn, and then Skype, and the two began developing a potential PhD project together. Since joining the lab officially in 2019, Placid said that things have been going pretty well – COVID-19 delays aside – and Saskatoon and Canada have been very welcoming and filled with good people. He said that some of his friends have experienced racism, but he hasn’t personally; although “this may be because I am pretty introverted” he told me as we talked.

He currently has published 2 conference abstracts. Following the completion of his PhD, Placid plans to continue seek out postdoctoral positions to further his research career.

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