Nov. 24, 2021

Calling biomedical undergrads everywhere: UCalgary conference planned for 2022 seeks your fresh thinking

Students in Precision Health Program aim to connect, equip, and inspire biomedical leaders of tomorrow
Fatima Iqbal (L) and Joweria Ekram
Fatima Iqbal, left, and Joweria Ekram, students in the Precision Health Program. Bruce Perrault

A student-led University of Calgary virtual conference seeking the best and brightest of undergraduate biotechnology students from around the world aims to harness fresh research and innovations in the use of precision medicine.

The North American Student Biotechnology Conference (NASBC) — tagged by the organizers as Promise of Innovation — is an initiative within the Cumming School of Medicine’s (CSM) Precision Health Program. It  focuses on advancing new tools and applications to improve health care and patient quality of life.

Precision medicine is a way of delivering health care that tailors care and wellness to each person. Biotechnology fuses biology and technology to produce vanguard treatments for diseases and create cleaner energy for a healthier planet, among many other developments.

Sharaz Khan, instructor, Precision Health Program.

Sharaz Khan, instructor, Precision Health Program.

“Biotech depends on policies that promote innovation,” says Dr. Sharaz Khan, PhD, an instructor with the Precision Health Program. “Through the NASBC, led by two of our undergraduate students, we hope to attract innovations in health, industrial and environmental technologies that will help in areas including untreatable disease.”

The conference is gathering submissions this year and expects to launch in February 2022, with the aim of presenting approximately 200 research papers from around the planet, says Khan.

“This conference is important for the precision health program because it really opens up research that precision health can follow,” he says. “It is transdisciplinary and there are not a lot of programs like it globally that incorporate medicine and entrepreneurship and other disciplines.”

The CSM’s Precision Health Program is designed to meet the professional development needs of current and future health-care practitioners across Canada and internationally.

Entrepreneurial approach to conference 

Joweria Ekram and Fatima Iqbal, who conceived  the conference as Bachelor of Health Sciences students majoring in bioinformatics, are organizing it.

Khan says the students have demonstrated an entrepreneurial approach in the face of the pandemic, choosing a virtual route for the conference that expands its reach beyond North America to bring the very best of undergraduate biotech research and scholars to UCalgary.

Innovating through interdisciplinary means is vital to better serve our communities,” says Ekram, who is part of the Graduate Certificate Program in Precision Health with a specialization in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “This includes developing innovative tools and approaches to address new and complex challenges, as well as innovative applications of well-established practices.”

She and Iqbal aim for NASBC to allow students to demonstrate how they are innovators in biotechnology fields, and how they are using biotechnology to improve patient quality of life.  They also hope NASBC will serve as a liaison between academia and industry and foster valuable collaborations.

“By placing students at the focal point, we hope to empower them to take advantage of such collaborations and to investigate potential career paths,” says Ekram. “Right now, we are focusing on a North American audience, but NASBC can provide a template to facilitate student-oriented collaborations across academia and industry at the global stage.”  

The Precision Health Program (PHP) blends online delivery that ensures the program is accessible to professionals across Canada, the U.S. and the world. Students can choose from four specializations that are designed to enhance their potential as health-care leaders in the areas of precision medicine, quality and safety, health professional education, and innovation and entrepreneurship.

Dave Anderson, PHP Academic Director

Dave Anderson, PHP Academic Director

“Precision health is a nascent field and realizing its promise depends on innovation,” says Dr. Dave Anderson, PhD, academic director of the PHP. “We can’t have precision health without it.” 

Khan says biotech is a goal within the conference for dissemination of scholarly research and knowledge, and biotech themes within the conference reflect the PHP’s areas of specialization. 

“Whether it is for clinical development or in the entrepreneurship space, the presentations at the conference can attach research and students into this program,” says Khan. “The conference provides the biomedical leaders of tomorrow with pathways into research, and open inquiry that will equip them for the challenges of the future.”

The Innovation and Entrepreurship specialization in the PHP provides a holistic and hands-on approach to equip health-care innovators with knowledge, experience and professional contacts.

Oleksiy Osiyevskyy

Oleksiy Osiyevskyy

“Precision health needs entrepreneurs, proactive agents of change who help to move ideas from discovery to implementation,” says Dr. Oleksiy Osiyevskyy, PhD, associate professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at the Haskayne School of Business. “This conference is an important initiative that contributes to research and innovation in biotechnology.”

To help students with financial need who face significant challenges in participating in graduate programs for professionals, there is now a Precision Health Program Award. Four students who are taking two or more courses per year will be reimbursed for the cost of the program in 2022 based on equity-seeking or under-represented criteria.