University of Calgary

PURE passion

UToday HomeJanuary 21, 2013

Manpreet Malhi’s passion for research received a boost with PURE funding. Photo courtesy of Manpreet MalhiManpreet Malhi’s passion for research received a boost with PURE funding. Photo courtesy of Manpreet MalhiWith the support of a $6,000 Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) award, Manpreet Malhi carried out innovative medical research this past summer at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. It’s an experience that the University of Calgary student considers a turning point in his education.

“This project has heightened my passion for research. It’s definitely something I could see myself pursuing in the future,” says Malhi, who graduated in the spring with a BSc (Honours) in Biochemistry and is now taking a Master of Biomedical Technology at the University of Calgary.

From May to August, Malhi conducted a laboratory project at Utrecht University to better understand feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) — a virus that causes AIDS in cats and is considered an important animal model for investigating various aspects of HIV.

“Studying whether FIV infection is compartmentalized could give us a better understanding of how the virus evolves in the body and could potentially establish a foundation for future studies on how to better deliver antiviral treatments,” he says.

Malhi says that more research, including further DNA analysis, is still required to better understand FIV viral evolution. But the project has resulted in a deeper interest in research for this student.

Working in the large open space of Utrecht University’s virology laboratory, Malhi had an opportunity to study while meeting other researchers and students from around the world and learning about their projects.

“Many of them were carrying out a lot of interesting real-world applications — for example, exploring how to use viruses to treat diseases. Just being in the lab was a great way to see how the research process can work,” he says.

Malhi says he decided on his research topic based on his interest in virology and through consultation with his PURE award advisor, Frank van der Meer, assistant professor in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and a graduate of Utrecht University. At Utrecht University, he worked closely with Herman Egberink, a professor in the Department of Virology, and Nancy Schuurman, a laboratory technician.

“Each day we would discuss my findings and how to improve on different aspects of the project. They continually pushed me to the overall benefit of the research,” says Malhi, who is now considering plans to pursue a PhD, possibly in biochemistry.

Looking back, Malhi says the opportunity to study at Utrecht was memorable for many reasons. “I not only gained research experience, but I also gained life experience by getting the chance to live independently in a foreign country. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse set of researchers who shared a great deal of knowledge about their fields of interest. It was an unforgettable experience which I would not trade for anything.”

The PURE program is currently taking applications for the 2013 funding year: apply online by Feb. 11.