Student Spotlight: PhD Student André Charbonneau

André Charbonneau beside Santa Clause with his research group in Finland.

André Charbonneau beside Santa Clause with his research group in Finland.

Originally from Alberta, André Charbonneau completed his B.Sc in Biochemistry at the University of Ottawa. In pursuit of continuing his education, he enrolled with Simon Tran in the M.Sc Dental Science program. Thanks to a couple of travel awards he spent the final month of his degree completing a research internship in Oulu, Finland. In September, he started his PhD in Craniofacial Health Sciences and will be working on his project “Creating a 3D Printed Human Tissue Mimic for Cancer Drug Testing” jointly with supervisor Simon Tran and co-supervisor J. Matt Kinsella from the Department of Bioengineering. When he is not in the lab working, he enjoys staying active through sports, playing musical instruments and cooking.

You completed your BSc in Biochemistry. Why did you choose to do graduate studies at the Faculty of Dentistry?

It was the topic and the project that brought me to the Faculty. Tissue regeneration is a topic that I have been passionate about for a while and I knew as an undergraduate that I wanted to continue on to graduate studies. I never really imagine ending up in dentistry but the diversity of the research going on in the Faculty is impressive! The Faculty of Dentistry, under the supervision of Dr. Tran, offered a really interesting research position that coincided with my interest in the field of tissue regeneration.

Where did your interest in tissue regeneration stem from?

I have been competing in sport for a major part of my life and I’ve experienced first-hand the mental and physical benefits that can be obtained from being active. I have a desire to help people who have lost the ability to do sports through amputation be able to participate again. Regenerative medicine offers these patients a solution. By completing work in this field of research during my educational years I hope it will springboard me to a future career in limb regeneration.

You were awarded two pretty significant travel grant this summer by the CIHR and McGill. Why did you want to go abroad?

I had not yet explored the European continent and I had heard many things about it. Several people said it would expand my worldly knowledge. It did! To my surprise, it is not like I expected it to be. I do not know why, maybe through school or through discussions with people while I grew up but I felt as if Europe was a few years behind America. Spending four months abroad completely changed my perspective and what I thought Europe was about.

What did you learn both inside and outside of the lab while being abroad?

In my research I learned a lot of interesting things. Most of the research I conducted was a continuation of my MSc degree where I was working on inducing wounds in the oral cavity of the salamander and observing its regenerative abilities. Abroad, I completed an identical wound in mice, and observed what factors may restrict its ability to regenerate. Stay tuned for the upcoming publications in order to know more why humans cannot regenerate large tissues of the oral cavity. Outside work hours, I got the chance to visit other cities such as Helsinki and completed a European cycling tour in the month of August. The inexpensive train plain and boat networks were impressive, the generous and welcoming people, the different sceneries respective to each countries all shaped my opinion and my desire to return to this continent.

Where there big differences in your learning and working conditions in Oulu?

I noted several big differences. The labs seemed to be better supported with newer equipment and office supplies. Computers were provided to the students so nobody brought their own laptop to work. The people would be always be wearing their personal protective equipment and labs were very well supported by numerous experienced technicians.

What does success mean to you both in and out of the classroom?

To me, success is reaching a perfect balance between working and living life. Since a major part of my days are spend at work, finding a job for which I am passionate and happy about would be half of the success. Making sure to stay mentally and physically healthy would be the other half. If all of those aspects are fulfilled in a week, success is attained. Evaluating success week by week can be a good way to look at things since not all days are good.

As a new PhD students, what are your plans for the future? Where do you see yourself in four years?

I am really interested in obtaining a job in research and development in the private sector, especially in regenerative medicine. Moving abroad may be the only option for me now seeing as tissue-engineering companies that are hiring do not seem to be present here in Montréal. My European experience was outstanding, the people and the infrastructures were far above my expectations and moving there is an appealing option.

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