Meet the junior researchers who received the 2022 ALS Canada – Brain Canada Trainee Awards 

Donovan McDonald is the recipient of a $75,000 ALS Canada – Brain Canada 2022 Trainee Award. As a PhD student, he investigates how the function of tRNA could contribute to ALS disease processes. 

Donovan came to Canada from the Bahamas. “People don’t always recognize the challenges that international students face,” he says. Funding opportunities, for example, can be far more limited. 

Award programs like those provided by ALS Canada and Brain Canada help fill a critical funding gap for promising students like Donovan. 

Supporting international students in brain research is vital for fostering diverse perspectives, advancing global scientific collaboration, and accelerating breakthroughs in understanding the complexities of the brain.” 

Dr. Viviane Poupon, President and CEO of Brain Canada

“It’s not just about the money,” Donovan says. “It’s also having your research recognized. This is crucial to your development as a scientist.” 

Donovan’s original project sought to understand basic biological processes around tRNA. This critical molecule acts as a master key within cells to help proteins form. But working alongside prominent ALS researchers at Western University, he realized how relevant his work could be to exploring “uncharted territory” in ALS research. 

In particular, Donovan is exploring how tRNA dysfunction might contribute to ALS in relation to a protein called angiogenin. Researchers have linked mutations in angiogenin, which helps regulate tRNA, to genetic cases of ALS. 

“Despite being known for a long time, very few studies look at angiogenin and its role in ALS. That’s where I come in,” Donovan says. 

The young researcher hopes his work helps others recognize to the idea that tRNAs are important molecules to study in ALS.  

“I want to unravel how tRNA dysfunction can help point to either development of or predisposition to ALS,” he says. The ALS Canada – Brain Canada Trainee Award will help him do just that. 

The ALS Canada-Brain Canada Trainee Program has been made possible by the Canada Brain Research Fund (CBRF), an innovative arrangement between the Government of Canada (through Health Canada), Brain Canada Foundation and ALS Canada.