Adeel Safdar claims national grad student award

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One could say that Adeel Safdar was in the right place at the right time when he began his one-year role as a technician in Mark Tarnopolsky’s lab.

The recent McMaster bachelor of science grad was looking to make some big decisions about his future when he started working on several projects that focused on nutrition and exercise interventions in both younger and older adults. That’s when Safdar realized his real interest was mitochondrial medicine, aging and exercise.

Five years later, the McMaster graduate’s PhD research on aging has earned him a national award from the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) and University Microfilms International (UMI).

The CAGS/UMI Distinguished Dissertation Award recognizes students who made an original contribution in their field of study.

“To me, this award is the equivalent to a mini-Nobel Prize at the graduate level,” Safdar said.

That’s notable from someone who has received numerous national and international awards, including the Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal, the Kelsey Wright Award for Excellence in Mitochondrial Medicine, the International Biochemistry of Exercise Young Investigator Award, the CIHR Age Plus Prize and the Gatorade Young Investigator Award.

“The CAGS/UMI award truly inspires me to keep working harder and smarter, so that I can continue contributing in the aging and mitochondrial medicine field.”

Safdar received his PhD in kinesiology last fall, after submitting and defending a thesis deemed “excellent” across all categories, a rare achievement, according to Allison Sekuler, associate vice-president and dean of the School of Graduate Studies.

“Adeel’s written thesis and oral defence were simply outstanding. His work is an example of the high quality graduate research being conducted here at McMaster.

“Based on his outstanding academic and research achievements, I believe Adeel epitomizes the kind of young scientist that Canada is striving to develop,” Sekuler said.

Safdar’s research examined the mechanistic link between physical inactivity and its detrimental effect on the aging process. He wants to know if exercise can be considered the fountain of youth. His work spanned both human and animal research and shows the importance of understanding the multitude of ways that exercise can lead to improve health and whole body rejuvenation as we age.

“My ultimate goal is to get our elderly population on their feet, enjoying life and living their dreams with better health and greater independence,” Safdar said. “I know it’s dreaming big, but then again, everything starts with a dream.”

As a graduate student, Safdar worked under supervisor Tarnopolsky, professor of Pediatrics and Medicine and Director of Neuromuscular and Neurometabolic Clinic at the McMaster University Medical Centre.

“Adeel was a diligent worker and showed a keen interest in scientific discovery. I knew that he would be a great student and that’s why I pushed so hard to get him into graduate school,” Tarnopolosky said.

His former student receiving the CAGS/UMI award is no surprise for Tarnopolsky.

“I had no doubts he would be the best graduate student that I ever had or will have. And he was.”

Safdar is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Cardiovascular Institute, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre-Harvard Medical School in Boston. He’s working on deciphering the physiological cross-talk between muscle and blood vessels, and how ischemic heart disease is linked to diabetes and insulin resistance.

As for the future, he hopes to some day operate his own independent lab where he will continue to study exercise and aging.

“I want to keep pushing the basic sciences and therapeutics so that one day, we have a cure for mitochondrial diseases. I realize that such a task requires collaborative efforts from multiple labs. And I would like to build an epicentre for such research,” Safdar said.

The CAGS/UMI Distinguished Dissertation Award is given annually to two recent doctoral graduates one in engineering, medical sciences and natural sciences; one in fine arts, humanities and social sciences who attended a Canadian university.

McMaster graduate students have won five CAGS/UMI Distinguished Dissertation Awards since the program’s inception in 1994. Safdar’s is the first in the engineering, medical sciences and nature sciences category.

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