Laurel L. Watters Research Fellowship

Deadline: Likely July 2022

A fellowship has been made available through an endowment established by the Estate of John Imrie Watters for a deserving graduate student or medical resident in the Faculty of Medicine engaged in research into the causes, treatment, and cure of breast cancer. Mr. Watters passed away in 2002. The awards are made on the recommendation of the Faculty of Medicine, and in the case of graduate students, in consultation with the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.


$22,550 for one year (award amount is subject to change).


Applicants must be registered as full-time graduate students or medical residents in the Faculty of Medicine. Applicants must be in good academic standing, and conducting research under the supervision of a UBC faculty member who has a primary appointment in the Faculty of Medicine. Applicants who already hold a major award at the time of the award conferral will not be eligible to receive payment of the award and will be recognized in name only if successful.

Application Procedure

A completed application consists of:

1. Application for the Fellowship
a.) Complete, sign and scan the Application Form in either PDF or Word formats.
b.) Submit the Application Form via the Online Portal (currently closed).

2. Post-secondary transcripts from all post-secondary institutions attended
Electronic copies of transcripts can be shared with the GPE Office via OneDrive by the applicant’s graduate program. If applicant’s wish to share their transcripts directly with the GPE Office via email, each page of the copy must be first initialed by their current graduate supervisor.

3. Letters of support from two sponsors
One letter should be from the proposed or current supervisor of the candidate, and the other from an individual familiar with the candidate’s academic and research abilities. Sponsors should be asked to comment on the candidate’s research potential and achievements, interpersonal skills, academic abilities, and greatest strengths and weaknesses. Electronic copies of letters of support are accepted if sent directly from the sponsor. To facilitate a blind review process, please ask your supervisor to not use your name, gender specific pronouns, or similar identifying characteristics in their letters. They should refer to you as “The Trainee” as needed. 

Complete applications need to be received by: TBD (likely July, 2022)

Transcripts and letters of support should be submitted to: 

Please refer to the Guidelines and FAQs for specific formatting and submission details.

Laurel L. Watters Research Fellowship Recipients

Since his first year as an undergraduate, Antonio Wong (He/Him/His) has been an avid cancer researcher in diagnostics and therapeutics. You may know Antonio from his cover feature with Dr. David M. Perrin on Chemistry – A European Journal (2021) on amanitin-antibody conjugates, which holds a promising future in targeted cancer therapy. As an NSERC-USRA recipient (2018) during his biochemistry degree, Antonio was inspired by nucleic acid metabolism in cancer and synthesized novel nucleic acid heterocycles as novel positron emission tomography (PET) tracers. His vision to crossover molecular biology and synthetic chemistry resulted in his first author publication in 2020. Antonio now leverages the momentum to enter the MSc Interdisciplinary Oncology Program under supervision of Dr. François Bénard, with a motivation to address the unmet medical need in predicting efficacy of cancer monoclonal antibody drugs. Using breast cancer as a proof-of-concept, Antonio’s work will tether radioisotopes to Trastuzumab, a monoclonal antibody, for in vivo tracking of HER2+ malignancies via PET. Confirmation of tumor localization will be used as the first evidence to preview the effectiveness of this technology. Due to its highly modular approach, the antibody conjugates can be adapted to introduce therapeutic radioisotopes and target different biomarkers, enabling highly-customizable immunotherapies to advance personalized medicine.

Sean Harrigan is an MSc Candidate in the School of Population and Public Health, studying under the supervision of Dr. Trevor Dummer, a cancer prevention specialist. There have been significant advances in early detection and treatment of breast cancer. Despite this, the global burden of breast cancer is large and increasing. Breast cancer prevention is critical to complement the gains made in treatment and screening. It has been estimated that up to 50% of breast cancer cases are preventable, both through addressing environmental causes and personal risk factors – underscoring the importance of research into modifiable risk factors. His research is geared toward the Lower Mainland of BC and uses a large prospective cohort to assess the built environment – specifically air pollution, walkability and green space – as a risk factor for breast cancer in post-menopausal women. The aim of Sean's study is to understand how these modifiable characteristics of the built environment influence breast cancer, and moving forward, how this research can be used to make meaningful contributions supporting policy makers and planners.

Daniel Kwon is in his third and final year in his doctoral studies in the MD/PhD Program, supervised by Dr. Francois Benard. Daniel is focusing on targeting elements of the tumor microenvironment that enable the spread of cancer cells, called metastasis, a key contributor to the high mortality rate of cancer patients. A key driver of metastasis is a receptor called C-X-C Chemokine Receptor 4 (CXCR4), making it a valuable biomarker for diagnostic and therapeutic interventions. Daniel has developed a series of novel radiopharmaceuticals that can be used for  both molecular imaging and radiation therapy depending on the species of radioisotope armed on these drugs. These advanced candidates have shown superior imaging capabilities than the gold standard CXCR4 imaging agent currently being evaluated in clinical trials. Furthermore, preliminary radiation therapy studies with a therapeutic radiopharmaceutical has shown significant efficacy in CXCR4-expressing cancers in mouse models. Daniel is now further optimizing their chemical structures for enhanced affinity to CXCR4 in preparation for potential translation for clinical use. Furthermore, during the COVID19 crisis, Daniel has been working on synthesizing and evaluating novel chemical probes targeting proteases implicated in SARS-CoV-2 entry in cells.

James Wells is a PhD Candidate in the Interdisciplinary Oncology program, researching breast cancer under the supervision of Dr. Peter Stirling. Research has demonstrated that women have a higher susceptibility to breast cancer if they inherit a faulty Fanconi Anemia (FA) pathway, a DNA damage repair pathway. James’ previous research has shown that activators of the FA pathway are needed to tolerate certain disruptions to DNA replication that can lead to DNA damage and therefore cancer. James’ study will build upon these results to determine the role of mutated FA genes in cancer growth. The results of this study will expand our understanding of how DNA damage is prevented and may contribute to the development of therapies to further lower breast cancer mortality rates in women.

Daniel Kwon is an MD/PhD Candidate, studying under the supervision of Dr. Francois Benard.  Daniel is focusing on targeting elements of the tumour microenvironment that enable the spread of cancer cells, called metastasis, a key contributor to the high mortality rate of cancer patients. As cancer cells expressing high amounts of the C-X-C Chemokine Receptor 4 (CXCR4) are more likely to metastasize, Daniel has developed a radioactive drug that enables the non-invasive diagnosis of aggressive variants of cancers. Daniel and his colleagues have demonstrated that this drug visualizes cancers accurately and is able to be produced with a more widely available radioisotope, making clinical translation more feasible. Daniel hopes that the successful translation of this radioactive drug will enable early diagnosis and monitoring of aggressive types of cancer with low survival rates for early intervention.

Hakwoo Lee is a MSc student in the Pathology & Laboratory Medicine Program, studying under the supervision of Dr. Samuel Aparicio. Hakwoo researches breast cancer, the second most common cause of cancer death in women in Canada. More than 90% of these cancer deaths occur because of the spread of cancerous cells through the body, known as metastasis. Hakwoo hypothesizes that specific genomic features responsible for cancer spread can be identified by understanding the behavior of groups of cells that have the same origin (clones). He plans to determine which clones are responsible for the spread of cancerous cells and what characteristics they possess. Hakwoo’s study will enhance the understanding of how cancer cells spread and may lead to the discovery of new potential therapeutic targets to prevent or to delay cancer cells from spreading.