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Connecting Black Canadian scientists in Saskatoon

USask sponsors inaugural Canadian Black Scientists Network BE-STEMM Conference
USask researcher Dr. Erique Lukong (PhD) is involved in the co-ordination and presentation of unique work spearheaded by Black Canadian scientists at the 2022 BE-STEMM Conference.

SASKATOON – The Canadian Black Scientists Network (CBSN) is hosting a Black Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Medicine and Health (BE-STEMM) conference, to be held virtually on Jan. 30 to Feb. 2.

The event, sponsored by the USask Office of the President and other major Canadian universities, aims to remove barriers to attracting and retaining Black Canadians in STEMM fields.

“The CBSN was created with the following vision: To elevate, make visible, celebrate and connect Black Canadians in STEMM across sectors. The CBNS is open every Canadian in the STEMM field who identifies as Black,” said University of Saskatchewan (USask) College of Medicine professor and researcher Dr. Erique Lukong (PhD), who serves as vice-president of the CBSN.

The event dates coincide with the beginning of Black History Month, which honours the legacy of Black Canadians and their communities. With the federal government announcing this year’s theme, The Future Is Now, the CBSN BE-STEMM conference provides the perfect opportunity to engage with the discoveries and innovations taking place in Black Canadian research communities, according to a USask press release.

“We as Blacks are often underrepresented in conferences. We are not usually selected to give talks at major conferences. We now have the BE-STEMM platform where we can showcase talents in the Black STEMM community and the conference is opened to everyone,” said Lukong.

“Blacks have made and continue to make significant contribution in STEMM but these successes usually go unrecognized. We are inviting everyone to join us in celebrating the successes of some of our unsung heroes and rising stars.”

The conference is designed to celebrate the excellence of self-identifying Black scientists in STEMM fields, and to provide a platform to connect decision-makers and experienced leaders in the sharing of challenges, successes and best practises for Black inclusion in different sectors. Highlights include teaching from established and emerging Black STEMM scholars and networking via a career fair booth. Research presentations will also be made both by undergraduate and high school students from across Canada, as well as experienced researchers.

Lukong is a leader within the CBSN and is a current USask College of Medicine breast cancer researcher who will be presenting at the BE-STEMM conference. His work focuses on analyzing the cellular, physiological and clinical roles of enzymes BRK and FRK in the development and progression of breast cancer.

The BRK enzyme is found to be elevated in 85 per cent of breast cancer tumours and has been found to cause potential drug resistance. The FRK enzyme often goes undetected in triple negative breast cancers – a type of breast cancer where the tumour is missing three important receptors commonly found in other breast cancers.

“I will discuss recent data highlighting the contrasting roles of BRK and FRK in breast cancer and show how these proteins can be targeted to improve breast cancer outcomes and especially in the most vulnerable populations like Black women where there is a disproportionate burden of triple negative breast cancer,” said Lukong.

Another offering of the conference is the leadership summit sessions scheduled for Feb. 2. The leadership summits will be comprised of six concurrent, 90-minute panels, engaging employers, academia, industries, government ministries, health-care professional and funding bodies.

USask College of Medicine assistant professor Dr. Erick McNair (PhD) is one of the facilitators of the leadership summit panel discussions.

“Our panel consists of health-care professional role models that will provide experience in matriculation from undergraduate, medical school, graduate school, residency, and fellowships, to professional practice and administrative medicine,” said McNair.

“Discussions will also include qualifications, identification of barriers to successes, and improvements to be made that will afford Canadian Blacks a smoother pathway in their pursuit of a career in medicine and health sciences.”

McNair is also a researcher at USask, whose work focuses on discovering biomarkers of acute kidney injury in patients undergoing cardiac surgery, with hopes that earlier identification of kidney damage in the immediate post-operative period will lead to decreased incidences of adverse outcomes such as chronic renal disease and the need for dialysis.

Other members of the USask research community involved in the conference include Dr. Dalisizwe Dewa (MB-ChB), Dr. Idris Bare (MD) (Cardiology fellow), Dr. Adebola Obayan (MD, PhD) (Surgery), Dr. Christopher Mpofu (MD) (Pediatric Oncology), Dr. Humphrey Fonge (PhD) and PhD student Jessica Pougoue Ketchemen.

The CBSN BE-STEMM 2022 conference is open to anyone wanting to attend. Registration for the event is free for all high school, undergraduate and graduate students. Bilingual offerings are available to suit the needs of individual participants.

Visit the CBSN BE-STEMM 2022 conference website for more information and to register to attend.