Virginie Jean-Baptiste named first recipient of the Julia Levy Fellowship Award

Virginie Jean-Baptiste, a PhD student in the Horwitz lab (Department of Microbiology and Immunology), is the first-ever recipient of the Julia Levy Fellowship award.

As the recipient of the Levy Fellowship, Virginie Jean-Baptiste will continue her PhD work on the neuropathophysiology of HIV-1 infection. Using a mouse model genetically engineered to replicate the human immune system, she is characterizing the immune profile and clinical symptoms seen in cognitive disorders associated with HIV-1 in mice infected with the virus.

The Department of Microbiology & Immunology Julia Levy Fellowship provides $10,000 for a PhD student in the department. One fellowship will be awarded per year for the next three years.

Dr. Julia Levy

The award honours Dr. Julia Levy, the first woman faculty member in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, founded one of British Columbia’s first successful large biotech companies, QLT Inc. to commercialize a photodynamic therapy developed in her lab.

A noted mentor of young scientists, Levy’s pioneering work as a CEO scientist/entrepreneur led to the first FDA-approved treatment for macular degeneration (age-related blindness), known as Visudyne®, and built QLT to a billion-dollar company. Following her retirement from QLT in 2008, Levy became active in UBC’s Sauder School of Business and its Creative Destruction Lab Vancouver, mentoring many new life science start-ups.

For Jean-Baptiste, the award removes the stress and worry of being a financial burden on her supervisor as she moves through her doctoral program. “[It] allows me to focus more on the research itself and get things done,” she says. “Ultimately, the award provides me with a much-needed boost of confidence going forward in my career.”

Originally from Haiti, Jean-Baptiste joined the department in 2015. After finishing her undergraduate degree in Biology and Public Health at Agnes Scott College (a small women’s college in the USA state of Georgia), she intended on only doing her master’s degree at UBC but soon transferred to the PhD program.

The original version of this story appeared on the Department of Microbiology and Immunology website.