Q&A with Dr. Richard Bazinet, winner of the Ralph Holman Lifetime Achievement Award
A brief bio: Dr. Bazinet received his BSc from the University of Western Ontario and completed his Ph.D. under the supervision of Dr. Stephen Cunnane at the University of Toronto in 2003. Dr. Bazinet then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Dr. Stanley Rapoport's Brain Physiology and Metabolism Section at the National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health. Dr. Bazinet joined the University of Toronto in 2006, where he is currently a Professor and Canada Research Chair in Brain Lipid Metabolism. Dr. Bazinet is the recipient of several awards, including the Early Career Award from the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids; the Jordi-Folch-Pi Memorial Award from the American Society for Neurochemistry; the Future Leaders Award from the International Life Sciences Institute, the Young Scientist Award for the American Oil Chemists' Society and the Early Researcher Award from the Canadian Society for Nutrition.
Dr. Bazinet sits on several editorial boards and is currently Editor-in-Chief of Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids as well as a Senior Associate Editor of Lipids. The overall goal of Dr. Bazinet's research program is to identify the mechanisms that regulate brain lipid metabolism (signaling) and to identify the role of brain lipid metabolism in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases and neuropsychiatric disorders. Dr. Bazinet has published over 150 papers, largely in the field of brain fatty acid metabolism and is co-author of the joint WHO/FAO joint expert consultation on dietary fats and the central nervous system during aging and disease. Dr. Bazinet is currently the president of the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL).
1) How did it feel to win the Ralph Holman Lifetime Achievement Award?
It was a real honor – shocking. Ralph Holman was a giant in the field, and I have really enjoyed seeing the award lectures at previous AOCS meetings. It is nice to have our work recognized.
2) How did you get started in the field that you are studying or working in?
Upon completing an undergraduate degree in nutrition I was fascinated by metabolism, especially fat metabolism. I was lucky enough to continue down that path and to study fat metabolism as a Ph.D. student under the supervision of Stephen Cunnane and then combine that with a post-doctorate in brain metabolism with Stanley Rapoport. Now my lab specializes in questions around brain lipid metabolism.
3) Can you tell us more about your current research?
My research has largely centered around examining the function of fatty acid in the brain. We have been looking at fatty acid signaling in the brain, especially in the context of brain inflammation. Another area of research that is related to nutrition is how fatty acid gets into the brain. To address questions in these areas our lab has relied on sound analytical measures and kinetic techniques, areas we also make contributions to.
4) What challenges have you overcome during your course of study or your career?
When I started my career, the chance of receiving a major medical grant was just over 20%. It is now about half of that. However, I was lucky to receive a Canada Research Chair that allowed the lab to purchase costly isotopes enabling us to answer tough questions. I think the key is being interested in the question so much that you are willing to keep modifying the grant.
5) What advice can you share on how you have achieved success thus far in your career, whether that be entering a graduate program or a lengthy career in a prestigious position?
This is a very different type of career. You really have to fall asleep and wake up thinking about the questions and how the experiments will answer them. I think that if you can find questions that truly captivate you, it should be easy to captivate others with the results of the experiments. I was once told the key to a good research seminar is actually having a good question and a good approach. I think this applies not only to seminars but to careers.
6) How has AOCS helped you in your career?
AOCS has always been a great source of resources for me from the journal Lipids, where our lab frequently publishes papers, to attending the annual meeting. I was also an AOCS early career award recipient which was very important for receiving my tenure.