The Team

This page lists our current and honorary members. Perhaps you’d like to see our growing list of amazing Alumni?

Graduate Students:

Christian Bellissimo (PhD student – co-supervised with Dr. Deborah Sloboda) got inspired to study immunology and pregnancy after taking Advanced Immunology. He studies how the immune cells of the placenta change when the mother is exposed to stress. Early life stress influences how well or how poorly you age and so Christian’s work may help develop strategies to give all babies a healthy start. Distinctions: Ontario Graduate Scholarship 2017. Canada Graduate Scholarship-MSC, 2018, Canada Graduate Scholarhsip-Doctoral 2019. Best Poster Presentation in Placental Biology at the Canadian National Perinatal Research Meeting(2019). 

Kevin Zhao (MD/PhD student, 2021-) did his undergraduate at McMaster and was accepted into the MD/PhD program in his third year. He joined the Bowdish lab to study the pressing problem of why macrophages lose their ability to phagocytose (‘eat’) and kill microbes with age. By looking at the specific molecular pathways that stop working, we should be able to find drugs and treatments that turn them back on again and help older adults resist infections. Distinctions: Winner of the McMaster Institute of Research on Aging Pitch Your Project “People’s Choice Awards” 2021. MIRA-IIDR PhD scholarship 2022. Ontario Graduate Scholarship 2022. First place PhD short presentation at the 8th Annual Perey Symposium (2022). CIHR-CGS-D 2023-2026. 2nd place award for poster presentation at the Medical Sciences Graduate Research Day (2024). 

Jenna Benoit (PhD student, 2021-) did an MSc in the lab of Dr. Mansour Haeryfar at Western University where she studied how the microbiota alters circulating immune cells and ultimately clinical outcomes. She’s come to us to join our efforts to fight COVID. She is studying how well vaccines work in people with autoimmune conditions and who are on immunosuppressive drugs. In addition to helping patients understand how protected they are from COVID, this will this teach us how diseases and drugs alter immune responses to vaccination. Distinctions: Ontario Graduate Scholarship (2022). Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health Travel grant to present selected abstract (oral presentation) at the Canadian Society of Immunology conference 2022.Poster award at the Canadian Society of Immunology (2022).  McMaster Global Experiences Travel Award present chosen abstract at FOCIS 2022. Second place for best PhD presentation at the 2022 Perey Symposium. Department of Medicine Graduate Incentive Award (2023). 

Sofya Ermolina (PhD student, 2021-) did her undergraduate degree at Brock University and worked as a technician in McMaster’s CAF. She brings that wealth of skills to our team that will be essential to uncover the role of the microbiome and inflammation in healthy and unhealthy aging. She’ll be working primarily in the PreClinical Studies in Aging Lab to find new avenues of intervention to improve the aging trajectory. Distinctions: CIHR funded scholarship to attend the Summer Program on Aging. Medical Sciences travel award 2023. McMaster Institute for Research on Aging Graduate Scholarship 2023. 

Nancy ElChaar (PhD student, September 2022 – ongoing) is co-supervised by Dr. Mike Surette and is a member of both the Surette and Bowdish labs. She studies how the microbes that live in the upper respiratory tract interact with pathogens such as Streptococcus pneumoniae with the hopes of finding novel microbiome-based molecules that can keep the bad bugs out. Distinctions: Canadian Society of Microbiologist conference travel award 2022, FHS plenary award PechaKucha oral presentation award 2023

Lena Darwish (MSc student September 2022-ongoing) is co-supervised by Dr. Brian Coombes and is a member of both the Coombes and Bowdish labs. She wants to understand how chronic stress alters immune responses in the gut and how this can cause flare-ups in people who have Crohn’s disease or other conditions.

Lachlan MacLean (MSc student, September 2023-ongoing) is working with collaborators from Engineering (Drs. Todd Hoare & Ryan Wylie) and the Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health (Drs. Martin Kolb & Myrna Dolovich) to develop new inhalable drugs that target macrophages to improve chronic lung disease. Distinctions: Silver poster award for an MSc student the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging trainee day (2023). Ontario Graduate Scholarship (2024-2025). 

Alice Caldwell (MSc, September 2023-ongoing) completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Manchester with research terms at Nagoya University. She aims to understand how aging and frailty impact the physiology of the gut and determine whether this contributes changes in gut microbes. Distinctions: Travel Award to the CIHR’s Summer Program on Aging (2024)

Lab Manager & Manager of the PreClinical Studies in Aging Lab:

Erica de Jong (MSc 2018-2020) did a BSc project with Dr. John McCormick at Western University and an MSc in the Bowdish lab entitled “Unhealthy Aging and the microbiota”. She is helping us uncover how the microbes that live in and on us conspire against us as we grow older, manages our biobank and industrial and academic collaborations. She is also the lead scientist in the PreClinical Studies in Aging Lab. Distinctions: Ontario Graduate Scholarship (2019/2020). Certificate of Excellence from the Summer Program in Aging, CIHR (2019).

Post-doctoral fellows:

Dr. Jessica Breznik (PDF 2020-) was a PhD in the Bowdish lab (see her many distinctions under our ‘alumni’ section). She is contributing to our team’s efforts in the fight against COVID-19 by leading our study on cellular immune correlates of protection to COVID-19 vaccination in long-term care. These data will help us understand how long and how well our most vulnerable residents will be protected. Distinctions: MIRA fellowship (2021-2022). Best PDF poster- IIDR Trainee Day 2021. Poster award in Maternal & Fetal Medicine at the 2022 Canadian National Perinatal Research Meeting. (2023) Gerard Wright and Teresa Gubala Postdoctoral Award in Infectious Disease Research

Dr. Kémy Adé (PDF 2023-ongoing) completed her PhD at the Institut Pasteur where she studied how the aging microenvironment impacted tissue resident macrophages. She is studying how aging and frailty impacts lung macrophage numbers, types, and function, with the aim of understanding how these changes increase the risk of pneumonia and lung disease. Distinctions: McCall MacBain Postdoctoral Leadership program 2024

Research Coordinators & Technical Staff:

Braeden Cowborough (2019 – ) got an MSc from the McMaster Immunology Research Centre with Dr. Matt Miller in 2017. After working briefly in industry he joined the Bowdish team. Braeden’s portfolio is extensive, he is leading our labs serological studies of antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 infections and vaccinations.


Catherine Andary (September 2022-ongoing): Catherine is an MD student at McMaster with a deep interest in how our gut microbiome impacts health and disease. She is studying how the microbes in the gut change with age and uncovering the mechanisms by which they make the gut leaky. Distinctions: 2023 Mach-Gaensslen Summer Student Award. McMaster Medicine Research Excellence Scholarship (2023, 2024). Gold award for best graduate student poster presentation at the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging trainee day (2023). 

Aunika Venebles (January 2023-ongoing): Aunika is an iSci student who aims to understand sex-differences in immune responses to pneumonia. Distinctions: NSERC Undergraduate Research Summer Award (Declined). Abstract selected for presentation at the Canadian Undergraduate Conference on Healthcare (2024). IIDR Summer Scholarship (2024). MIRA Best wet lab presentation (2024). 

Fearless leaderDawn‘s project is – in theory – pushing back the boundaries of macrophage biology. Dawn-feeding-data-wall-smIn practice she spends a lot of time writing grants, writing more grants, filling out interminable paperwork, and basically keeping all those macrophage shaped balls in the air. She is pictured here doing what she loves best – keeping the data gods fed and happy with exciting new discoveries. An office covered with figures from papers planned and in progress is a happy office.