Anthaea Grace
"I want people to know that I may be 13, but I'm also a master’s student, I'm a researcher studying Parkinson's disease, and…" says Anthaea-Grace Patricia Dennis, adding with a smile, "…maybe in a few years you'll see me being your doctor." (Photo: UHN)

Growing up surrounded by pets, 13 year-old Anthaea-Grace Patricia Dennis originally wanted to be a veterinarian.

But, seeing first-hand how close family members were impacted by neurological illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease and having benefited from the influence of her mother and grandmother – both scientists themselves – sparked an interest that has led her toward a career in science and medicine.

"When you think of a 13 year-old, you typically think of a middle school student, not a university graduate, which I am," says Anthaea-Grace.

"I want people to know that I may be 13, but I'm also a master's student, I'm a researcher studying Parkinson's disease, and…" she adds, smiling, "…maybe in a few years you'll see me being your doctor."

Anthaea-Grace has been breaking stereotypes all her life.

"My mom was teaching me to read from an early age, keeping me active, interested, helping me learn, and she noticed that I was picking up on material quicker than she would've expected," recalls Anthaea-Grace.

Anthaea-Grace Patricia Dennis is a Master's student in Dr. Antonio Strafella's lab at UHN's Krembil Brain Institute, studying Parkinson's disease. (Photo: UHN)
​ ​

That realization kicked off a journey which saw Anthaea-Grace fast-tracking her elementary and high school education through a combination of specialized individualized programs at U.S.-based schools and home schooling.

At age nine, she graduated high school and started studying biomedical science at the University of Ottawa.

"The program was really wonderful for me because there were foundational courses in biology, chemistry, math and physics – all of those different areas that would allow me to find what I was interested in and make a path for myself," she says.

That path led her to graduate with an honours bachelor degree from the University of Ottawa in May 2023. Last fall, she began studying for her master's degree at the University of Toronto and found a coveted research position with Dr. Antonio Strafella, a neurologist and world-renowned expert in movement disorders, at UHN's Krembil Brain Institute.

"Anthaea-Grace's unconventional pathway in education showed to me that she was not afraid of dealing with hurdles along the way," says Dr. Strafella. “Challenges are always encountered in research and it is important how we deal with them in order to succeed.

"Anthaea-Grace is an exceptional, goal-oriented, hard-working student who is highly motivated and driven by curiosity and a love of learning."

He adds: "This drive and curiosity in neuroscience brings her to explore 'uncharted territories' without being afraid to be outside of her comfort zone."

That includes a research project using machine learning techniques and artificial intelligence to predict whether a patient has Parkinson's disease, or will develop the disease, five, 10, or even 20 years in advance.

"I'm currently working on using a neuroimaging biomarker called a dopamine transporter, SPECT molecular imaging, along with different bio fluid-based biomarkers such as alpha synuclein and beta amyloid – proteomic biomarkers that have a biological basis in the brain of patients living with Parkinson's," says Anthaea-Grace.

As part of her research, she completed a literature review, looking at research that has already been done in machine learning techniques to investigate and differentiate Parkinson's.

“I discovered how little research there really is using multiple biomarker sources, such as neuroimaging and cerebrospinal fluid," she says. “Finding out about the gap in the research fueled my passion to contribute to filling that gap, and support clinical validity for combining different biomarkers."

Anthaea-Grace's greatest influences are her mother and her grandmother, both scientists themselves. (Photo: UHN)

Anthaea-Grace says the most rewarding part is thinking about the impact her research and medical training could have for patients one day, and on the Parkinson's field as a whole.

"To be able to have a lasting impact on clinical practice for Parkinson's would mean the world, both for myself as a researcher and also for patients who live with the disease," she says. "I'm hopeful I can make a difference in their lives one day."

And she has some inspiring words for others who follow in her footsteps.

"It's really important to believe in yourself first of all, but also to take that belief and propel yourself forward, to work hard," she says. "You know, Rome wasn't built in a day, but Rome also wasn't built alone.

"Even if you have big dreams, you also have to have support so you can get there. I wouldn't be able to be in this position without the support of my family, of my mentors, my teachers.

"So, grow your network, always work hard and never stop believing in yourself."

Back to Top