1. Who are you? Tell us about yourself.
My name is Kierstin Melo. I am a second-year master's student at Western University in the Robarts Research Institute, supervised by Dr. Paula Foster.
2. Why is the TBCRU Studentship Award important to you?
I am incredibly thankful for the support from the TBCRU studentship award. The funding from this award allows me to realize my research project fully. It is an excellent reminder of how our research can impact breast cancer patients.
3. Tell us about your research. What are you doing, and what problems do you hope to solve?
I am developing a new imaging method called magnetic particle imaging (MPI). The new method can help find and track breast cancer cells that have spread (metastasized) to the brain. Specifically, we are interested in monitoring cancer cells that are alive but not growing (dormant cells). These cells can be the cause of recurring breast cancer years after the first diagnosis. Monitoring these cancer cells over time, using MPI, will allow us to study the role of tumour dormancy and much more.
4. Why is your research important? How can your research be applied in the real world?
It's crucial to understand cancer cell activity better so that we can better understand why metastasis and recurring breast cancer happen. MPI's ability to assess metastatic breast cancer can provide a powerful new tool for studying metastasis and a robust platform for screening anti-cancer therapies. MPI is a new technology that is not yet available to patients but is expected to be in the future alongside the more commonly used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
5. What inspired your research?
I learned that breast cancer spread to the brain does not hold hopeful outcomes from any treatment options. This motivated me to study how these breast cancer cells behave. Often, brain metastases can occur long after the initial tumour has been treated. I'm excited to track and understand this using different existing tools and possibly developing new tools to refine this process even more.
6. Why are you passionate about breast cancer research?
As an undergraduate student, I had the opportunity to volunteer in Dr. Paula Foster's lab and learn about all the vital research she and her team conduct in the breast cancer field. Everyone in her lab was excited and passionate about their research, enthusiastic about their projects, and happy to teach me about cancer cell tracking techniques. This experience motivated me to pursue my Master's in Medical Biophysics to become a part of a team that produces exceptional breast cancer research.
7. Why do you think breast cancer research matters?
Breast cancer is a disease that has touched many people's lives, whether you're a breast cancer patient yourself or supporting a family member or friend. The high occurrence of breast cancer makes finding better treatment options and early detection extremely important.
8. What excites you about your work?
I am excited to see how MPI can help fill the gaps in other cancer imaging methods to improve our understanding of breast cancer. It's not every day you get to be a part of developing an excellent potential for the cancer imaging field and cancer patients. It's an opportunity that I am grateful for.
9. What do you see yourself doing in the future?
I hope to be able to find a job in medical device sales. I would love to take what I have learned during my MSc research and educate health professionals about new technologies and provide innovative care solutions to their patients.
10. What do you like to do when you aren't working on research?
I like going to the gym, hanging out with my friends and being outdoors as much as possible, especially in the summer. I also love cooking and trying out new recipes!