1. Who are you? Tell us about yourself.
My name is Olivia Tong – I am a Master’s of Science graduate student in Biomedical Engineering at Western University, working under the supervision of Dr. Jeffrey Carson and Dr. Mamadou Diop. I completed my undergraduate degree with Combined Honours in Biology and Psychology from the University of Victoria. I am very grateful to have been supported by the Breast Cancer Society of Canada for the past two years through the Translational Breast cancer Research Unit (TBCRU) scholarship program.
2. Why is the TBCRU Studentship Award important to you?
This award helps me focus on my research, and allows our team to relocate funding and buy new equipment for this project.
3. Tell us about your research. What are you doing and what problems do you hope to solve?
Our group is developing a non-contact imaging system called photoacoustic tomography that can accurately monitor blood oxygen levels in breast tumours during chemotherapy. Read my last post about this project.
More recently, I have developed a specialized 3D imaging (3D-SI) system; a component of the photoacoustic system. The 3D-SI system consists of two structured-light surface scanners and colour optical filters. After some testing, it has shown to have better accuracy than current commercial scanners. I have also begun testing the system through a small pilot study using real patients. We are currently modifying the system to overcome some limitations and capture a wider population. Once the system is improved, a full clinical study will be conducted.
4. Why is your research important? How can your research be applied in the real world?
The dual colour 3D-SI system will help researchers and physicians to better understand breast shape and size in different body positions. This information will be useful for planning reconstructive breast surgeries and assessing patient outcomes after these surgeries.
Furthermore, the success of the non-contact photoacoustic tomography system could lead to a new method of diagnosis, helping to identify the most effective chemotherapy drug for breast cancer patients. This could lead patients to earlier, more effective treatment and reducing the risk of cancer coming back or spreading to other parts of the body.
5. What inspired your research?
I never had an ‘aha’ moment – it was more systematic. My supervisor, Dr. Jeffrey Carson, has a track record of developing photoacoustic systems that help solve problems in the clinic. As an expert in the area, he came up with the core project – the non-contact photoacoustic tomography system.
I am responsible for the 3D surface scanning component. I was curious about the use of surface imaging in the clinic, and after reading a few review papers, I realized that my 3D-SI system had the potential to help surgeons plan breast surgeries and assess surgical outcomes. After discussing with my supervisor, we decided to pursue that as a secondary objective of my 3D-SI system.
6. Why are you passionate about breast cancer research?
My mom had a breast tumour when I was 15. She went through two breast surgeries and I am happy to say she is a survivor. As a result, one of my interests is to develop clinical systems that can provide better care for breast cancer patients. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to work on this project.
7. Why do you think breast cancer research matters?
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in Canada and research is the only way we can help prevent breast cancer and find a cure. Research saves lives, brings us closer to a cure, and improves the quality of life for patients and their families. On a personal level, my mom and I would not be who we are today without the advances in breast cancer research. The research we fund today will bring us closer to our ultimate goal of improving public health.
8. What excites you about your work?
Knowing that my system has the potential to be used in real clinics and could possibly lead to better patient outcomes.
9. What do you see yourself doing in the future?
I would like to work in research institutes that develop systems or devices with the goal of clinical implementation.
10. What do you like to do when you aren’t working on research?
I really enjoy listening to podcasts and watching music variety shows. I also love to hike and travel.