1. Who are you? Tell us about yourself.
My name is Owen Hovey; I’m a PhD student in Dr. Shawn Li’s Lab in the Department of Biochemistry at Western University. During my undergraduate degree at Carleton University, I spent three years in the biochemistry lab of Dr. Willmore and a year in Health Canada’s stem cell lab under the direction of Dr. Jessie Lavoie. Since then I have completed a Master’s degree at the University of Ottawa in Immunology. While working in the Pineault Lab at Canadian Blood Services during my Masters degree, I developed multiple skills that have helped me in the lab here at Western.
2. Why is the TBCRU Studentship Award important to you?
This award has allowed me to focus on my research and has been crucial in funding my research experiments. I’ve been able to begin my research on the mechanism of breast cancer metastasis at a cellular level.
3. Tell us about your research. What are you doing and what problems do you hope to solve?
Breast cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body (known as metastasis). An essential part of cell migration is a mechanism known as phosphorylation-switch or “P-switch”. Many aggressive subtypes of breast cancer are missing components of the “P-switch” while maintaining migratory properties. We are working on identifying components that target the “P-switch” pathway and prevent the spread of breast cancer cells.
4. Why is your research important? How can your research be applied in the real world?
Approximately 90% of breast cancer-related deaths are a result of metastasis. Understanding how breast cancer metastasizes will help us target the correct proteins for inhibition. Our lab has already developed peptide inhibitors for Liver Cancer (DLC1), however, many breast cancer cells are missing this component, therefore, different targets need to be identified for many of breast cancer subtypes.
5. What inspired your research?
Dr. Li was influential in the selection of my research topic. Based on my previous research experience and my interests, we decided migration of breast cancer cells would be an excellent direction to pursue.
6. Why are you passionate about breast cancer research?
While I have not felt the impact of breast cancer within my family, I am very aware that this is a devastating disease. One of the teachers that had a major impact on me as a student suffered from breast cancer. Her influence and belief in me helped me to see myself as a capable learner despite a my previous academic struggles. Her determination and faith in her students helped us to believe in ourselves. I am saddened that she had to leave the teaching profession early to continue her fight against breast cancer. While I was fortunate to benefit from her teaching and guidance, her early retirement meant that many other students missed this learning opportunity.
7. Why do you think breast cancer research matters?
Breast cancer is a significant public health problem. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of death from cancer for Canadian women. These numbers alone make this disease a devastating loss to our society, as well as a personal loss on people’s lives and their family. Research is the only way to further understand this cancer, including how and why it progresses.
8. What excites you about your work?
I thoroughly enjoy pouring over large datasets, as they have great potential for revealing new targets and therapies for diseases. They are full of untapped potential for me to discover. I can focus in on potential targets to better understand what makes metastatic breast cancers unique.
9. What do you see yourself doing in the future?
The process of research excites and challenges me and has been my aspiration since my undergraduate degree. I hope to continue in academia to help solve cancer and other diseases by identifying potential therapeutic targets.
10. What do you like to do when you aren’t working on research?
When I’m not in the lab or reading articles, I enjoy baking, ice skating, attending yoga classes and participating in intramural sports at Western University a few times a week. While working on my Master’s degree I volunteered with Let’s Talk Science and found talking to young students about science challenging and invigorating. I’ve recently applied to join the Let’s Talk Science program here in London and will be helping with Let’s Talk Cancer in May, teaching high school students about cancer.
Support researchers like Owen Hovey by considering a donation to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. Find out how you can help fund life-saving research, visit bcsc.ca/donate