Shanshan Zhong is developing a new drug to treat breast cancer

Shanshan Zhong is developing a new drug to treat breast cancer

1.  Who are you? Tell us about yourself.

My name is Shanshan (Jenny) Zhong, and I am a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biochemistry at Western University, working under the supervision of Dr. Shawn Li. I completed my Master’s degree in Microbiology at Beijing University of Chemical Technology. I’m hoping that my current studies will contribute to improved breast cancer treatment in the future.

2. Why is the TBCRU Studentship Award important to you? 

I am so grateful to be a recipient of the TBCRU studentship award. It not only financially supports my studies but also allows me to join a big scientific family full of excellent young breast cancer researchers. With this award, I can devote myself to research and have more opportunities to collaborate with other researchers.

3. Tell us about your research. What are you doing, and what problems do you hope to solve?

It’s believed that immune cells in the body can stop the growth of a breast tumour. To avoid being killed by these immune cells (cytotoxic T cells), breast tumours often produce a protein called PD-1, which interacts with the T cells by binding to another protein called PD-L1. My project aims to decrease this interaction by developing a new drug/inhibitor and evaluating its potential in treating breast cancer.

4. Why is your research important? How can your research be applied in the real world?

The current PD-1/PD-L1 drugs have a lot of problems, such as high manufacturing costs, lack of effectiveness and development of drug resistance. Compared to similar therapies, our approach could have several advantages, including lower manufacturing costs, reduced side-effects, and better delivery to the breast tumour and metastatic tumours. The interaction of breast cancer cells and immune cells through PD-1/PD-L1 is still not fully understood. My research will help enhance our understanding of breast cancer biology.

5. What inspired your research?

There are many exciting biochemistry and immunology studies being carried out in Dr. Shawn Li’s lab. Dr. Li inspired my research topic of immune therapy in breast cancer based on my previous work. I was also very interested in understanding PD-1/PD-L1 signalling in breast cancer, and how this could be targeted with therapy.

6. Why are you passionate about breast cancer research?

Many years ago, I attended a breast cancer lecture. In China, cancer is increasing year by year, with more than 1.6 million people diagnosed and 1.2 million deaths each year. Like most other countries, breast cancer has become the most common cancer among women in China. However, many people still fail to notice the importance of breast care. Since then, I have started to pay more attention to breast cancer research and am excited to be able to carry out my studies in this area.

7. Why do you think breast cancer research matters?

Worldwide, the highest incidence of cancer in women is breast cancer. In recent years, breast cancer has increased rapidly for several reasons, including diet, accelerated pace of life, stress, and more. As a result of breast cancer research, the survival rate has drastically improved. But for breast cancer patients, the spread and recurrence of breast cancer is still huge a barrier. Therefore, improved treatments and new drugs are still critically needed.

8. What excites you about your work?

The thing that excites me most is the development of my expertise and knowledge above my current level that will lead me to become an influential researcher. This particular area of drug design is new to me, but proving the effectiveness of new and innovative ideas through research is very inspiring.

9. What do you see yourself doing in the future?

After finishing my Ph.D., I would like to continue my breast cancer research in the academic setting. With the right opportunities, I hope to become a faculty member at a University so I can pass my knowledge on to the next generation of scientists.

10. What do you like to do when you aren’t working on research?

When I am not working in the lab, I enjoy hiking, swimming, and skiing. I am also involved in the Let’s Talk Science volunteer program that encourages high school students to get excited about science and research.

Support researchers like Shanshan (Jenny) Zhong 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 today.

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