1. Who are you? Tell us about yourself.
My name is Vasudeva (Vasu) Bhat, and I am a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Western University. I work under the supervision of Dr. Alison Allan and Dr. David Palma. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Manitoba, where I focused on understanding healthy breast development.
2. Why is the TBCRU Studentship Award important to you?
As a researcher, I feel responsible and committed to breast cancer patients’ fight in such a devastating disease. I am very grateful to receive this award. This award means a lot to me as a trainee; it motivates me, supports my work and allows me to focus on my goals.
3. Tell us about your research. What are you doing, and what problems do you hope to solve?
In some breast cancer patients, cancer can spread (metastasize) to one or two organs, but with only a small number of new tumours. We call this the “oligometastatic” state, it is believed that oligometastatic patients can be treated and even potentially cured. My work investigates whether a patients’ blood contains accurate indicators of whether or not they have oligometastases and are good candidates for curative treatment. Indicators in the blood could be circulating tumour cells, circulating tumour DNA and host immune cells. These indicators are assessed and compared to patient survival rates and disease progression after radiation therapy.
4. Why is your research important? How can your research be applied in the real world?
This research is crucial because it will help define the oligometastatic state and potentially redefine our understanding of metastasis. Oligometastatic patients undergoing and responding to radiotherapy will represent a highly treatable and curable subset. In the future, I believe a simple blood test panel could be used to determine the oligometastatic state and eventually treat it.
5. What inspired your research?
Three years ago, I received a student exchange scholarship from the Breast Cancer Society of Canada and had the opportunity to work in Dr. Allan’s lab for three months. During that time, I developed a keen interest in Dr. Allan’s lab research, especially the role of cancer stem cells and circulating tumour cells in regulating the spread of breast cancer. My previous training with healthy breast stem cells has prepared me for a study such as this in Dr. Allan’s lab.
6. Why are you passionate about breast cancer research?
A close relative of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer, and it was a gruelling experience for the whole family. I was always interested in understanding the development of diseases, and I find cancer very intriguing. By devoting my education to understanding this disease, I feel like I can help in a significant way.
7. Why do you think breast cancer research matters?
Advancements in early detection and therapies for breast cancer have significantly increased the overall survival rate of breast cancer patients. Despite these advancements, breast cancer still has a very high mortality rate amongst women in Canada and worldwide. Unfortunately, around 30% of early-stage breast cancer patients will still develop metastasis and more than 80% of these patients will not survive. It is, therefore, imperative to improve our understanding of breast cancer metastasis to prevent it.
8. What excites you about your work?
The 21st century is rapidly developing in technology and information, particularly in the biomedical sciences. Having all of this at our disposal will help us to understand breast cancer and metastasis better. This excites and motivates me to learn new techniques and apply new technology in my research.
9. What do you see yourself doing in the future?
I plan to continue in academics as an independent researcher. I want to be a part of a research team and collaborate with different researchers in Ontario, Canada, and around the world. I want to use my experience and leadership to bring academic and pharmaceutical industries together. To develop the next generation of cancer therapies that are more specific, more effective, and have fewer side effects for breast cancer patients.
10. What do you like to do when you aren’t working on research?
Apart from research, I enjoy photography, soccer and badminton.
Support researchers like Vasudeva (Vasu) Bhat 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.