1. Welcome back to the TBCRU. Can you remind our readers who you are and tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Veronica Dubois. I am a third-year Ph.D. graduate student working under the supervision of Dr. John Ronald and Dr. Paula Foster at the Robarts Research Institute and Western University.
2. As a senior researcher, why is the TBCRU Studentship Award important to you? How does it allow you to advance your research?
This award is so important to me because it supports my research and my goal to improve treatments for breast cancer. It also allows me to meet and collaborate with other students who are working on breast cancer research. The events organized by TBCRU provide us with opportunities to learn more about how our research can help breast cancer patients, which is extremely valuable.
3. In a few lines, can you remind us what you are doing and what problems you hope to solve with your research?
My project focuses on imaging cancer treatments called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). CAR-T cell therapies consist of immune cells that have been modified, which allows them to recognize cancer cells in the body and kill them. CAR-T cells are very effective for patients with blood cancers. However, they are still not working very well against solid tumours like breast cancer. The goal of my project is to track where and how many CAR-T cells are in the body using non-invasive imaging. We hope that discovering more about the behaviour of CAR-T cells during treatment will help researchers develop more effective CAR-T cell therapies to treat breast cancer.
4. Since we last spoke, have there been any changes to or any advancements in your research?
Since our last update, our lab has successfully made HER2-targeting CAR-T cells and tested their effectiveness against a breast cancer cell line in a culture dish. We have also developed protocols for labelling CAR-T cells with two different imaging reporters. The reporters have allowed us to successfully detect the CAR-T cells with MRI while they fight cancer cells. We are excited to publish our work soon so that we can share the results with others.
5. Have you had an opportunity to present your research to your peer researchers? Was it at a national or international meeting or in some other way?
Although the pandemic has changed how we can present our research this year, there have still been many successful virtual conferences. I had the opportunity to present my research to my peers at our medical biophysics' seminars and the Robarts Research Retreat scientific community. I look forward to presenting my work in person again soon, but I'm thankful for the opportunities I had to share my work with others this year.
6. Did that presentation setting help you share your breast cancer research with the broader scientific community?
The presentation setting allowed me to share my work with scientists from many different disciplines. These opportunities are so valuable - they let us spread the word about breast cancer research and get feedback on our methods.
7. Did any of the feedback or conversations that came about from presenting your research help you and your research in any way?
My research was only made possible because of the collaborations that we've formed with other research groups. Conferences are crucial for fostering relationships between researchers with different expertise - the feedback I've received from scientists at conferences has helped me improve my project.
8. Now that you had more time with your research, how do you think it will be applied in a real-world situation?
There are a lot of ongoing clinical trials testing CAR-T cell therapies against solid tumours. We hope that our research will help scientists and doctors learn more about the behaviour of CAR-T cells during breast cancer treatment and help researchers optimize CAR-T cell therapies for patients with solid tumours such as breast cancer.
8. Tell us about your involvement in the Breast Cancer Society of Canada fundraising events (Dress for the Cause, Mother's Day Walk)?
This year we had to get creative for this great cause because of the pandemic. So we hosted a virtual auction and sold scrunchies during Breast Cancer Awareness month in October. I also dressed my door, my desk, my dog, and myself in pink during Dress for the Cause!
9. What about your participation in other Breast Cancer Society of Canada donor events or tours? How has that impacted your perspective on breast cancer research?
Opportunities to meet BCSC donors are so important - they remind us that our research wouldn't be possible without their generosity. These events also motivate us to continue working hard because we could one day change patients' lives with breast cancer.
10. What are you currently reading, watching or listening to outside of the lab?
I recently finished reading a book called Chasing My Cure by David Fajgenbaum - I would recommend it to anyone! I've also been watching New Amsterdam and listening to country music in my spare time.
Support researchers like Veronica Dubois by donating to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. Visit bcsc.ca/donate today.