Ivy Porter

Supervisor: David N Brindley

Project: Determining if blocking inflammation after radiation therapy improves outcomes for breast cancer patients

Degree program:

Medicine & Dentistry-Biochemistry

Lay abstract:

Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer in women and it affects one in eight Canadian women. It is a major cause of mortality since eight in ten women die within five years when cancer has spread to other organs (metastasis). To prevent this, breast tumours are normally removed surgically (lumpectomy). This is followed by 16 daily doses of radiation to the remaining breast to kill remaining cancer cells and prevent their spread. However, this treatment is not always effective. Our group discovered that each dose of radiation damages the breast tissue and this produces inflammation and the release of a variety of inflammatory compounds. This inflammatory reaction protects breast cancer cells from further destruction by the radiotherapy. In addition, inflammation increases scarring (fibrosis) in the breast, which causes distress, discomfort and adverse physical changes in about one in five women following radiotherapy. Such scarring requires further medical treatment and cosmetic reconstruction. The purpose of our project is to learn how to decrease inflammation caused by radiotherapy. We will use a compound called dexamethasone, which is commonly used clinically to treat inflammation. However, dexamethasone has not yet been used to improve the effectiveness of radiotherapy and prevent subsequent scarring.

What motivated you to participate in this research?

My motivation stems from an enjoyment of doing research, being hands-on and applying knowledge from my degree. During the previous summer, I completed a summer studentship and found it to be a valuable and enjoyable experience that greatly increased my comfort in the lab and in presenting research. Furthermore, I believe it is important to get experience in the field that I’m studying and is critical to finding a job in the future.

What are your career aspirations?

My career aspirations are to do a master of public health in epidemiology or in public health policy and management, possibly followed by a PhD. I want to have an impact on society for the better and I feel that through the investigation of the health and illness distributions and determinants of populations I can make a difference in counteracting existing and emerging health problems. I also think that effective healthcare policy is important in keeping healthcare access accessible and cost friendly, my specific interest in this would be looking at data management of patient information at a provincial and national level.

How has this studentship helped you toward those aspirations?

This studentship has helped me move towards those aspirations by giving me relevant experience, improving my presenting skills, and in further developing soft skills. It has also helped me better define what I wish to do with my career.