Supervisor: Amit Bhavsar
Project: Working to prevent chemotherapy-induced permanent hearing loss in child cancer patients
Bachelor of Science with Honors in Molecular Genetics
What's been the best part of your experience so far?
I really enjoy doing research, working in a lab environment, learning new techniques, and have thus greatly loved working on this project. However, the most valuable part of my studentship has definitely been discussing my project with others—at times with healthcare practitioners who understand the repercussions of using toxic chemotherapuetics far more pragmatically than I do—and conversely, hearing about others' research myself. Before I started doing research I struggled with understanding certain scientific jargon or keeping up with people when they spoke about their projects. Over time, I got better at this by going to seminars, reading research papers, and talking to people one-on-one about their work or my own and learned how important it is to be able to communicate your science to others—both for the sake of demonstrating the significance of your research as well as for forming collaborations. Because of this, the best experiences so far have been discussing my project with my peers (such as during the WCHRI lunch and share) and learning to be a better communicator in a scientific capacity.
What has WCHRI's support through the Foundations for your studentship meant to you?
At the epicentre of my project is the idea that children are more readily afflicted by cisplatin-induced toxicity, specifically meaning that children are more likely to suffer permanent hearing loss when being treated with cisplatin for solid tumors. This also means that downstream cognitive and social development that comes from the resulting hearing loss will affect children more than any other demographic of cancer patients. Because of this, I have a deep appreciation for what WCHRI does in supporting research pertaining to and bettering health outcomes for women and children, in which there is a marked gap in scientific research; this made the WCHRI Summer Studentship Program a great opportunity to further this work. Additionally, because I was interested in pursuing research after my undergrad, WCHRI's and the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation’s support in this studentship has only encouraged those aspirations and I hope to someday be given the opportunity to make a real change in children's health outcomes.
Cisplatin is a chemotherapy agent that has been very successful in treating solid tumors in children, among other cancers; however, cisplatin has led to a high incidence of permanent hearing loss as a side effect for more than half of the children treated. Finding ways to protect against this effect is crucial to improving long-term health outcomes of these patients. Childhood cancer patients afflicted with cisplatin-induced hearing loss become disadvantaged in many ways. Learning and social development becomes impaired and carries forward through adolescence into adulthood, also affecting economical outcomes in the long-term. Thus, finding safe therapies for this side effect without discontinuing the use of cisplatin, as it is an indispensable tool in cancer therapy, is crucial to improving the quality of life of the children at risk. We’ll be conducting research on isolated cell lines to investigate how they respond to cisplatin. These cells specifically express components that we believe are involved in mediating the cell death that leads to hearing loss and so they make a great model for studying cisplatin-induced cell toxicity in childhood cancer patients. The effect that cisplatin treatment has on these cells will be monitored through specific cell responses. This will allow for close examination of the cellular pathways involved and studies into potential protectants from the toxic effect of cisplatin on ear cells.