Abrar Alam

Supervisor: Jason Dyck

Project: Identifying patients at risk of heart disease from cancer treatment


Edmonton, AB

Degree program:

Bachelor of Science

What's been the best part of your experience so far?

I was able to get started on my project when it was in its preliminary stages. As I wrap up the work I did, it's nice to look back and see how far I came. Completing a successful research project is often not a linear path; there are many roadblocks you need to overcome. This makes it all the more satisfying when you finish with a nice and cohesive story.

Did you have any interesting results?

Our data shows that even prior to chemotherapy, our animal model with breast cancer demonstrates left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH)—the enlargement and thickening of the walls of the heart's left ventricle. In addition, since LVH is strongly linked to an increased risk of heart failure, we investigated if cardiomyocyte (cardiac muscle cells) hypertrophy, as a result of breast cancer increases the susceptibility of the cardiomyocytes to toxicity induced by doxorubicin (a chemotherapeutic). We found that doxorubicin enhances toxicity in the hypertrophied cardiomyocytes (as a result of breast cancer conditioned medium) but not in the control cells.

What impact do you hope this project makes once completed? How will this contribute to improving the health of women?

Given how widespread the diagnosis of breast cancer is in women, I hope our research helps lead to a treatment that prevents the onset of heart disease in them. We are trying to pinpoint the mechanism by which breast cancer can lead to these cardiac complications. Ideally, we can inhibit this mechanism and improve the quality of life in women throughout the world.

What interested you in the WCHRI Summer Studentship Program?

WCHRI has a mandate that targets important populations. I myself had a personal connection with my project which made it especially interesting. WCHRI offered the chance to network with other fellow students in the program and present our work at WCHRI Research Day which is a great way to help young researchers transition into the world of academia.

What's one piece of advice you received from your supervisor/mentor that resonated with you?

Basic science research is much more than just doing experiments as a "shotgun approach". There is extensive literature out there that you need to familiarize yourself with before delving into a project. This is not only an efficient process but also leads to more positive research outcomes.

Lay abstract:

Breast cancer survivors have an increased risk of heart disease. It is commonly thought that the drugs used to treat breast cancer contribute to this heart disease. However, we have observed that prior to starting drug therapy, women with breast cancer release certain molecules from their tumours which may contribute to heart problems later in life. Our goal is to better understand the impact of the breast tumour itself on heart disease. 

To test this, we will use an animal model injected with breast cancer cells that develop into tumours. Then, we will observe how this impacts their heart function and take note of key molecules involved. Lastly, we will treat them with a cancer drug to see if there are noticeable changes in heart function. Ultimately, our work may identify new target molecules that can be inhibited to prevent the development of heart disease later in life.