Meet the Researcher: Nitara Fernando

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Nitara Fernando is a 2nd year MSc student in the Department of Medical Biophysics at Western University. She is conducting BCC-funded breast cancer research under the mentorship of Dr. Paula Foster at the London Health Sciences Centre/Western University.

  1. Could you share your motivation/personal connection to breast cancer research?

Cancer has had a big impact on my family. Four of my aunts and uncles, as well as my grandfather, passed away because of it. Seeing my family go through this has inspired me to focus on breast cancer research, especially using my passion for medical physics. I’m driven to use my problem-solving skills in physics to help find ways to advance breast cancer research.

  1. What specific areas of breast cancer research are you currently focusing on, and why are they important?

My research focuses on the breast cancer microenvironment. This refers to the different cells and other biological components that surround cancer cells within the breast which may help them grow and spread. Specifically, I’m interested in specific cells within the tumour microenvironment known as tumour associated macrophages (TAMs). TAMs are highly prevalent in breast cancer and have been shown to lead to poorer patient outcomes. The objective of my work is to be able to non-invasively image these cells in tumours. We are doing this with a new imaging technology called Magnetic Particle Imaging (MPI), and at Western university we have the only MPI scanner in Canada.

  1. Can you discuss any challenges or obstacles you’ve encountered in your breast cancer research, and how you’ve overcome them?

One significant hurdle is often the complexity and heterogeneity of breast cancer itself, which can make it difficult to identify universal solutions. This is especially true in my project because the tumour microenvironment will not be the same for everyone. Even with the animal models that I study, I have seen variability in the number of TAMs present within a specific breast cancer subtype. While this is a challenge it also highlights the need for personalized treatment for patients. This is something we hope can be done with new advancements in cellular imaging using MPI now that we have shown its efficacy in detecting TAMs in mouse models.

  1. What advice do you have for young individuals interested in pursuing a career in breast cancer research?

No matter your educational background—whether it’s in biology, chemistry, physics, or something else—it’s important to look for chances like research internships or lab positions to get hands-on experience in breast cancer research. What’s great about research, especially in this field, is that it involves interdisciplinary teams with different expertise. So, if you’re passionate about breast cancer research, connect with professors or professionals in the field to explore opportunities.

  1. In your opinion, what role can public awareness and advocacy play in advancing breast cancer research and treatment?

Public awareness and advocacy are crucial in advancing breast cancer research and treatment. They drive funding, empower patients, foster community support, and contribute to global collaboration among healthcare professionals. For example, public awareness campaigns educate individuals about the importance of screening, enabling early detection and reducing mortality rates.

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Thinking about becoming a corporate partner of Breast Cancer Canada? Amazing. We work with all types of organizations. We’ll help you deliver results which are measurable. National or local.

A partnership with Breast Cancer Canada is a win-win. It improves employee engagement, boosts morale, fosters a tighter culture. It raises your organization’s profile and demonstrates your support for breast cancer research. To customers. To employees. To suppliers. Most of all – it makes a positive impact for those affected directly by breast cancer.

We’ll raise money for life-saving breast cancer research, together.

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