Sawyer Badiuk is a senior PhD student in the Department of Medical Biophysics at Western University. She is conducting BCC-funded breast cancer research under the mentorship of Dr. Eugene Wong and Dr. Jeff Chen at the London Health Sciences Centre/Western University.
- What specific areas of breast cancer research are you currently focusing on, and why are they important?
My current research is focused on investigating radiation therapy for breast cancer that has spread, or metastasized, to the brain. This is a challenging area to treat since the brain has protective features that limit therapies and the access of treatment to the cancer. Radiation therapy is one of the few ways to treat metastasis in the brain, however, it can have undesired side effects that can affect the patient’s quality of life. Better understanding how radiation effects the brain and breast cancer brain metastasis is important for minimizing these side effects while controlling the cancer.
- What recent breakthroughs or discoveries in Canadian breast cancer research are exciting to you?
The application of immunotherapy with other cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation is fascinating to me. Immunotherapy boosts or alters how a patient’s own immune system works to better fight cancer, and by pairing it with another treatment the patient can better fight the disease. Recently, immunotherapy with chemotherapy in clinical trials, as well as immunotherapy with radiation therapy in preclinical trials, has shown promise in treating triple negative breast cancer, the most aggressive type of breast cancer. These developments and findings could change the lives of many breast cancer patients.
- How do you see the future of breast cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment evolving through research?
I believe that the future of breast cancer is personalization. Artificial intelligence (AI) analysis can help assess data in a way we haven’t been able to before, helping better identify people at risk in order to initiate prevention and screening sooner and in a way that is customized to each person. In addition, personalized diagnostic tools and treatments will use advancements made though cancer biology understanding, imaging and radiation to look at a patients’ specific cancer and how it responds to better target the disease.
- What advice do you have for young individuals interested in pursuing a career in breast cancer research?
Breast cancer research isn’t only about biology. There are many different types of ways to contribute to the advancement of breast cancer research. Researchers with diverse skills and knowledge working together is what makes advancements. The common goal of improving and/or discovering new ways to combat breast cancer is what matters most.
- In your opinion, what role can public awareness and advocacy play in advancing breast cancer research and treatment?
Advancing breast cancer research and treatment takes more than just scientists. Public awareness and advocacy play a huge role in developing better cancer care through communicating aspects such as patient needs, the importance of screening and when/where to find it, as well as the value of clinical trials and research.