1. Who are you? Tell us about yourself.
My name is Nathan Orlando. I’m a second year PhD student in the Department of Medical Biophysics at Western University working under the supervision of Dr. Aaron Fenster. Prior to starting my PhD at Western, I completed a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Physics at the University of Alberta.
2. Why is the TBCRU Studentship Award important to you?
I am very grateful for the support from this award. The funding goes a long way to offset the costs of our research and provides me with peace of mind and freedom to focus on my research.
3. Tell us about your research. What are you doing and what problems do you hope to solve?
Breast-conserving therapy involves the surgical removal of the tumour followed by lengthy radiation therapy. This is the standard of care for early-stage breast cancer, but is a lengthy process, leading patients who travel long ways to their treatments (rural patients), to choose mastectomy or even forgo radiation completely. Ultimately, this leads to poorer outcomes. My research is focused on an alternative form of radiation therapy where radioactive “seeds” are implanted directly into the breast to reduce treatment time to a single session. My research is aimed at developing a guidance system for permanent breast seed implantation. By developing a 3D ultrasound guidance system, we hope to make this a successful alternative treatment, improving access to this treatment for rural patients.
4. Why is your research important? How can your research be applied in the real world?
While permanent breast seed implantation has great potential to improve breast cancer treatment, currently it is challenging to perform. This has limited the opportunity to be used in Canada and around the world. With the development of our 3D ultrasound guidance system, we hope to make this procedure easier to perform, which will hopefully lead to wider-spread use. If adopted, this technique has the potential to ease the burden for rural patients, or patients who live outside major cities, increasing their access to breast-conserving therapy.
5. What inspired your research?
Roughly 15% of the Canadian population live further than an hour away from major cancer centres. For these women, the burden of 5-7 weeks of radiation therapy is high, as they often require extended time off work and need to commute multiple hours per day or live in a hotel for over a month. Permanent breast seed implantation has the potential to reduce this burden by reducing treatment time to a single visit. We saw this as a clear area of need and a problem that we could address with improved imaging. I am continuing the work of Justin Michael, a previous trainee also funded by the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, who did excellent work developing the initial imaging system.
6. Why are you passionate about breast cancer research?
I have always had an interest in both physics and medicine; the field of medical physics allows me to apply my background in physics to current clinical problems in medicine. Breast cancer is an extremely prevalent disease in Canada and around the world. I have had family members and family friends who have battled breast cancer, and sadly, not all have won. The possibility of improving breast cancer treatment serves as excellent motivation, making this an area of research I’m proud to pursue.
7. Why do you think breast cancer research matters?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide, and it’s estimated that 1 in 8 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. This is an extremely prevalent disease, and most people have a family member or friend who’s been affected. At this year’s Breast Cancer Society of Canada Mother’s Day walk I had the privilege of meeting several breast cancer survivors, as well as women still fighting breast cancer. Meeting these incredible women and hearing their stories really reinforces how important our research is. If our work can improve treatment or reduce the burden for these women, then it is worth doing.
8. What excites you about your work?
I love that every day brings a new and exciting challenge; no two days are exactly the same. Tackling problems that no one has solved yet is both exciting and rewarding. Studying a topic like breast cancer which affects countless women is motivating, and it’s exciting knowing that our research can make a real difference in the treatment of breast cancer.
9. What do you see yourself doing in the future?
After completing my PhD, I hope to complete a medical physics residency. My long-term goal is to work as a clinical medical physicist, where I can play a key role in the treatment of cancer. This will also give me the opportunity to continue my research on improving radiation therapy.
10. What do you like to do when you aren’t working on research?
When I’m not working on research, I enjoy listening to music, cycling, and playing or watching hockey. I’m a huge Edmonton Oilers fan!
Support researchers like Nathan Orlando by considering a donation to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. Find out how you can help fund life-saving research, visit bcsc.ca/donate