Scientist-in-training: Dr. Jennifer Gorman
The first thing you notice about Dr. Jennifer Gorman is her very long hair. The last time she cut it, she donated 16 inches to a charity that makes wigs for children who have lost their hair as a result of cancer treatment. This time, she’s trying to grow it even longer to beat her previous donation record. The hair is symbolic of her personal and professional dedication to cancer research, especially as a post-doctoral researcher studying the spread of breast cancer in Dr. Jim Woodgett’s lab at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute.
As a result of her compelling research, Dr. Gorman was pronounced the winner at the May 2013 Venture Sinai
Women’s dinner, earning her the prestigious title of Venture Sinai Fellow for the year. She was touched by the group’s interest in her research, musing that the potential impact of her work on future treatments and therapies for breast cancer possibly made it easier for Venture Sinai donors to relate to its importance.
“Today, when a breast cancer patient is diagnosed, they have a 98 per cent chance of surviving the next five years if their tumour cells haven’t spread to the lymph nodes,” Dr. Gorman explains. “However, if the cancer has metastasized, the 5 year survival rate drops to 23 per cent. I think this is what grabbed audiences when I presented my research at the Venture Sinai dinner.”
Research advances have improved the ability to treat breast tumours, greatly increasing patient survival. However, it is the metastatic tumours, which form when tumour cells spread from the primary breast tumour to distant sites, which are the major cause of death in these patients. Because the metastatic tumours tend to change once they take up residence within a new tissue (e.g., liver or bones), these tumours often respond poorly to treatment, which is tailored toward the characteristics of the primary breast tumour.
Bringing new hope is Dr. Gorman’s research into the Wnt signalling pathway – a common link between primary and metastatic breast tumours which has been shown to drive breast cancer tumour growth. “We know that mutations that occur early in tumour development are likely to be shared between the primary and metastatic tumours,” explains Dr. Gorman. “My project is targeting common links between them to allow treatments to attack tumour growth effectively at all sites in the body.”
Also presenting at the May 2013 Venture Sinai Women’s dinner were Christina Lee, a Master’s student in Dr. Stephen Lye’s lab who studies the relationship between the immune system and uterine stretch for labour, as well as Dr. Premalatha Shathasivam, a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Theodore Brown’s lab who studies how a novel protein called VEPH1 alters signalling pathways implicated in ovarian cancer.