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Studying the growth of HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer to the brain

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Donna and paula

TBCRU trainee Donna Murrell (right), graduate student in the Department of Medical Biophysics, and her graduate supervisor, Dr. Paula Foster (left), a world leader in the use of cellular MRI to investigate the growth and permeability of brain metastatic breast cancer in response to radiotherapy.

Hello! My name is Donna Murrell – I’m a TBCRU trainee and a PhD candidate in the Department of Medical Biophysics at Western University. I work with Dr. Paula Foster – a world leader in cellular magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – and have really enjoyed my first year in the lab!

We study the similarities and differences in the growth of breast cancer that is HER2-positive and metastatic to the brain. Through the use of cutting-edge experimental MRI approaches, we are able to monitor individual cancer cells and metastatic growth in the brain over time. Some tumours are “leaky” and some are not, which we believe may influence how tumours will respond to therapy. Both types can exist in the brain at the same time and tumours can switch from not leaky to leaky as they grow. This makes detection and treatment strategies very difficult. Understanding the naturally occurring differences in tumour development is important for advancing detection strategies and treatment options so that we can impact patient survival.

I’d like to thank the Breast Cancer Society of Canada for your generous support of the TBCRU. My TBCRU-funded scholarship has enabled me to achieve some very exciting things in the last couple of months.

I published my first paper with Dr. Foster, and TBCRU Director Dr. Ann Chambers, reviewing the lessons learned from MRI experiments so far and how they may impact patients. It was very cool and so rewarding to see my work in print.

excerpt from journal

My research was also recently accepted for presentation at the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine Annual Meeting this year in Milan, Italy. I’m so excited for the opportunity to present my work on the world stage!!

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