"I always knew that I wanted to help people somehow, but my uneasiness around blood and trauma ruled out medical school! Instead, I decided to become involved in promising nuclear medicinal research that has the potential to revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. I love working on something that could one day have such a large impact on our community."

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Student Profile: Brooke McNeil

Nuclear Medicinal Inorganic Chemistry and Radiochemistry PhD student in the Faculty of Science

December 04, 2020
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I am a first year doctorate student in the Ramogida group in the Department of Chemistry. I completed my undergraduate degree in biochemistry at the University of Waterloo and was part of the co-op program where I discovered my passion for radiochemistry and research, which ultimately led to my PhD research. I always knew that I wanted to help people somehow, but my uneasiness around blood and trauma ruled out medical school! Instead, I decided to become involved in promising nuclear medicinal research that has the potential to revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. I love working on something that could one day have such a large impact on our community.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COME TO SFU?

I chose to come to SFU for Dr. Caterina Ramogida's research that leverages the unique infrastructure of both SFU and TRIUMF, Canada's national laboratory for nuclear and particle physics. During my undergraduate co-op, I spent 8 months as a nuclear medicine research assistant at TRIUMF where I was exposed to many different pieces of the nuclear medicine puzzle and I became hooked. There are very few universities globally that have direct connections to facilities with cyclotrons and so SFU seemed like a natural choice for me.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RESEARCH AND/OR PROGRAM.

Cancer can be defined as a disease that is caused by cells  dividing rapidly and uncontrollably. Many chemotherapeutics treat cancer by killing rapidly dividing cells, however cancerous cells are not the only type of cells that divide rapidly and so there can be undesirable side effects associated with this for the patient. However, some types of cancer cells differ from normal cells by what they express, or overexpress, on their cell membrane surface. Some proteins and other biomolecules are found in much higher numbers on cancer cells and so if we can target these molecules, we can bring the cancer drugs right to the cancer itself with little damage to surrounding healthy cells. To do this, we utilize a targeting vector, typically an antibody or a small peptide, that has high affinity for these overexpressed biomolecules and to it we attach, via a linker, a cage-like chelator that holds a radioactive metal atom. Depending on how this radioactive metal atom undergoes radioactive decay,  it will either allow us to image or kill the tumour cells, which allows for us to perform diagnosis and/or treatment of the cancer in an extremely targeted manner.

WHAT ARE YOU PARTICULARLY ENJOYING ABOUT YOUR STUDIES/RESEARCH AT SFU?

I enjoy that there are so many chances to learn and collaborate at SFU and in my research field. This naturally lends itself to mentorship, which I think is one of the most important parts of science.

HAVE YOU BEEN THE RECIPIENT OF ANY MAJOR OR DONOR FUNDED AWARDS?

Upon acceptance to the PhD program in the Department of Chemistry, I was awarded the Graduate Dean's Entrance Scholarship and The Dupont Graduate Entrance Scholarship. In addition, I was awarded, based on my academic and research accomplishments, as well as my proposed research, a Canada Graduate Scholarship - Master's (CGS M) and the Provost Prize of Distinction. These awards will financially support me throughout my PhD studies and I am very grateful for them as they will allow me to focus on my research.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE?

Make sure that you are doing something that you love. There are going to be really frustrating days but if you are passionate about your research, it will help you keep going!

Contact Brooke: brooke_mcneil_2@sfu.ca