"Currently, I am wrapping up the experiments for my PhD thesis as I have started new projects in collaborations with top scientists in BC Cancer Research Centre. Science and in particular, cancer research, is my passion."

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Student Profile: Mahdi Asgharpour

Molecular Biology & Biochemistry PhD student in the Faculty of Science

December 04, 2020
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For undergraduate I studied cellular & molecular biology at University of Tehran and got my MSc in Immunology at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences back in Iran. After working as RA for 2 years, I was recruited for Military Service. After finishing the service, I came to Canada to continue my journey on becoming a scientist which is my goal. I started my PhD with Dr. Larijani at Memorial University in 2015 and when he moved to SFU in 2019, he offered me to join him here and I gladly followed him to SFU. Currently, I am wrapping up the experiments for my PhD thesis as I have started new projects in collaborations with top scientists in BC Cancer Research Centre.
Science and in particular, cancer research, is my passion. I also love poetry and photography, which I practice as hobbies. I am also, a football (soccer) super-fan and I play any chance I get.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO COME TO SFU?

I believe studying here will take me to the top level of research by introducing new opportunities and collaborating with top scientists in the field.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RESEARCH AND/OR PROGRAM.

Lymphocytes are a specific type of white blood cell in our immune system. The job of lymphocytes is to detect specific pathogens in the body and to eliminate foreign invaders. One way that lymphocytes boost their function is through expressing specific molecules that change their immune response genes to make them more effective. These molecules are known as AID/APOBECs. Unfortunately, AID/APOBEC activity is not perfect and is often misdirected to the wrong genes, or mis-expressed in the wrong cell types, other than lymphocytes. As a result, AID/APOBECs are now recognized as a leading cause of aggressive cancers including lymphoma/leukemias, breast, ovarian, lung and liver cancers. Furthermore, continued AID/APOBEC activity in cancer cells increases their ability to become resistant to therapies, or transform into more aggressive tumors. Thus, the current scientific view is that AID/APOBECs cause mutations to the genome of cells which in turn cause and/or exacerbate cancer. Over the past few years, we have obtained strong data which together with an emerging body of literature, suggest that there may be a flip side to the story: that AID/APOBECs may also have anti-cancer activities as well as their well-established cancer-causing activities. We hypothesized that the nature of AID/APOBEC activity depends on expression levels inside the cell and our observations, thus far, support this hypothesis. We have shown that expression of AID/APOBECs promotes breast cancer progression, but if expressed at certain levels, they can kill cancer cells, decrease metastasis, or help other immune cells kill cancer cells. The outcome of this research will be transformative for our basic understanding of the role of AID/APOBEC in cancer, and will also guide novel therapies based on exploiting AID/APOBECs to work against the cancer.

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

The friendly and collaborative spirit of the department and also how mindful SFU's regulations are regarding the students.

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

I was rewarded two scholarships from Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute (BHCRI) supported by the Terry Fox Research Institute:

  • BHCRI Master's Traineeship (06/2016-06/2018)
  • BHCRI Traineeship (06/2018-06/2020)

Also, I received a travel award from Canadian Cancer Society in 2018. All these scholarships helped me to focus on my research and gave me even more motivation to do my best.