Isabelle Laverdière has followed a rich and somewhat unusual career path in Quebec health care. She spent seven years working as a clinical pharmacist in pediatrics and two years as operational coordinator in the pharmacy department at the Centre mère-enfant Soleil of the Centre hospitalier de l'Université Laval in Quebec City. It was only then that she decided to move towards research. Today, she is a pharmacist and postdoctoral fellow at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC).
"I loved what I was doing in pediatrics," says Isabelle. "I left clinical practice temporarily because I wanted to enrich my education by exploring the possibilities of applied research in pharmacy."
For now, Isabelle is dedicated solely to research. Recipient of a CIHR Postdoctoral Fellowship Award for Health Professionals, she is a postdoctoral student in the lab of Dr. Kolja Eppert at the RI-MUHC. Her main project is to find new drugs to target and kill the cancer stem cells that cause acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in children. This disease accounts for approximately 25 per cent of pediatric leukemias and is associated with half of all leukemia-related deaths in children.
"It's important to develop more effective treatments for AML. At the moment, I'm testing different molecules for their ability to block the growth of cancerous stem cells, and I try to determine how that happens," explains Isabelle. "Since these cells share several similarities with the stem cells that produce blood, it's crucial to target only diseased cells without affecting healthy cells in the blood."
Isabelle's desire to do research intensified while she was training at BC Children's Hospital in Vancouver in 2008.
"The Child and Family Research Institute was on the hospital campus where I worked. At lunchtime, I attended presentations on genetics and I was fascinated. I thought maybe research was the way for me to find the answers to several questions I was asking myself."
From translational research to basic biology
From 2009 to 2014, Isabelle pursued her education further by earning a second master's degree in pharmaceutical sciences and fast tracking to a doctorate in pharmacogenomics at the Université Laval laboratory.
"My training at Université Laval was rather focussed on translational research. In genetics, we can associate genetic variations with a prognosis for a patient. I wanted to go further and better understand from a functional point of view the mechanisms by which these variations affect patient outcome. That's why after developing a solid understanding of molecular biology and translational research I wanted to continue my training in the basic biology of stem cells."
Isabelle has found that the "dynamic" in Dr. Eppert's laboratory complements her training perfectly. She enjoys the collaborative spirit within his team and everyone else on the entire whole floor where she works.
For now, she is focussed on basic science, knowing that in the future her desire to help people will lead her to split her time between the clinic and research.
"The two activities enrich one another," says Isabelle. "By practicing pharmacy, I hope to find questions I can translate into research. I would like someday for the clinician-researcher model in pharmacy to become more widespread in Quebec."