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Priyanka Sehgal turns fascination with science into an opportunity to make an impact on cancer research
At the beginning of her undergraduate studies in Biology in Bhopal, India, post-doctoral fellow Priyanka Sehgal didn't know if she had a flair for research or not. But as time went on, she says opportunities just kept presenting themselves and her fascination with research just kept pulling her in.
"In the beginning, there are ‘yes' or ‘no' answers for everything. But as you learn more about research and how it's done, you realize how little you know about things."
The young researcher was particularly intrigued by the complex nature of cancer. "I am astounded by the way this disease spreads," she says. "It's like an alien that captures our body and uses our own mechanisms against ourselves."
By the end of her PhD studies, Sehgal was living in Bangalore and considering a move abroad, either to the United States or Canada. A conversation with Dr. Anie Philip, whose Plastic Surgery lab is part of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) at the Montreal General Hospital (MGH), and the possibility to continue her research in cancer made her make up her mind and move to Montreal in October 2013.
"Dr. Philip is a kind and supportive woman. She even invited me to spend the night at her house the day I arrived in Canada. I didn't know anything and I was scared," Sehgal recalls laughing. "Most importantly, she knows a lot about her field and has a vision of where she wants her research to go."
In Dr. Philips's lab, Sehgal is studying the role of a molecule called CD109 in cancer.
"Our lab has already shown that CD109 binds to TGF-β, a growth factor responsible for cancer metastasis, which is the spread of cancer to other parts of the body." she explains. "We're now trying to determine if CD109 can actually prevent metastasis in squamous cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer, and breast cancer."
She is especially pleased that collaborative translational research is a priority at the RI-MUHC.
"Our role as basic science researchers is to look into therapies and cures that could possibly relieve people of diseases," she says. "It's important to be able to share our knowledge and work together towards that goal."
Her colleagues' cooperative spirit is also important and contributes to a stimulating work environment.
"In our work, we find many challenges on a daily basis. It can be frustrating," she says. "So it's nice when there are pleasant people surrounding you and when your supervisors are understanding. It helps."
In spite of her love for research, Sehgal thinks it's important to "take your mind off your work."
"You have to engage your mind constantly in other things besides science so that when you revisit a problem you have a refreshed view," she says.
Fortunately, opportunities for relaxation are plenty in Montreal, according to the researcher.
"This is such a diverse, multicultural city. It's beautiful, except for the cold!" she says laughing. "Fortunately, Montrealers make the most of the short summers. There's always something to do!"