"We need all hands on deck" Changing the future of brain tumour research

"We need all hands on deck" Changing the future of brain tumour research

Spencer Briguglio, a biochemistry and biotechnology student at the University of Windsor, has been busy for the past
two summers. Awarded a 2013-2014 Brain Tumour Research Studentship, Spencer has worked alongside Dr. Lisa Porter at the Windsor Cancer Research Group (WCRG).

For the budding scientist, it’s been a life-changing opportunity to help advance the world of childhood brain cancer treatments. Spencer’s passion for research developed at a young age. “I’ve always been interested in science. I always had a microscope, telescope, chemistry set or lasers growing up.I’m just kind of a nerd that way,” he says, laughing.

In his first year of university, Spencer volunteered at his local science centre, creating fun and educational exhibits for children. Wanting to learn more from the scientific community, Spencer approached Dr. Porter for volunteer opportunities, particularly intrigued by her cancer studies. “You don’t really hear a lot about brain tumours or brain cancer research, unlike other diseases,” he adds. “If I can help with this, I feel like I’ve done my part.”

In Dr. Porter’s lab, Spencer worked on a medulloblastoma project, looking into ways to stop the brain cancer cells from dividing and spreading to other parts of the body. By developing a model to test drug treatments on different cell lines in order to gain a better understanding of how the cells react, Spencer says it could lead to a way to improve the lives of children affected by medulloblastoma – one of the most aggressive pediatric brain cancers.

Beyond the immense impact Spencer’s findings could have for young brain tumour patients, his research could also improve upon cancer treatment in general. “Patients with different types of cancer could see better treatments and outcomes,” Spencer explains, “this research can be applied to different areas of research and lead to advancements in treating other cancers.”

Reflecting on his time in the lab, Spencer is extremely grateful for a mentor like Dr. Porter and extends sincere gratitude towards all the staff in the lab, as well as the generous supporters who funded his studentship in memory of Erin Michelle Leis, a young brain tumour patient. “It’s truly an honour and a humbling experience to work with all these incredible people,” Spencer says.

Overall, Spencer says his time at the WCRG has been an enriching life experience. “I learned so much about myself and the field of brain tumours. Research isn’t simply experiments and results – we need all hands on deck to make it work.”

For his mentor, Dr. Porter, supporting students like Spencer is a way to nurture the next generation of scientists. “The funding gives students a chance to explore what research is, and more importantly, it’s a chance for them to get excited about science. We’ll retain new talent in the field if we give them opportunities to test out research ideas.”

With remarkable opportunities on the horizon, Spencer would like to get a PhD and pursue a career in research, perhaps having his own lab one day. “There’s just so much potential in cancer research. I feel like I discover something new every day, maybe something that could change lives. For me, that’s the best feeling.”

You can change the future of brain tumour research, today.
Find out more about how you can support a studentship by contacting
Suzanne Fratschko Elliott, sfelliott@braintumour.ca or 1-800-265-5106 ext. 227.

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Story posted: August 2014

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