Spotlight on OzMRS Researcher

Sarah Hassan

What is your study background and when did you decide you wanted to be a research scientist?

I completed my honours degree in Biotechnology from Forman Christian College, Lahore. During my 4-year study period, I worked on 2 research projects and also had to opportunity to visit USA serving as a Cultural Ambassador of Pakistan while participating in an exchange semester program at Augustana College. Here, I studied microbiology and immunology. Soon after finishing my honours with highest grades in our faculty, I moved to Australia to pursue a PhD degree. I was always very intrigued by science, and biology has always been my favourite subject since high school, so it was not surprising that I wanted to become a scientist! Stagnancy for me is synonymous with boredom so for me a research career felt perfect as you are always entering unknown territories and exploring new findings.


What attracted you to cancer research?

Volunteering at a cancer hospital in Pakistan was a turning point in my life. While I have been involved in various volunteer activities and community development programs over the years, this one really changed my perspective towards life. I was emotionally devastated and wanted to find a way to be able to help make the lives of patients less despaired. This was something that really attracted me towards cancer research since late diagnosis and treatment side effects are a big problem. Due to tumour heterogeneity and disease diversity, cancer research is an unexhaustive field.


Why do you think research on metastases is important?

In order to reduce cancer mortality the root cause needs to be investigated. Metastasis is the cause of 90% cancer-related deaths worldwide which therefore makes it a research focal point. Understanding the metastatic cascade can open new avenues to prevent cancer cell dissemination from the primary tumour and seeding of secondary tumour sites. My PhD project revolves around the epithelial mesenchymal plasticity (EMP) of circulating tumour cells (CTCs) in blood from cancer patients and patient derived xenograft (PDX) models. Investigating EMP which is hypothesised to be play a pivotal role in cancer metastasis, gave us interesting insight into the process and enabled us to identify new possible therapeutic targets that are overexpressed in CTCs.


What do you find exciting about your research work?

What intrigues me the most about research is the unpredictability of experimental results. They are full of surprises and everyday you learn something new. It is such a vast field that the more you learn, the less you feel you know. This is the true beauty of research and CTCs, despite being in the limelight for few decades now, still have so much more to be examined. Till date, there is only one Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved CTC isolation platform and this technique does not take into account the diverse characteristics of CTCs, especially in terms of EMP.


What do you hope to achieve in your research career?

I want to be able to produce scientific solutions to clinical problems. I want to see my work materialise beyond publications into the clinical setting, and help reduce patient suffering. This has always been my driving force.  

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