Dr Aadya Nagpal
Tumour Angiogenesis and Microenvironment Program
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
What is your study background and when did you decide you wanted to be a research scientist?
I completed a Bachelors of Biosciences degree (majoring in Genetics and Biochemistry) at La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia. Following on, I pursued a Bachelor of Science (Hons.) under the supervision of Dr. Normand Pouliot at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI), School of Cancer Medicine, La Trobe University. The experience gained during my honours year while working as a part of a dynamic team inspired me to pursue a career in research.
I recently completed my doctoral studies in Dr. Pouliot’s lab where my work investigated novel therapeutic strategies to treat HER2-positive breast cancer and brain metastases. Currently, I am working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Tumour Angiogenesis and Microenvironment Program at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre under the supervision of Prof. Steven Stacker, where my project aims to identify some key changes in the vascular and lymphatic networks that precede the metastatic spread of cancer.
What attracted you to cancer research?
I developed a keen interest in biology quite early on during my high school, thanks to some inspiring teachers. Being a medical researcher is not only intellectually stimulating but has also equipped me with a broad range of professional skills. Importantly, the opportunity to work alongside clinicians at ONJCRI and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, has inspired me to focus on translational research on unmet clinical issues such as metastatic cancer that provides a major obstacle to effective patient management. I hope to continue doing work that can make a difference to society and people whose lives are affected by cancer.
Why do you think research on metastases is important?
While one in every seven women in Australia are likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, it is the metastatic spread of breast cancer that ultimately becomes a major cause of mortality. Importantly, tumour cells that successfully metastasise to other sites have been shown to acquire distinct features that can protect them from immune detection and help them survive in the new microenvironment. Thus, they are harder to treat using systemic therapies. Brain metastases in particular are often difficult to biopsy or surgically remove due to their location and protected from most therapies by the “blood brain barrier”. Hence, I believe that further research into mechanisms of brain metastasis development and its effective therapeutic targeting require extensive research.
What do you find exciting about your research work?
I enjoy working in an environment that fosters close collaborations between the researchers and clinicians. I am fascinated by the techniques that allow us to visualise the progression of breast cancer to different organs as observed in patients, understand the “why and how” and to test novel treatment strategies firsthand. Working as a biomedical researcher provides me with the chance to put together pieces of a complex jig-saw puzzle to reveal the amazing intricacies associated with tumour biology.
What do you hope to achieve in your research career?
My long-term career goal is to become an independent researcher in the field of breast cancer metastasis. I look forward to pursuing my research interests as a post-doc and eventually take on a leadership role and establish my own laboratory. I also hope to take on a teaching position that will help me disseminate the knowledge on cancer biology.
Any additional comments?