BHSc alum receives Ontario Women’s Health Scholar Award
Sophie Poznanski, a graduate of the BHSc (Hons) Program in 2016, is one of this year’s Ontario Women’s Health Scholars. Sophie is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in the Medical Sciences Program in the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster, developing an immunological approach to the treatment of ovarian cancer.
“Ovarian cancer is the most deadly gynecological cancers, as the majority of women with the disease do not survive 5 years due to a lack of effective treatments,” Sophie explains. “My project looks at arming natural killer (NK) immune cells as a novel treatment for ovarian cancer without harming healthy cells in the body.” The project uses a method to activate the patient’s own NK cells against their cancer, and then evaluates the therapeutic effects on tumour burden using a lab-based experimental model.
Explaining her interest in immunology, Sophie says “The human immune system is fascinating. In addition to protecting us from pathogens, it plays an integral role in countless physiological functions in the body, and as a result is implicated in numerous diseases, including cancer.” She is particularly interested in this kind of translational research because of the promise of clinical application: “If proven effective in humans, these findings could have a beneficial impact for women with the disease because there is currently a lack of effective therapies for ovarian cancer.”
Her supervisor, Dr. Ali Ashkar in the Department of Pathology & Molecular Medicine, has been working with Sophie since she was a thesis student in the BHSc (Hons) Program. “Sophie was an exceptionally productive undergraduate student, publishing 2 research articles from her thesis project work,” he notes. “I’m very proud that she was the top Master’s applicant for the Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award.”
Being a student in the BHSc (Hons) Program helped prepare Sophie for a career in research. “I really enjoyed the second-year inquiry cell biology course, where we had to use knowledge of cell biology and signalling to propose a novel therapy for a certain disease”, she recalls. “That sort of problem solving and application of knowledge, which is a component of many BHSc courses, is very similar to the problem solving involved in research.” She also credits her experiences in BHSc immunology courses in cultivating her interest in the field. “When I decided to pursue a 4th year thesis project in Dr. Ashkar’s lab, I knew I was interested in immunology but I didn’t know whether I’d enjoy the laboratory aspect of research. With the opportunity to do the 4th year thesis project, I quickly realized how much I enjoyed the hands-on aspect of research.” She also commented on how the self-directed and group collaboration aspects of the BHSc (Hons) Program gave her a solid foundation for research.
The Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award is presented by the Council of Ontario University to graduate students and post-doctoral fellows whose research demonstrates the potential to improve women’s health. This year, Sophie was the only winner of the award at the Master’s level. Congratulations Sophie!