An important piece of the puzzle

Louisa Salemi, PhD Candidate, BMSc’10, understands all too well the fear, uncertainty and helplessness that accompany a cancer diagnosis. Her cancer story began when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, as Salemi was beginning her graduate studies in 2010.
But her connection to the deadly disease isn’t just a personal one – Salemi is also working in the field of cancer research at Robarts.
“My mother’s diagnosis forced my worlds to collide,” she explained. “As scientists, we often feel removed from the burden of the disease. I used my mother’s experience as a learning opportunity.”
Her mother is now reaching three years cancer-free, and Salemi is applying this open-minded, anything-is-possible approach to her work in the lab.
Under supervisor Caroline Schild-Poulter, PhD, she is looking at the localization and role of RanBPM, a scaffolding protein suspected to be involved in the development of cancer.
Salemi focuses on the interaction between RanBPM and another protein, called HDAC6, which has emerged as a cancer target for chemotherapy treatments. Her lab’s findings show that RanBPM inhibits HDAC6, which could potentially slow cancer progression.
“My project is trying to understand the interaction and inhibition of HDAC6,” said Salemi. “This could lead to less cancer cell growth and migration.”
Salemi chose to continue her studies at Robarts after getting a feel for the place during the final year of her undergraduate degree. Her lab is known for its lively atmosphere, including occasional music and dancing breaks.
“I like going to work happy,” said Salemi. “Our lab works well together as a team – when one of us succeeds, we all succeed.”
Part of Salemi’s role is to share this success with undergraduate students who are entering a lab environment for the first time. “One of my favourite parts of grad school is training the new students,” she said. “They always arrive with bright faces and an eagerness to learn. It reignites my passion for science and reminds me why I’m here.”
Aside from her work and mentorship role in the lab, Salemi is also helping to organize the 2015 Robarts Research Retreat taking place in June. This one-day event brings together the Robarts community to learn, connect and collaborate.
“The majority of science is troubleshooting. On paper, experiments are supposed to go smoothly, but in reality that’s not how it goes,” explained Salemi. “We have amazing resources all around us at Robarts to problem solve, to work together toward a common goal.”
One of those goals is to improve treatment options for cancer patients, an outcome that Salemi says is difficult to connect with at times.
“Sometimes it’s easy to get lost and think that I’m insignificant, that I’m only studying one protein in a huge and complicated disease” she explained. “But it’s important to remember that in order to finish the puzzle, every single piece is needed.”