Sasha Blay, Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology

Sasha Blay

Dr. Adam Shlien

Research Title:
Clonal evolution in therapy-resistant paediatric cancer

Description of your Research:
Survivors of paediatric cancer face a lifelong battle with severe morbidities, of which the largest risk is recurrence of the original tumour. The likelihood of relapse depends on the ability of the original tumour cells to adapt in the face of selection pressures, such as treatment. Sensitivity to chemotherapy, and our understanding of the development of resistance, is poorly understood yet so important for clinical care. With the advent of chemotherapy-associated mutational signatures in paediatric cancer genomes, denoting resistance, I aim to delineate the relationship between treatment and clonal evolution. With a wealth of genomic and transcriptomic data, I plan to harness machine learning tools to ultimately predict the likelihood of resistance in primary, untreated tumours.

Why Did you Choose this Department:
I enjoyed many pathology-based research projects prior to graduate studies, and recognize the translational, impactful work of scientists within LMP. I am also excited by the new TCAIREM institute and the cutting-edge approaches being incorporated into courses and opportunities within the University of Toronto.

How Was your Experience Looking for a Research Opportunity:
As much as I hate to admit it, my most fruitful connections within research were obtained through networking. The most popular buzzword in undergraduate career talks, I must credit networking with the majority of my success when finding positions. Learning how to harness past experiences and connections and turn them into new ones is a soul-sucking endeavor for introverts like myself, yet a necessary evil within the scientific world.

When Did you Start your Research Experience:
My love for biology started early, with a special opportunity in high school. I joined a group at Mount Sinai for a week, and received a crash course in next-generation sequencing. My strongest memory is seeing human DNA for the first time! Just a tiny white wisp in a test tube. (I’m not sure what I expected.) The following summer they employed me for basic tasks, but using advanced technologies and real laboratory techniques, and from there I was hooked.

Why Did you Choose this Supervisor:
I knew Adam would fit my work ethic and approach, and I appreciate the way he guides me to better myself as both a collaborating academic and a critical scientist. I admire Adam greatly, and his genius and contagious enthusiasm lends to meaningful connections with outstanding colleagues around the world. I must also make an honorable mention of Dr. Mehdi Layeghifard, a research associate within the Shlien lab with whom I work closely. I know I can rely on both Adam and Mehdi for words of wisdom as a newcomer navigating the gauntlet of academia.

What’s your Experience with Research:
With complete transparency, not all research experiences have been positive ones. I believe it’s important I highlight this, as many other student profiles may not reflect this perspective of academia. As much as I love my work, painting a completely happy picture would be dishonest. But I have learned so much, and each experience makes me wiser. At the end of the day, the thrill of discovery and the potential impact of my research yield unlimited passion and motivation.

How’s the Social Experience with Research:
Where I sometimes struggle to relate to people outside of the scientific community, it is so easy to find like-minded individuals within my lab and department. While friends in other social circles may fail to understand the significance of a result, those in the community always share my excitement. Similarly, having people with the same experience of the trials and tribulations of extended studying and research is reassuring. Eg. “Why are you spending so much time preparing for that meeting? Isn’t it weeks away?” (It was a committee meeting.)

What’s your Future Career Plans:
Although I am entertaining many possibilities, I favour the idea of obtaining certification from the Canadian College of Medical Geneticists to continue research with a diagnostic and patient-centric approach.

“Excellence is measured in sacrifice” -Rell, Riot Games

Your relationship with your supervisor and fellow lab members is more important than you think. Be sure the lab you join is a welcoming, collegial environment where others will encourage and support your growth.