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The personal side of cancer research

Science grad pursues passion at Princess Margaret Hospital
By: David Silverberg, Journalism ’02
January 19, 2018
Tracy Lackraj

Photo: Tracy Lackraj, Molecular Science ’17, completed her PhD research at the Ryerson lab at MaRS. Photo credit: Arthur Mola.

Tracy Lackraj, Molecular Science (PhD) ’17, has a personal stake in her cancer research work at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto: her father has been battling the disease since 2002.

“This is a research topic very close to my heart,” the 28-year-old Markham resident says in an interview.

Lackraj is studying how a patient’s genetic makeup can affect the course of disease, specifically follicular lymphoma. She and her team are analyzing how mutations of cancer-related genes influence prognosis and patient outcome.

“We can basically target certain genes by using pharmacological drugs and see what the outcome is on the cells – do they die faster, do they survive longer, and so on,” she says.

They’re working in concert with a crucial shift towards personalized cancer care. “One thousand people might have the same type of breast cancer but their genetic makeup can influence many things in the course of how they’re treated.”

She adds, “We can also use genetic screens to look at changes in other cancer-related genes, and how those are affected as a result of targeting one gene.”

Lackraj credits the hands-on lab experience she had at Ryerson for fostering her passion for research. “Being in a lab, con - ducting my own experiments, going through the process of failed experiments, optimization, and perseverance … That doesn’t hap - pen at a lot of other universities because of the sheer number of students. But at Ryerson I got that opportunity, and that’s what really made me fall in love with research and pursue graduate studies.”

As for where she sees herself in five years, Lackraj is quick to answer, “I’d love to be established and have my own lab.” That ambition dovetails with one of her mottos: “Dreams don’t work unless you do.”

“Your only limitation in life should be the things that are out of your control, and I’m a very big believer in actively going after your dreams and that if you put in the work, you can achieve just about anything in life.”

This story originally appeared in the winter 2018 edition of Ryerson University Magazine, external link. Find out more at the magazine site.