Sonya Soh is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Biochemistry at the University of Alberta. She is studying the phosphatase SHP2, and is using structure-based methods to investigate the effects of mutations including those responsible for its hyperactivity in juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia cases.
SHP2 is an enzyme that removes phosphates from amino acids of other proteins and is key to a signalling pathway that creates white blood cells. Genetic mutations that cause juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia create hyper-active SHP2 mutants which lead to uncontrolled growth of white blood cells. Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia is an aggressive cancer that is usually found in children under 2 years of age and currently has no specific cure.
Sonya hopes to test drug starting points for their ability to inhibit a SHP2 mutant responsible for juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia. She will also be testing how creating mutations in the protein sequence of SHP2 can alter and ultimately inhibit its activity. Sonya hopes that her research can translate to mouse models and clinical trials in the near future to create a better treatment for juvenile myelomoncytic leukemia. As well, with recent discoveries that SHP2 is involved in Triple Negative Breast Cancer, her research may contribute to development of targeted treatments for this aggressive form of breast cancer.
Why Cancer Research?
Since high school, Sonya has been passionate about chemistry in the human body and chemical laboratory work. In choosing to study biochemistry at the university level, her hopes were to explore the applications of her scientific interests, especially in improving the way human disease is treated. Sonya’s particular interest in cancer was sparked by her volunteer experience at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, where she met cancer patients and the professionals driving cancer treatments. Her experience fostered a desire to help cancer patients through her studies in science. Researching cancer through the support of the Alberta Cancer Foundation is Sonya’s first step toward her ambition where she can apply the science she loves to benefit the people she aspires to help.