Steffane McLennan was awarded her Bachelor of Science (Honors) in Biochemistry in 2016 from the University of Alberta. She is working in Dr Michael Overduin's lab for the summer, and plans to find new ways using drug fragments to inhibit an oncogenic kinase that causes triple negative breast cancer.
Steffane's research revolves around developing small fragments of drug molecules that bind to a protein known as a kinase. These enzymes add phosphates to other proteins, and can cause signaling to go haywire when overproduced in a cancer cell. Cells that produce too much of this kinase cause a form of cancer named Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which is currently incurable in advanced stages.
She is working in collaboration with scientists NANUC at the University of Alberta, the Structural Genomics Consortium at Oxford University and the University of Birmingham. Together they are trying to identify molecules that could be used to design medicines that specifically bind and inhibit the kinase with little to no off-target effects.
Her short-term goal is to define how drug fragments bind to and block the oncogenic form of the kinase. She hopes to find new binding pockets that will confer greater specificity. In the long-term she plans to use this information to aid in the development of a high affinity, selective drug molecule that targets the oncogenic kinase with little to no off-target effects, thus allowing doctors and other healthcare professionals to offer specific treatment to patients with Triple Negative Breast Cancer.
Why cancer research?
Cancer research encompasses many aspects of this prevalent disease from understanding the molecular processes behind the mishaps that allow cell cycle dysregulation, to the discovery of molecules that can, and are being tested in a clinical scenario for treatments or cures. Since early in her undergraduate studies, structural chemistry and biochemistry have been of great interest to Steffane alongside a curiosity of healthcare and health related fields. The world of cancer research is dynamic, with new discoveries changing the way we approach this disease. This dynamic nature, along with the opportunity to work within a structural biochemistry environment make cancer research a perfect fit.