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Donors make a Difference: Dana Segal on Unravelling the Genetics of Cancer

The prestigious Donner Studentship was awarded to Dana Segal, 5th year PhD candidate, through the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Institute (GCI) internal studentship competition this year. The Donner Studentship is made possible by the Donner Foundation, and is designed to support outstanding trainees pursuing research on the genetics of cancer initiation or progression at the GCI. As a student in Biochemistry under the supervision of Dr. Josée Dostie, Dana's groundbreaking research focuses on unraveling the intricacies of the long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) HOTAIRM1 and its impact on cancer initiation and progression.

HOTAIRM1 has emerged as a critical player in cancer biology, exhibiting aberrant upregulation in various cancer cell types, correlating with disease progression and poor patient outcomes. Dana's project delves into understanding how this lncRNA influences gene expression changes, particularly in the context of early neuronal differentiation in cancer cell models. By exploring the role of HOTAIRM1 in chromatin folding, Dana hopes to shed light on its underappreciated mechanisms, providing valuable insights for future cancer therapies.

The Donner studentship provides important support to Dana’s research, allowing her to realize experiments with greater complexity and higher throughput. Financing through this award ensures the availability of materials for the progression of work crucial to her thesis project. Beyond the financial support provided by the award, Dana acknowledges the psychological impact of the scholarship: “Being awarded such a competitive scholarship imbues me with the confidence to continue pushing forward and working hard,” she shares.

Looking ahead, Dana shares her long-term goals and aspirations for her career in RNA research, emphasizing the scholarship's role in shaping her future. She hopes to continue working in the rapidly expanding field of RNA biomedical and cancer research beyond her PhD. The Donner Studentship Award positions Dana as a more competitive and confident applicant for future post-doctoral and research positions, propelling her towards achieving her career goals.

Dana's journey, however, hasn't been without its challenges. Like many scholars, she has faced rejections in funding applications and conference submissions. Though she was initially disheartened, the guidance of her supportive supervisor and fellow students who shared similar experiences helped her find resilience. “I learned even the best students I admired the most were going through the same feelings of self-doubt and that even though these negative feelings feel real, they might not actually be reflective of the truth. Overall, it’s the GCI community that provides truly invaluable support”, she explains.

As an international student, Dana highlights the challenges she and others face due to limitations in eligibility for many Canadian funding opportunities. The GCI internal scholarships play a pivotal role in providing equitable opportunities for the international community at the GCI. Dana expresses her gratitude: “Good science is founded on collaboration between diverse scholars, and this award fosters inclusion within the GCI in a tangible way. So, a sincere thank you to the donors of GCI internal scholarships who may not have realized this aspect of their positive impact on our community.

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