Dr. Emma Bell awarded a CANSSI Ontario Top-up Award for Postdoctoral Fellows in Data Science

Image of Dr. Emma Bell's CANSSI Ontario top-up award announcement

Dr. Emma Bell, a postdoctoral research fellow at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, is a biostatistician in a team that combines biology, statistics, and information engineering to ask biologically and clinically meaningful questions of genomics data. They aim to improve gynaecological healthcare outcomes for women, non-binary and trans people. Dr. Bell believes a scientist’s responsibility to society extends beyond the walls of their lab. Thus, they seek out opportunities to engage with those outside academia.

The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that in 2020 alone, 3,100 patients will receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis. Ovarian cancer presents the 5th most common cancer mortality in females. Late-stage diagnosis due to ambiguous symptoms (e.g. persistent stomach pain and bloating) contributes to this high mortality rate. Patients and primary care providers often initially misattribute these symptoms to more common, less serious gastrointestinal and urinogenital conditions. At the time of diagnosis, 58% of patients exhibit metastases, by which point their predicted rate of 5-year survival is 30.2%2, as compared with 92.6% among all patients diagnosed with cancer localized to the ovaries.

Their lab developed a Cell-Free Methylated DNA ImmunoPrecipitation (cfMeDIP) to improve the accuracy and reliability of liquid biopsy specifically for the detection of early-stage cancer. c-MeDIP selects for and sequences methylated DNA from the total pool of cfDNA fragments. Each tissue type within the human body possesses a unique pattern of DNA methylation, or a methylome. During oncogenesis, cells acquires a distinct cancer DNA methylome, where CpG Islands, regions of DNA rich in CG DNA dinucleotides, become hypermethylated. Therefore, cfMeDIP enriches for ctDNA. I propose to apply cfMeDIP to profile DNA methylation of all histological subtypes of EOC.

CANSSI Ontario offers top-up opportunities for postdoctoral fellows interested in pursuing multidisciplinary, data-driven research. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Learn more.

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