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PhD demonstrates the power of collaboration

19 May 2015

The winning entry in TRIUMF’s Life Sciences Peer Evaluation Committee (LSPEC) Student Poster Event is just the tip of the iceberg of PhD candidate Joseph Lau’s success.

It was Lau’s ability to communicate depth and quality of his work that won him the top prize in the inaugural LSPEC Student Poster Event. The collegial competition had graduate students and recent graduates present their work to an international committee of judges. Participants displayed research that had been conducted with the help of the Life Sciences program at TRIUMF, highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of nuclear medicine.

Dr. Paul Schaffer, an organizer of the event, said the goal was to “enhance interactions with the committee.”  Schaffer explained that the students were judged on their ability to, “hold their own” and the quality of the work that was presented.

Since completing his BSc in Molecular Biology and Genetics from UBC in 2011, Lau dove straight into the PhD program with his eyes set on a career in cancer imaging. This interest stems from his undergraduate experiences as a co-op student and as a research assistant. Lau is being supervised by Dr. François Bénard, Professor and the Academic Head of the Division of Nuclear Medicine at the Department of Radiology at UBC.

His research is now focused on creating new resources that will improve the way in which physicians are able to diagnose cancers and make use of novel treatments. In developing imaging agents for PET (positron emission tomography) or SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography), Lau hopes to “target specific cancer biomarkers.”

His research is fulfilling a need presented by the medical community. Certain cancer treatments that are being developed are not suitable for all patients. Lau’s work can help determine who may benefit from specific treatment options. “The detection of these biomarkers will allow physicians to diagnose patients,” he elaborates, “prescribe personalized therapeutic treatments, to monitor treatment response, and in turn, ameliorate patient outcomes.”  

Lau accredits his ability to complete such a project in part to the strong relationship between TRIUMF and the British Columbia Cancer Agency (BCCA).  “The synergistic relationship has enhanced my research productivity,” he explained. The level of expertise found at TRIUMF allows Lau to produce the radioisotopes needed for his experiments. Schaffer added that the BCCA is a, “leading edge in cancer research.” Their clinical focus aids Lau in the execution of his experiments.

Lau is halfway through the fourth year of his degree and hopes to defend his thesis in the next year. Lau is supported by a CIHR Doctoral Award and a RIX Family Leading Edge Student Award.

- Kelsey Litwin, Communications Assistant

Interview with Joseph Lau was conducted by Jacqueline Wightman

Photo caption: Dr. Paul Schaffer (left) and Joseph Lau (right)