Shayna Sharma

Shayna Sharma, wearing floral blouse with long black hair

Name: Shayna Sharma

Researcher/Supervisor: Dr. Joanne Kotsopoulos

Area of Research: Familial Breast Cancer

Shayna Sharma, wearing floral blouse with long black hair

What sparked your interest in healthcare? 
Growing up, I always loved science. I was fascinated by the complexity of the human body and curious to learn more about how it works. Seeing family members and friends struggle with various health conditions over the years sparked my desire to explore healthcare. I have seen how timely and compassionate medical care can really transform someone’s life. I hope to join the team of healthcare professionals helping people become the happiest, healthiest versions of themselves. 

What interests you most about the area of research you’re working in and why? 

The area of research I’m working in focuses on identifying risk factors for the development of breast and ovarian cancer in women with mutations in the breast cancer susceptibility genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2. I find it very interesting how genetics combines with other factors to influence the risk of hereditary cancer. In families with BRCA mutations, some people never develop cancer, while others suffer from multiple types throughout their lives. I’m curious to continue exploring how hormonal, environmental, and other factors play into these differences. I’m also interested in learning more about familial cancer that isn’t inherited (cancer that runs in families but doesn’t seem to be associated with a particular gene mutation).  

 What has been your favourite/most enjoyable part about being in ESSP? 

My favourite part about being in the ESSP is being exposed to so many different areas of healthcare and health research. As part of the Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit, I have had the opportunity to attend weekly lab meetings, learn more about breast cancer during summer student sessions, and shadow in the Breast Centre here at the hospital. I have been able to learn about many other fields of research by speaking to fellow students, who are investigating everything from transition-related surgery to childhood nephrotic syndrome. Through the ESSP networking events, I have had the opportunity to meet some incredible scientists and clinicians and hear about the important work they are doing to improve care for diverse groups of women across the country. I’m honoured to be working with such a talented and passionate team here at Women’s College Hospital.  

Share a fun fact or surprising discovery you stumbled upon during research that made you say, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!” 
A finding from one of the studies I’m working on is that taking oral contraceptives has been shown to decrease the risk of developing ovarian cancer, but it can increase the risk of developing breast cancer when taken by BRCA1 mutation carriers under the age of 25. It’s easy to dichotomize factors as either preventing or causing cancer, but there are some factors that have a more complex influence on the risk of developing cancer. I’m interested in learning more about why this is, and how we can leverage findings to decrease the incidence of all cancers.  

What are your goals for the future and how do you envision leveraging your experiences from this program to contribute to that? 
In the future, I aspire to pursue a career in the medical field. I love learning about anatomy and physiology and enjoy solving puzzles. Improving patient experiences is something I’m very passionate about as well. Although I‘m not sure what area of medicine I’d like to specialize in, this program has provided me with a great starting point of areas to explore. I plan to leverage the skills and knowledge I have gained from the ESSP to continue being involved in research in university. I really enjoyed learning about cancer and genetics this summer and would like to dive deeper into these areas. I also loved observing patient care while shadowing and hope to gain more experience in clinical settings.