Biology co-op student plays role in leukemia discovery

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Abilasha RaoBiology co-op student and soon-to-be-graduate Abilasha Rao had an exceptional final co-op term at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

Abilasha chose to complete her post-secondary studies at Waterloo because of its strong international reputation for innovation, and her interest in the co-op program. Abilasha’s work terms enabled her to realize how much she enjoyed working in molecular biology research labs, and that her dream job was to work in a hospital laboratory doing disease research.

Her first work term was with Bio Agri Mix Ltd. as a quality control technician, followed by a term as a microbiology research assistant with Germiphene Corporation, and two terms in her dream job at Princess Margaret Hospital as a laboratory assistant. 

At Princess Margaret, Abilasha worked with post doctoral fellow Dr. Liran Shlush to uncover the cellular origins of leukemia relapse. She found evidence that suggests acute myeloid leukemia relapse can be caused by pre-leukemic stem cells that survive chemotherapy. Previously, relapses were believed to be caused by surviving cancer cells.

I believe we are living in a generation of incredible discoveries and closer than ever to finding a cure [for cancer],” says Abilasha. “It was extremely rewarding to work in a lab that continues to be at the forefront of leukemia research.”

Her work has been documented in a high impact manuscript with her listed as a co-author, and will greatly change the field of acute leukemia treatment. At the end of her term, she was recommended to return to the laboratory to work with Dr. Shulsh's supervisor Dr. John Dick as a graduate student.

Abilasha completed an Honour’s degree in Biology, and will be attending her convocation this week. She aspires to work in a disease research laboratory after completing graduate studies in a related field.

She would like to thank all of her previous co-op employers for allowing her to grow into the person she is today, especially Dr. Shulsh for giving her the opportunity to be involved in his projects, and investing time to teach and guide her.  She would also like to thank the co-op department at Waterloo, and finally her family and friends for their support during her entire university career.

Written by Clare Flood, Co-operative Education & Career Action

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