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STEM SIGHTS: The Concordian who wants to revolutionize cancer treatment

PhD candidate Kamal Bawa has set out to overhaul drug absorption
February 14, 2017
By Andrew Jeyaraj

Cancer has been dubbed the “The Emperor of All Maladies.” The elusive disease evades attempts by the sharpest of minds to quell its destructive influence.

Treatment often results in unwanted and extremely uncomfortable side effects, impacting even parts of the body that are untouched by the malignancy itself.

Kamal Bawa is a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Her work with Concordia’s OH Research Group targets cancer by using micelles to carry drugs right into the tumor or cancer cell, disintegrating once inside. Earlier this year, Bawa received an international tuition waiver scholarship worth $35,000.

‘Using polymers to tackle a deadly disease inspired me’

How does this specific image (above) relate to your research at Concordia? 

Kamal Bawa: The image shows an anti-cancer drug being successfully released inside the cancer cell, delivered by polymer-based nanocarriers. My research project deals with the development of multi-stimuli, responsive and degradable polymeric systems that can be used in drug-delivery systems. The goal is to encapsulate and study the controlled release of anti-cancer medication.

What is the hoped-for result of your project, and what impact could it have on people's lives?

KB: The purpose of developing these systems is to promote the passive targeting of nanocarriers toward the tumor cells. The carriers transporting the cancer drugs break down and release the drug only once they’re inside the environment of a tumor or cancer cell.

In optimizing their design and therapeutic efficiency, we are trying to minimize the side effects associated with cancer treatment.

What are some of the major challenges you face in your research? And what are some of the key areas where your work could be applied?

KB: A major challenge is the optimization of the conditions that could lead to the best expected result, which demands critical thinking and analysis. You need to believe in your ideas and keep pushing the envelope until you succeed.

The key areas where the work could be applied are pharmaceutical science and biomedical applications. 

What person, experience or moment in time first inspired you to study this subject and get involved in the field?

Polymers make up our daily lives. We cannot survive a day without coming across a polymer in one form or another — even in the DNA and proteins that make up every living being. The prospect of using polymers to tackle a deadly disease like cancer inspired me to take up this field of research.

How can interested STEM students get involved in this line of research?

STEM students can take courses in polymer chemistry and polymer synthesis to get acquainted with the subject. Additionally, they can apply to volunteer in our lab. The OH Research Group website has all the information about the projects we are working on.

What do you like best about being at Concordia?

The first time I attended an orientation session at Concordia, a phrase stayed with me: “A home away from home.” I think that best encapsulates my relationship with the university. As an international student, it is difficult to be separated from not only my family, but also from physical and cultural landmarks.

The friendly and culturally diverse atmosphere at Concordia allowed me to build a second home here in Montreal, one that is enriched with new experiences and acquaintances.

On an academic level, what’s most attractive is how actively the university provides support and exposure to its students. Research can be overwhelming and discouraging, but when you’re provided with the proper resources and guidance, it drives you to work harder to achieve your goals.

Find out more about Concordia’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.



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