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Concordia master’s student is developing treatment protocols for breast cancer patients

Researcher Jesse Whyte works with patients to understand the effects of secondary lymphedema
October 16, 2018

As a certified athletic therapist, Jesse Whyte (BSc 08) works with individuals in many fields, from Cirque du Soleil performers to Montreal Alouettes’ football players.

Now, the third-year master’s student in the Department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology is conducting research on a new population — women who have undergone breast cancer treatment and developed secondary effects.

At Concordia, Whyte has found a research community that perfectly combines his interests in athletic therapy and breast cancer rehabilitation. His thesis supervisor, Robert Kilgour, professor in the Department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology, encouraged him to pursue research at the graduate level.

Whyte’s work aims to understand secondary lymphedema, which occurs when lymph vessels are unable to drain fluid. Contrary to primary lymphedema, a genetic condition, secondary lymphedema is a side effect of other diseases and their treatments.

Outside the university, Whyte works as a private fitness coach and personal trainer, as well as an athletic therapist at VM-Med in Montreal. He is also a proud father of two.

My research is applicable in the diagnostic stage


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

Jesse Whyte: This is an ultrasound image of an arm that depicts a cross-sectional slice, which I use to measure skin, body fat — subcutaneous adipose tissue — and muscle thickness. In this case, we're looking at an area that is just distal to the left elbow. Through my research, I compare the results of healthy women with those who have sought treatment for breast cancer and developed secondary lymphedema.

What is the hoped-for result of your project? And what impact could you see it having on people’s lives?

JW: The aim of my study is to advance our understanding of secondary lymphedema and its effects on tissues. We already know that a breakdown in the lymphatic network causes secondary lymphedema, but how the body responds to the resulting tissue changes requires more research. A better understanding of these modifications will help professionals choose more effective treatment protocols for patients.

What are some of the major challenges you face in your research?

JW: Since the individuals who look at ultrasound images are not radiologists, the techniques we use need to be precise but simple to learn. We have to establish a protocol for measuring tissues that is representative and repeatable.

What are some of the key areas where your work could be applied?

JW: My research is applicable in the diagnostic stage. Since the techniques are easy to implement, doctors, residents and physiotherapists can use them in the clinical setting.

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

JW: David Jones, my late supervising athletic therapist, was working at VM-Med and knew I was looking for a new challenge. He encouraged me to work with the breast cancer population.

Now I specialize in therapy for women who are undergoing treatments during pre- and post-surgical interventions. In addition, I teach lifestyle changes so patients can lead lives that are more active and make healthy nutritional decisions.

How can interested STEM students get involved in this line of research? What advice would you give them?

JW: Students need only be interested in the domain of cancer research. Having a supervisor who is already involved in this field is also helpful because they can direct you toward areas that are lacking in research.

What do you like best about being at Concordia?

JW: Faculty members in the Department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology bring together the perfect combination of life experience, knowledge and teaching ability. Not only am I pursuing my master’s in exercise science, I’m also a proud alumnus of the undergraduate Athletic Therapy Program at Concordia.

Are there any partners, agencies or other funding/support attached to your research?

JW: The McGill Nutrition and Performance Laboratory (MNUPAL), which is a clinic at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) that specializes in lymphedema treatment and research, has been invaluable to my work.

Anna Towers is the lead doctor and graciously accepted to participate on my thesis committee. She has been a tremendous resource in directing my research and providing insight in the domain of lymphedema.

Learn more about the 
Department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology.

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