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About the Institute

Profile of Meredith Irwin

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Dr. Meredith Irwin

Dr. Meredith Irwin, MD

  • Scientist, Cell Biology
  • Staff Oncologist, Haematology/Oncology
  • Associate Chair (Research), Paediatrics
  • Associate Professor, Department of Paediatrics & Institute of Medical Sciences

1. Where are you from? /Where did you study?
I grew up in New York State in a little place called Eastchester. Then I moved to Boston for my training, starting with an undergraduate degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and then I went to Harvard Medical School. I did my medical training in paediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and then at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in paediatric haematology/oncology. I also did a research fellowship at Dana-Farber and worked on staff there for three years before coming to SickKids in 2002.

2. What are you researching right now?
At the basic level we are interested in pathways that kill cancer cells, especially pathways that are activated by therapies that we know or therapies that we hope to discover. We are specifically interested in the p53 family of proteins. They are sort of killer proteins. The tumour I am the most interested in for all these studies is a paediatric cancer called Neuroblastoma. It is the third most common cancer in kids but it is also deadliest one. When it spreads or is metastatic it is really hard to cure. I take care of patients with this tumour in the clinic and I work on this tumour in the lab. Some of the studies we do are done by taking samples from our patients, growing them in the lab and then studying them.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
I am going to have to go with Marie Curie. She broke down barriers for women in science and took clear risks. She wasn’t afraid to study something knew, but she also wasn’t afraid to be one of the few women in science at that time.

4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
I think it was when people figured out how to sequence DNA because it really opened up, not just new discoveries, but new techniques to study those discoveries. This discovery made studying cancer much more accessible.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I have a three-year-old and a six-year-old so spending time with them is really important. They love to play with us.

6. Why science?
I first officially chose medicine, but I think I chose to do research and medicine because I want to understand how things work. I realized how much we still don’t understand from taking care of patients. I really want to better understand what we do, why we do it and how to do it better. I think I like being a clinician-scientist because I can serve a different role than other people in terms of being able to think on both sides and see how things I see in the clinic may influence what we do in the lab and vice versa.

7. Why SickKids?
It’s a combination between the great research going on over here and the opportunity to work with amazing scientists and clinicians and also the patient population. It is a great group of patients and we have the ability to study things in our patients and in the lab and vice versa. As a clinician-scientist, you need a place like SickKids. SickKids is a place that really values and supports clinician-scientists which I think is quite unique, especially in Canada but even in North America.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
In neuroblastoma, I would say it is probably the question: How can we better study neuroblastoma to get smarter and more effective drugs? We want to try and model it in the lab to get the most accurate results that can one day be transferred to our patients. There are different models in use right now from the more traditional models to stem cells of neuroblastoma. We want to make sure that what we find in lab isn’t just a cool result but something that can really benefit our patients.

9. What are you reading right now?
Well, to be honest, the last book I read was probably a Thomas the Tank Engine book. But the last book I read for me was Alice Munroe’s Too Much Happiness. I love reading fiction books on my own time as an escape from the day-to-day.

10. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
I would say that this is a great career where you can always be creative and try new things but you have to really like and be interested in what you’re doing. It is a lot of work so it has to be something that you’re passionate about. There is never a dull moment.

August 2010

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