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A leap of faith brings unexpected rewards

Five years ago Wendy Teft, PhD, took a leap of faith. She made the transition from a basic science lab to a clinical research lab. Now, as a postdoctoral fellow, focused on personalized medicine research with Dr. Richard Kim, she is living the bench to bedside experience and receiving the most unexpected rewards from her work.

Teft was raised in Wyoming, a small town in Southwestern Ontario. The middle child in the family, she was always active growing up; from clubs at school to playing on a travel baseball team and working at a part time job. Academically, her interests and skills leaned toward science.

Her abilities didn’t go unnoticed. A few of her high school teachers recognized her abilities and guided her in the right direction. Without hesitation she took the opportunities as they arose. She feels fortunate to have attended a semester at the Ontario Science Centre during her final year of high school. Not only did it expose her to the greater possibilities that science offered, it also ignited a passion in her that has led her to where she is today.

Following her undergraduate degree at Western, Teft completed her PhD at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. She’s kept things interesting by being creative and pursuing different areas of research including genetics and microbiology and immunology.

Her drive and approach was rewarded through numerous awards throughout her graduate studies including the prestigious Collip Medal in her final year of her PhD. It wasn’t long after graduation that Teft was on to her next research pursuit.

She found herself in Dr. Richard Kim’s lab focusing on clinical pharmacology. While she had little background in the area, it felt like a good fit. She admits the transition wasn’t easy, however she has no regrets. She is grateful, to her colleagues in the lab who have helped her to learn new skills in working with patients making the transition complete.

Working alongside Dr. Kim, who is the Chair in Pharmacogenomics, her research is being done in collaboration with the London Regional Cancer Program. It is focused on many ongoing projects, looking at genetic markers and drug levels of patients on various chemotherapeutic agents to predict if they are responding to treatment or if they are at risk for toxicity. 

Importantly, Teft and Dr. Kim have worked together to establish a Personalized Medicine Tamoxifen Clinic for breast cancer patients taking the drug tamoxifen to prevent recurrence.

This clinic is the only one of its kind in Canada providing additional care to more than 400 patients within the region. The clinic has provided important information to patients and their treating Oncologists to help tailor treatment strategies to obtain maximum benefit from their tamoxifen therapy.

Having this large cohort of patients has also provided the opportunity to publish novel findings including identifying Vitamin D as an important factor to increase a patient's likelihood of therapeutic benefit from tamoxifen.

The success of the Tamoxifen Clinic has paved the road for personalizing other chemotherapy agents such as those used by patients with colorectal cancer and pediatric patients suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

It’s a unique area of research, and one in which Schulich Medicine & Dentistry is a leader.

For Teft the rewards from her work come daily. “I love the lab atmosphere here,” she said. “This is the most rewarding work I have ever done. I can talk to the patients, and work directly with them. When we provide them with the results and see the expression on their faces, I can see that we are making a difference in their lives.”

Teft encourages students looking for unique research experiences to keep an open mind, get to know the physicians, attend grand rounds and investigate those areas that are of most interest to them.

Once her own fellowship is complete, Teft plans to stay on as a research associate doing what she loves, while making a difference in the lives of people in the community.