It’s 2009, and Lori Lowes is in the final year of her undergraduate degree, about to embark on the brief journey of completing a fourth-year research project.
With a career path in pharmacy already planned out in her mind, and a lack of experience and exposure to the lab environment, Lowes thought to herself, “I will just get this project over with and move on to something else I will really enjoy.”
Little did Lowes know that this research project would change her life completely, and take her down a path different than she had ever imagined.
Fast-forward to 2016, and Lowes will be graduating with her PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology in Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies convocation today.
“It’s pretty amazing to look back after all this time and all of this hard work and realize that everything I have accomplished stems back to that project,” she said with a laugh.
Born and raised in London, Ontario, Lowes never strayed far from home because she never had a reason to. After completing her fourth-year research project under the supervision of Alison Allan, PhD, she was encouraged by Allan and her other lab members to continue on with a master’s degree.
“Once I made the decision to pursue my master’s, I never looked for anything else because I already had everything I needed at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry,” Lowes said. “I knew I loved the lab environment, I knew I loved the research and I knew I loved working with Alison as my supervisor — I wanted to continue on with what I knew would allow me to be successful.”
Throughout her master’s degree and PhD, Lowes worked on research related to circulating tumor cells specifically in prostate cancer. Circulating tumour cells metastasize or spread from a primary site like the prostate through the blood stream to a secondary site like the lungs, liver or brain.
Lowes focused specifically on looking at the cells in the blood stream, which was very challenging because these cells are rare. She worked on a technology development piece in order to optimize techniques to help find those cells to identify and characterize them.
“Once we were able to identify the cells we could characterize them to see if we could use the markers expressed on them to direct patient care,” she explained. “This could help to decide the best treatments for prostate cancer patients.”
The young researcher explained she has always enjoyed working on translational research, as the idea of making a difference in patients’ lives is what drives her to persevere when things get challenging.
“My research allowed me to work directly in the cancer centre at Victoria Hospital, so I would see patients every day when I came to work,” she said. “That every day reminder really helped me realize what I was working toward — to potentially help these patients who really count on and have so much faith in us researchers to make a difference with our work.”
Since completing her PhD, Lowes has taken on a Research Associate position at Victoria Hospital. She has continued to work on the circulating tumour cell research project, but also works for special hematology and flow cytometry, which is even more clinical-based. She processes blood and bone marrow samples that come from leukemia and lymphoma patients involved in research trials.
Throughout her master’s and PhD training, Lowes received several awards including the Senior Women’s Academic Administrators of Canada Award of Merit in 2015, the CIHR Doctoral Award from 2012-2015, and the CIHR Strategic Training Program in Cancer Research and Technology Transfer Studentship from 2009-2014. She has also contributed to ten publications, given multiple oral presentations and served in leadership positions.
Lowes credits these successes to her passion for her research, and the guidance and mentorship that Allan was able to provide her with as she matured as a student.
“I don’t think I would be where I am today without Alison’s mentorship,” Lowes said. “She pushed me and gave me the right amount of support to be successful, all while helping me improve other things like my presentation skills.”
As Lowes walks across the stage and receives her diploma today, she will not only be thinking about the mentorship Allan has provided her with, but also the support she has received from her family and friends.
“I will be thinking about how hard I’ve worked and how long this took, but most importantly I will be thinking about my family,” she said with a smile. “I think they are the most excited about the ceremony, as they are so happy to see me succeeding and doing something that I really do love.”
Lowes is one of many trainees who will graduate during Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies convocation, taking place at 10:00 a.m. on June 16. The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry congratulates Lowes and the entire Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies Class of 2016 on their incredible achievements throughout their studies and on their graduation.