School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

A pathological passion – Meet Chelsea Jackson

PhD candidate, Pathology   

by Phil Gaudreau, July 2020

Amy Cleaver

When she was in grade seven, Chelsea Jackson knew she was one day coming to Queen’s.

The Halton Hills native took part in the Seven Eight Enrichment Days (SEEDS) program that brought her to Kingston and showed her all that Queen’s had to offer.

However, when the time came to accept her undergraduate offer, Chelsea decided to stay closer to home for her degree.

Skip ahead a few years, and Chelsea was out on co-op placement to further her molecular biology and genetics studies. She chose to complete her placement in the lab of Dr. David Berman at Queen’s.

As soon as the placement was done, she was making plans to return to Kingston and start her masters, allowing her to resume the prostate cancer project she had been working on during her co-op placement.

And then…

“The focus shifted to a brand-new project, which was incredibly exciting and frustrating at the same time,” she says. “Switching over was initially challenging but, in the last three and a half years, I have learned to code, I learned a whole computational area of research, and I started understanding the clinical data.”

The new project, ongoing today, focuses on patient health outcomes in non-muscle invasive bladder cancer. The project aims to better classify and treat these cancers and predict which patients will progress to a more aggressive disease.

“What inspired me initially was a paper that looked at patients with non-muscle invasive bladder cancers, which represents about 75 per cent of all bladder cancer diagnoses,” Chelsea says. “I developed a simple algorithm for subtyping the cancers which helps us sort them into three key groups and make predictions.”

Chelsea’s lab has a cohort of 571 cases with data going back twelve years on which it can run tests. Because of this strong dataset, the lab works with many international collaborators to help improve outcomes for bladder cancer patients.

When Chelsea isn’t in the lab, she’s preparing for a post-doctoral position that will allow her to sharpen her clinical focus and prepare for a career outside academia. She has also taught several courses, stays physically active through yoga and running, keeps in touch with friends and family across southern Ontario and southern Quebec, and likes to run what she calls ‘experiments’ in her home kitchen.

“Baking is basically just science,” she says. “After a long, frustrating day at the lab, it’s nice to come home and do some experiments that I know will work.”

Chelsea says she will miss Kingston as she winds down her studies. She has particularly enjoyed the supportive environment in the Pathology department and from her supervisor.

“I am mentoring an undergrad student now and trying to set the right environment because it dictates what you can accomplish as a group in the future,” she says. “While graduate studies are not always fun and games, the disgruntled, tired graduate student stereotype isn’t everybody. I’m proof you can love it and get passionate about everything–even bladder cancer.”

To learn more about graduate studies in Pathology, visit the School of Graduate Studies’ website.