School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Yulei Zhao

Ph.D candidate, Pathology & Molecular Medicine

Yulei Zhao

Yulei Zhao at the CIHR Poster Competition of the Canadian Student Health Research Forum, Winnipeg June 4th, 2015

Conquering Drug Resistance in Cancer Patients

by Marielle Hawkes, ​July 2015

“The most exciting part about research is what you don’t know and the potential to find out something new”, said Yulei Zhao when speaking about her current PhD research work with the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at Queen’s University. Yulei is currently researching human resistance to anti-tubulin drugs, which are widely used for the clinical chemotherapy treatment of various cancers. For example, 30-68% of related cancer patients have an intrinsic resistance to Taxol, one of the most commonly-used clinical anti-tubulin drugs, and 70-80% of the patients develop an acquired resistance over the course of the treatment. Resistance, whether it is intrinsic or acquired, always results in failure of the treatment. This is a significant issue because, despite the treatments, the cancer will reoccur and contribute to the high mortality rates of cancer patients. Identifying the molecules that are involved in anti-tubulin drugs resistance may be the key to solving resistance issues.

Before starting at Queen’s, Yulei studied biomedical engineering. Engineering research can often involve a lot of trial and error when testing a hypothesis, but rarely explores why certain techniques or methods work and why some do not. This type of research always left Yulei with lingering questions, and is one reason why her current project with Dr. Xiaolong Yang appealed to her. Assisting with Dr. Yang’s work allows Yulei to explore in great detail the things she does not know, and wants to discover. Not only is she discovering exactly what molecules cause resistances, but also what exactly inside the cells has produced this difference.

There are a number of potential uses for Yulei’s research. Drug developers could use her findings as targets in order to design their drugs to treat cancers and conquer drug resistances. There could also be clinical uses for doctors, allowing them to better predict what chemotherapeutic drugs patients would be sensitive to and be able to test for these sensitivities. In both cases, the research findings would facilitate more effective treatment of cancer and eliminate the unnecessary harm to patients caused by unsuccessful treatments. 

Yulei recently competed in the Canadian Institute for Health Research’s (CIHR) national student research poster competition and was awarded a Gold Award for her work. In addition to producing a poster that summarized their work, participants were required to answer questions from a variety of judges. The judges were often not experts in the subject areas that the participants were presenting on, therefore being able to clearly explain and have a broad understanding  of ones works was critical to answering questions.

Having been pursuing her PhD at Queen’s since fall semester of 2011, Yulei is in the last stage of her research and may be nearing the end of her time as a student. After graduation, she hopes to continue with her exploration of the life science world and make research work a life-long career. Coming to Queen’s was Yulei’s first experience traveling outside of China where she grew up. She chose to come to Queen’s after a representative from the university visited her school in China and she attended the seminar about studying in Kingston. Looking to try something new and have an adventure, Yulei applied to Queen’s and was accepted to the Direct PhD program with full sponsorship from Ontario Trillium Scholarship based on her already impressive academic record. She has grown to love Kingston and Queen’s, and particularly likes being able to walk or jog along the waterfront.