People in profile: Gillian Vandekerkhove

Meet Gillian—working at the forefront of personalized medicine.

Q: Tell us about your research and why you are interested in this area?
I study disease progression and treatment resistance in prostate, bladder and testicular cancer. I am interested in how tumors evolve in response to therapy; I find their adaptability fascinating. Conventionally, patient tissue biopsies are necessary for this type of research.  However, my research utilizes minimally-invasive blood draws, often referred to as liquid biopsies. From these standard blood draws, I profile the circulating tumour DNA present in patients’ bloodstreams. This technology provides real-time genetic information that enables clinicians to deliver a more personalized treatment plan to their patients.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve received in your career?
Read—read often, read extensively, and read outside your area of expertise now and then. 

Q: Who has inspired you or helped you along the way—and how?
Before applying to graduate school at UBC, I worked as a research assistant in Dr. Alexander Wyatt’s lab at the Vancouver Prostate Centre. After I had been there a year, Dr. Wyatt and my colleagues encouraged me to apply to UBC’s Experimental Medicine program and continue my work as a PhD student. Their enthusiasm inspired me to take my career to the next level.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time to balance the demands of research?
I am an avid reader and love to be in the kitchen. When possible, I also like to get outside. I learned to ski last winter to take advantage of the nearby mountains in Vancouver. In the summer, my husband and I go on multi-day backpacking trips to explore BC; it is very refreshing to be cut-off from technology and surrounded by wilderness.

Q: What was your first job?
I grew up in Sooke, a coastal community on Vancouver Island. While in high school, I got my first job at a tiny breakfast café there, cooking and serving on weekends. In university, I continued to work in the restaurant industry part-time; in fact, it was how I paid for my undergraduate education!

Gillian Vandekerkhove is a PhD student at the Vancouver Prostate Centre, under the supervision of Dr. Alexander Wyatt. Her research focuses on the genomics of advanced genitourinary cancers. Prior to attending UBC, she completed her MSc at the University of Toronto and BSc at the University of Victoria.


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