David Twa

Research Topic

Genomic Rearrangements in B-cell Lymphomas

Research Description

The Steidl Lab-group, situated at the BC Cancer Research Centre, studies a variety of B-cell Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphomas. One of our aims is to better understand the immunological crosstalk arising between malignant B-cells and reactive immune infiltrate within the microenvironment of the lymphoma tumor. I contribute to this effort through examining the functional consequences of how malignant B-cells hijack axes that are otherwise physiologically responsible for guarding against autoimmunity in healthy individuals. Specifically, using high-throughput sequencing techniques, I study novel translocations and copy number variations in programmed death ligands 1 and 2 that we have discovered are recurrently selected for in the lymphoma genome. We believe that such structural genomic aberrations arising in these genes can serve as a reversible phenotype for a biomarker-complemented molecularly precise therapy. 

What aspect of your graduate program do you enjoy the most or are looking forward to with the greatest curiosity?

I love doing multi-channel fluorescent microscopy because it is beautiful and highly useful and I am also looking forward to completing a TAship in the near future!

What was the best surprise about UBC or life in Vancouver?

How rich the learning environment has been and how much support I have received from my department (Mike Allard, Aleya Abdulla, Haydn Pritchard), my supervisory committee (David Huntsman, Kerry Savage, Torsten Nielsen, Pamela Hoodless) and the Centre for Lymphoid Cancer (Christian Steidl, Randy Gascoyne, David Scott, Susana Ben-Neriah, Adele Telenius and Bruce Woolcock among many others). 

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

Aside from being recognized as one of North America's foremost research institutions that also happens to be situated in one of the most beautiful and diverse cities in the world, I chose UBC because of the exciting opportunities and support networks situated inside of and external to the academic community. Thus far, I could not imagine a more valuable graduate experience, or a better principal investigator. 

What is it specifically, that your program offers, that attracted you?

I was interested in studying cancer and many of the labs that study oncology at UBC are affiliated with the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. My department also has an awesome graduate student community (stretching across multiple research centers) that is supported by highly encouraging staff and faculty whose primary concern is always the needs of its students; recently, our department was awarded the Peter Larkin Award in recognition of this!

 

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I love self-directed learning and wanted to be involved in the synthesis, interpretation and dissemination of translational research to academic and non-academic knowledge users. I also draw motivation from testing hypotheses, with the support of colleagues at the BC Cancer Agency, which will directly improve the lives of cancer patients and their families. 

What do you see as your biggest challenge(s) in your future career?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to secure federal research funding, which goes hand in hand with the few tenure track positions that are available. 

How do you feel your program is preparing you for those challenges?

I am learning how to conduct translational research, which is to say that my research findings have a direct clinical application. In addition to learning more conventional skills associated with cancer research, my program is also exposing me to novel genomic-based profiling techniques that will be important to understand as a new member of the cancer research community in the coming years. 

What aspects of your life or career before now have best prepared you for your UBC graduate program?

I completed my undergraduate degree in Microbiology and Immunology; I attribute some of my present success to the mandatory laboratory courses and external lab positions made available by that program. Juggling my time as a varsity rower for UBC, principal clarinetist for the UBC concert wind ensemble, rowing coach at the Vancouver Rowing Club and geriatric musical interventionalist at the Richmond General and St Joseph’s Hospitals also provided me with a greater perspective. 

What do you like to do for fun or relaxation?

Presently, I row at the Burnaby Lake Rowing Club, play clarinet in the UBC concert wind ensemble, am learning to swing dance and organize motorcycle rides across BC. If you’re a new graduate student at UBC that is interested in doing any of these things, send me an email! 

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

For research-based programs, invest as much time as is possible in selecting a research supervisor and topic; it will pay dividends in the future. Embrace the art of staying persistent and patient, both when troubleshooting experiments and writing grants/applying for awards. Don't be afraid of saying, "I don't know", and most importantly, stay true to yourself; character is always more important than reputation.