Becoming a Cancer Researcher
“I have found that people who research cancer usually have a loved one affected by the disease who inspired them to go in that direction,” says Andrea Knecht, PhD, a researcher in PNRI’s Nadeau Lab at the Pacific Northwest Research Institute (PNRI). Indeed, that is how she found her calling. While Andrea had always enjoyed science, it was her love for her grandmother that inspired her career as a cancer researcher.
“In middle school, I was really interested in bacterial resistance to antibiotics,” says Andrea. “But then my grandma was diagnosed with cancer . She was the best person I ever knew, and I couldn’t believe that she would ever be sick. When she died, it made me want to become a researcher — and find a cure for cancer.”
In graduate school, Andrea also became interested in epigenetics. “Epigenetics is basically a change in biology that is not fully explained by DNA,” she says. “For instance, in a project I’m working on at PNRI, we’re studying the heredity of testicular cancer in families. Usually, someone’s risk for a disease is higher if their parent has it. With testicular cancer , it is true that if your father has it, your risk of getting it is four times greater. But what is really interesting is that if your brother has it, your risk is eight times greater! That is an unusual finding and very exciting to pursue. We have some ideas about how this might work, and the research may reveal a new way of transmitting cancer risk.”
By combining her interest in cancer and epigenetics in a single focus, Andrea is realizing an aspiration from her childhood and working toward changing the future through her creative research. And, she hopes, making her grandmother proud.