First Person is a series of interviews with the first authors of a selection of papers published in Journal of Cell Science, helping early-career researchers promote themselves alongside their papers. Patricia Joyce Brooks is first author on ‘CD301 mediates fusion in IL-4-driven multinucleated giant cell formation’, published in JCS. Patricia conducted the research described in this article while a PhD student in Christopher A. McCulloch and Michael Glogauer's lab at the Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto, Canada. Patricia is now a postdoctoral research fellow in the lab of Scott Bratman at the Princess Margaret Research Institute, Toronto, Canada, where she is bringing clinical oral pathology diagnostic challenges to the benchtop to establish better testing at the basic science level.
Patricia Joyce Brooks
How would you explain the main findings of your paper in lay terms?
A number of tumors contain cells that become giant in size because they form through the fusion of many cells. These cells can be present due to infections, foreign bodies, genetic disorders and hormone imbalances, as well as tumors. Unfortunately, because we do not know how the cells fuse, we are unable to accurately diagnose these lesions or treat them. I have identified a protein that is crucial for the formation of these giant cells by allowing cells to fuse together in both human and mouse cell lines. Additionally, I have confirmed that there is an increase of this protein in human specimens of these reactive lesions. The identification of this fusion protein enables more accurate diagnosis of these lesions and may be employed in future treatment methodologies.
When doing the research, did you have a particular result or ‘eureka’ moment that has stuck with you?
I was taking better quality images of my cells on a newer microscope and had help from a fellow researcher. My initial analyses had told me that there were fewer fusion events in our new knockout cells, which was what I was hoping for, but I hadn't explained this to my colleague. She turned to me and said, ‘Is it a problem that a whole bunch of your slides don't have those huge giant cells? Did something go wrong?’ I was so excited that someone could sum up my thesis findings after just viewing the slides for a couple of minutes and that the difference in phenotype between the wild-type and knockout cells was so drastic.
Why did you choose Journal of Cell Science for your paper?
While the Journal of Cell Science is understood to be a platform to present strong scientific findings in cell biology, it also offers a wide readership, meaning that my benchtop approach to a clinical problem could be viewed by clinicians and researchers alike.
Have you had any significant mentors who have helped you beyond supervision in the lab? How was their guidance special?
My two PhD supervisors, who are both clinician scientists themselves, helped me not only by guiding my research, but also by being supportive while I maintained my clinical practice throughout the course of my graduate training. Additionally, they always checked in to make sure I was keeping a healthy balance between work, life and research. By doing so, they ensured I was not burnt out upon completion of my PhD and was ready for my next challenge.
What motivated you to pursue a career in science, and what have been the most interesting moments on the path that led you to where you are now?
My mom was a teacher and my dad was a dentist. They have always been the biggest supporters in my education. Growing up, I swore I would never be a teacher or a dentist. Now, as a Dental Clinician with a passion for research, my goal is to become a professor and teach at a dental school. The irony is not lost on either them or me.
What's next for you?
I have started a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Princess Margaret Research Institute in Toronto, Ontario, looking at early cancer detection in high-risk patients. As a clinician at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, I maintained a clinic for patients at high risk for the development of oral cancer while pursuing my PhD. I have now joined the Bratman laboratory in order to develop early cancer detection methods for my own high-risk patients using liquid (saliva and blood) biopsies.
Patricia Joyce Brooks's contact details: 101 College St, Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower 13-305, Toronto, Ontario M5G 1L7, Canada.