Mar 3, 2023

Humans of LMP: Stefanie Sbergio

Programs: Graduate, Inclusive community
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Each month we speak to a member of the Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology community and find out more about them as part of an initiative from our Wellness, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Committee (WIDE).

This month we feature PhD candidate, Stefanie Sbergio who is also Vice-President Communications for the LMP graduate student union, CLAMPS.

Visit the Humans of LMP page to read more stories and nominate yourself or others to be featured.

What are you studying at LMP and why are you interested in studying it?

Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) is an aggressive pediatric brain tumour in children 7-9 years old, with survival of approximately 9 months following diagnosis. During my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Cynthia Hawkins at SickKids studying DIPG in the SickKids Summer Research (SSuRe) program. I became interested in studying this disease after two young girls from my community were diagnosed with DIPG and their passing influenced my life and research career. The incidence of DIPG is 1 in 100,000 and represents 20% of tumour cases in children. Having witnessed the impact of this disease I am inspired every day to continue investigating novel therapeutic options. My hope is to improve patient outcomes and survival so that treatment options are not limited to radiation as the standard of care. 

In my project, I look at two novel therapeutics using both a small molecule inhibitor as well as a targeted molecule. Using patient-derived cell lines, we have screened and tested these therapies in vitro and present reduced cellular viability. Additionally, we can use these patient cell lines for orthotopic xenograft models that allow us to test these therapies in vivo.  

Through the department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, I will be able to complete these projects under Dr. Hawkins’ supervision and receive my PhD. This unique research opportunity will allow me to study and present therapeutic options for this devasting disease. 

What is the most interesting thing you’ve done, seen or got involved with while at LMP?

Through the Brain Tumour Research Centre at SickKids, last summer I was selected to attend a pediatric brain cancer research course at Cambridge University in England. During this time, I attended lectures from internationally recognized doctors and scientists, and spoke with students from around the world.  

What was the best career advice you ever received?

Don’t give up on your dreams. If you love what you are doing and are passionate about it, you will be successful.  

What has been an important learning experience in your life?

I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Western Ontario in the Interdisciplinary Medical Sciences Program. This allowed me to take several specialized courses in the Medical Sciences Program. What I learned from this was that you need to balance your life and education. I had tried to take as many specialized courses as possible so that I could get the most from the program, but it was a struggle juggling this with extracurricular activities and life. I ended up with 3 exams within 72 hours during midterms, which was exempt from the 72-hour rule. I was forced to try and study for all three of these exams which left me overwhelmed. It taught me that you need to prioritize yourself and be practical. Challenging yourself has its limits; unless you can focus and enjoy what you are doing you won’t reach your full potential. 

Who is an influential person in your life and why?

My uncle has been extremely influential in my life as he has always inspired me to work hard, do what I love, and keep persevering in times of hardship and difficulty. He had overcome so much and never gave up on himself or his loved ones, only wanting what was best for everyone. He not only influenced my career in medicine but who I am as a person. 

What would it surprise people to know about you?

People would be surprised to know that I used to be a theatre student.  

What activities do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Most of my time outside of work is spent reading, running, and cooking.    

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Album: A Head Full of Dreams by Cold Play.

Film: The Great Gatsby (2013).

Novel: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

My dream dinner guest would be Dolly Parton.

Where/what is your favourite place?

My favourite place is Menton, France.

If you were stuck on a deserted island but had all your basic needs taken care of (i.e. food and water), what two items would you bring with you and why?

If I could bring two items with me on a deserted island, they would be a pen and a notebook because I find that journaling and writing can help with navigating hardships experienced in life. They would not only help me cope with the situation but also be used for documenting such a unique experience.    

Read more about research in the Hawkins Lab

Pathology and precision medicine: how research has transformed brain tumour diagnostics for children
Cynthia Hawkins