Jennifer Corcoran

Assistant Prof, Dept. of Microbiology & Immunology (Cross Appointee, Dept. of Surgery), Dalhousie University Faculty of Medicine

Bachelor of Science, Biology, 1994

I really like the answers research can give you, but I also really like the process.

Dr. Jennifer Corcoran says that like many research scientists, she’s interested in how things work.

For the past year and a half she’s run her own lab at Dalhousie University, where her team is currently studying virus-induced cancers like Kaposi’s sarcoma, a skin cancer that is relatively mild in people with healthy immune systems, but can be life threatening for people with compromised immune systems (for example, HIV/AIDS or organ transplant patients).

Jennifer’s lab is trying to understand how the virus Human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8) alters the normal behavior of cells to make them cancerous.

“A lot of my drive is to understand that process,” she says. “When I do, perhaps it will reveal an opportunity to design a new therapeutic treatment to combat this disease.”

This research could also help spearhead new treatments for other viral-induced cancers (10- 15 per cent of all cancers).

Jennifer believes she “definitely ended up in the right line of work.” She was always intrigued by the potential that medical research held, however, it wasn’t until near the end of her undergraduate degree that she knew she wanted a career in the field.

She likens her current work with cells to a puzzle. “You’re trying to piece things together and design experiments where you answer one small question at a time. I really like the answers research can give you, but I also really like the process.”

Jennifer says having her own lab is “the tip of the iceberg.” She adds, “it’s the opportunity I was hoping to get, and it will open doors.”

As a mother of three young children, she’s proud to be a working parent with a successful career. “That’s not without struggle for anyone,” she says. “If you have a career dream but you also want children, (those things) don't have to be mutually exclusive.”

Jennifer says King’s, being a smaller college where students can interact with faculty, gave her confidence as a student to pursue her goals. In addition to the community support, she says the writing education was hugely significant.

“We always encounter science undergraduate students who do not know how to write. I really credit King’s for helping me with that.”

Jennifer chose the Foundation Year Program (FYP) science option because she wanted to pursue science, but was intrigued by the perspective FYP provides on history and great writers. Eventually, she took most of her science classes at Dalhousie, but remained a King’s student. “I just loved the community,” she says.

Photo credit: Dalhousie Medical School

Posted: Apr. 2016

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