Cancer research piques clinician’s curiosity

Kirsty Elliot

WCVM medical oncology resident Dr. Kirsty Elliot (WCVM ’08) and her three-year-old mixed breed dog Josie. Photo: Dr. Bill Krč (WCVM ’09).

When Dr. Kirsty Elliot decided to return to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) for specialized training, the veterinary oncology resident initially thought her focus would be on clinical research.

But after hearing more about WCVM professor Dr. Vikram Misra’s ongoing cancer research, she decided to experience the other end of the spectrum – benchtop work in a laboratory setting.

“The more I talked to Dr. Misra, the more excited I got about this work,” says Elliot, who graduated from the WCVM in 2008. “It’s research that’s not being done elsewhere at the moment.”

Elliot’s Master of Veterinary Science research project focuses on the unfolded protein response (UPR) – a cellular response to stress that can potentially serve as a target for cancer treatment.

Elliot describes the experience of collaborating with multiple WCVM researchers as eye opening.

“It’s been interesting to learn about the basic science research that’s going on here – something you don’t get a lot of exposure to in the clinical setting,” says Elliot. “Anytime you’re involved with different areas of expertise, it really helps to increase your interest and overall knowledge.”

So what attracted Elliot to the area of oncology? Following graduation, Elliot worked for one year as a clinical associate in radiation oncology at the WCVM’s Veterinary Medical Centre (VMC).

“I really enjoyed the position and loved the patients and the clients,” she says. “The relationship I developed with these people was incredible. They’re a select and special group who are extremely enthusiastic and motivated about pursuing cancer treatment for their pets.”

Elliot moved to Prince George, B.C., in 2009 to work in a general companion animal practice. But after one year, she found that she missed working with the clients she met during her time in the VMC’s pet radiation therapy centre.

When an oncology residency opened up at the veterinary college, Elliot jumped on the opportunity. “I’m very lucky and so happy to be back,” says the Vancouver native who will finish her residency in July 2013.

Recently, much of Elliot’s free time has been consumed with preparing for her general board examinations. When she has a spare moment, she spends time with her husband, Dr. Bill Krč (WCVM ’09), her three-year-old mixed breed dog, Josie, and her 15-year-old Bengal cat, Sheri.

Although she hasn’t quite decided the path she’ll take once she completes her residency, Elliot feels she has benefited in various ways from working in academia.

“Veterinary medicine is moving forward in terms of having more and more specialties out there and I definitely take advantage of this on a daily basis at the college,” says Elliot.

“It’s really highlighted for me the need for everyone — the surgeons, the oncologists, the internists — to use their expertise and work together to figure out the best plan for the patient.”

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