Chada was part of a Mayo Clinic research team that published a paper about brain cancer treatment. She and the other team members found that brain cancer treatment is most effective if it is customized according to the genetic makeup of the tumor. This approach to cancer treatment, known as precision medicine, differs from the traditional practice of studying and assigning grades to tissue samples under a microscope.
The research project focused on gliomas, which account for approximately a third of brain cancer cases. The team grouped tumors into different genetic categories that each require a certain type of treatment, such as chemotherapy alone or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
“The results from this study can have great clinical implications for the many thousands of patients affected by gliomas,” says Chada.
The study, along with another research project that was coordinated by the National Institutes of Health, was featured earlier this year in The New York Times.
Chada, who majored in biology at St. Olaf, was accepted into the Mayo Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship after her sophomore year. This program enables students interested in the biomedical field to conduct research in the clinic’s facilities for 10 weeks.
Chada’s research mentor at Mayo, Robert Jenkins, was one of the principal investigators of the project, and Chada was presented with the opportunity to contribute to the team’s research when she returned to the clinic the following summer. Working alongside Jenkins and the other members of the research team, Chada says, enabled her to “see the process of scientific inquiry and publication unfold.”
This hands-on experience with medical research profoundly influenced Chada’s professional development. In particular, her mentorship with Jenkins, who works as a pathologist at Mayo Clinic, played an important role in her vocational search after graduation. “Through him, I was exposed to the field of pathology and the importance of genetics to clinical practice,” Chada says.
Chada now works as the education coordinator at Hospital Pathology Associates, which is based out of Abbott Northwestern Hospital. “In this clinical setting, I have seen how genetic studies are so important to streamlining the diagnosis of various cancers,” she says. “Though the Mayo study is relatively new, the neuropathologists at HPA have already begun to discuss how to integrate tests for these molecular markers into their practice.”
Chada plans to attend medical school in the future and hopes to someday work as a doctor — an ambition sparked by her summer research experience. “My research at Mayo has greatly deepened my interest in genetics and made me want to become a physician who can impact patients in both a research and clinical setting,” she says.
“The work was challenging and intensely detail-oriented,” Chada admits. But the medical research at Mayo and the paper’s publication in The New England Journal of Medicine have imparted practical experience, professional recognition, and personal engagement that will guide her as she advances in her career in medicine. Chada affirms that “the many long hours were worth it.”