New Keenan scientist’s research hits close to home

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New Keenan scientist’s research hits close to home

Toronto, August 28, 2020

By Ana Gajic

Dr. Kelsie Thu
Dr. Kelsie Thu

When Dr. Kelsie Thu was in elementary school, a gym teacher who taught her to love biology died of cancer. Then in high school she watched two grandparents battle the disease and pass away.

Now a new recruit to the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science, Dr. Thu’s area of focus is lung cancer and the drugs that can be used to fight it.

“Watching my grandparents go through it, you could see the life was being sucked out of them,” she said. “It was hard to watch. That’s definitely a motivating factor.”

Dr. Thu’s research is focused on identifying the genetic reasons why lung cancer therapies work in some patients but not in others, and on discovering how to make them work better. This area of expertise will round out the centre’s focus in cell biology and lung disease.

Coming to St. Michael’s by way of the BC Cancer Agency and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Dr. Thu says this is part of what drew her to the Keenan.

“Lung cancer is a type of lung disease and a lot of scientists here study inflammatory diseases related to the lung,” she says. “There’s a natural opportunity for collaboration to investigate how other lung diseases and lung inflammation can contribute to the growth and development of cancer.”

Dr. Thu’s research at the Keenan will build on her postdoctoral work, where she used a technology called CRISPR-Cas9 to perform genetic editing on a genome-wide scale. With it, she’s able to turn on or turn off different genes in different cells to understand how they affect the way cancer cells respond to therapy.

She says she plans to use this knowledge to discover new targets for therapy in lung cancer cells that will help develop drugs for treating the disease and new strategies to make existing drugs work more effectively.

“A big challenge in lung cancers and many others is drug resistance,” Dr. Thu says. “Patients will initially respond to a treatment, and then they develop acquired resistance and it stops working. One of the main goals for my research program is to understand how we can delay or prevent drug resistance.”

Dr. Thu’s passion for basic science is spurred by the fact that it drives discovery and improvements in patient care.

“Basic science discoveries are the roots – we have to understand the basics and fundamental biological processes to come up with solutions that will ultimately help patients in the clinic.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

About Unity Health Toronto

Unity Health Toronto, comprised of Providence Healthcare, St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital, works to advance the health of everyone in our urban communities and beyond. Our health network serves patients, residents and clients across the full spectrum of care, spanning primary care, secondary community care, tertiary and quaternary care services to post-acute through rehabilitation, palliative care and long-term care, while investing in world-class research and education. For more information, visit

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