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Saima Hassan, MD, Ph. D., FRCSC


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Saima Hassan, MD, Ph. D., FRCSC
Saima Hassan, MD, Ph. D., FRCSC 2012 – Bourse nationale Telus – Fondation canadienne du cancer du sein University of Toronto/Sunnybrook Research Institute


Born and raised in Montreal, Dr. Hassan completed medical school and residency in general surgery at McGill University. During her residency she spent four years outside of clinical training to complete a doctorate in breast cancer metastasis. She studied the diagnostic and therapeutic role of a chemokine and its receptors, SDF-1 (Stromal-Cell Derived Factor-1) and CXCR4. She then went on to complete a clinical fellowship in surgical oncology at the University of Toronto. Since 2013, she has been pursuing a postdoctoral research fellowship at Oregon Health Sciences University to study PARP inhibition in triple-negative breast cancer using a high-content imaging approach in the laboratory. 

Why Choosing Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a common disease, affecting 1 out of 9 women in Québec. Breast cancer is very complex — with various subtypes, demonstrating different levels of aggressivity and response to therapy. Although much research is still underway in order to better understand the biological mechanisms and to improve therapeutic options for breast cancer patients, nevertheless, significant advancements have been made in biological and clinical research which resulted in the genomic characterization and personalized management of breast cancer patients over the past twenty years. Therefore, despite the inherent challenges associated with breast cancer, she believes much progress has been made and there continues to be hope for breast cancer patients in the future.  

A Scientific Accomplishment You Are Proud of

I identified the first host-derived blood marker, SDF-1, to predict distant metastasis and survival in breast cancer patients. The significance of low levels of plasma SDF-1 predictive of distant metastasis was suggestive of a novel mechanism to explain the process of metastasis: that the concentration gradient of SDF-1, low level in circulation, and high level at the metastatic organ may favour the extravasation of cancer cells to the metastatic site. Furthermore, I also investigated how to therapeutically block the receptors SDF-1 and CXCR4 in transgenic mice. My in-vivo work has helped illustrate the concept that the metastatic process can be targeted therapeutically. Furthermore, targeting two combined cancer processes, such as metastasis and angiogenesis, may be more beneficial than targeting a single process.

Field(s) of Research

  • All
  • Cancer biology
  • Treatments
  • The development of scientific models
  • Prognosis and predictive biomarkers


2013 – Conquer Cancer Foundation of American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Young Investigator Award, endowed by Evelyn H. Lauder, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Chicago

2014 – Banting Postdoctoral research fellowship administered by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research

2015 – Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Merit Award at Breast Cancer Symposium

Projects Funded by the Foundation

2012 – Telus — Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation National Fellowship