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A former Key Clubber-turned-award-winning-scientist hopes to inspire the next generation

Merdina Callum, Kiwanis Eastern Canada and the Caribbean District bulletin editor | Jan 31, 2020

DNA Helix

Krista SchleicherThere’s no doubt about it — Krista Schleicher loves science. The former Key Club member and Key Leader student facilitator is completing her Ph.D. in the molecular genetics program at Canada’s University of Toronto and doing her placement in the Schramek Lab at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute. She spends her time at her lab bench completing experiments with optimism that they will uncover new insights into how tumors behave.

When she’s not working, Schleicher’s catching up on some light bedtime reading on exciting new scientific discoveries.

So it’s not surprising that she was recognized for her work this past year as the recipient of the Rose Torno Bursary, a Sinai Health education award created to encourage an interest in research and health sciences education.

Schleicher specializes in research on head and neck cancer, studying how gene mutations can result in the initiation and development of oral tumors. A pivotal moment as a young adult sent her on this path. When a close friend died after being diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, Schleicher saw first-hand the devastation of the disease.

“It was then that I knew I wanted to go into cancer research,” she says, “to even make a small dent in the field. I hope that I can contribute some answers on the intricacy of the disease, especially for cancers that currently have minimal treatment options — anything to make a difference. Her memory is what keeps me going.”

True to her Key Club roots, Schleicher takes joy in sharing her passion.

“Communicating about science is becoming a big interest for me. Breaking down big, complex ideas for non-scientists is so important in a world that can be skeptical of science,” she says.  

That’s why she serves as a coordinator of Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute’s SciHigh program, which is dedicated to sparking interest in science among primary and secondary school students.

“This program is an amazing opportunity to share cool scientific techniques and experiments with kids,” she says. “It helps them to see that the job of a scientist can be as common and normal as the job of a doctor or a teacher. And that scientists can be girly or nerdy or anything in between and beyond. We’re just people who like solving really complex puzzles.”

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