Grad profile: Jaime Wertman, Science

Fall Convocation 2013

- October 7, 2013

Jaime Wertman in the lab. (Nick Pearce photo)
Jaime Wertman in the lab. (Nick Pearce photo)

Every spring and fall, we profile just a few of our amazing graduates in our Convocation keepsake. We proudly feature these stories here on Dal News. Congrats to all our new graduates!

Looking back on her achievements, Master of Science graduate Jaime Wertman says that she has come to realize the truth of one of her dad’s favourite sayings: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

“[University] definitely taught me to take initiative. You really create your own opportunities.”

The Toronto native began her undergraduate degree at the University of King’s College in 2007 and only planned to stay in Halifax long enough to finish the Foundation Year Program. However, she quickly fell in love with the city and stuck around to graduate from King’s and Dal with honours in biology and a focus in plant cell and developmental biology.

Since then she has changed her focus to medical science, written her master’s thesis on prostate cancer and won a Killam Scholarship to fund her PhD at Dalhousie. This course of events is a big leap from her initial decision to study philosophy, but Wertman knew she belonged in science ever since her second-year elective in cell biology.

“It may sound cliché, but I like helping people,” says Wertman, who admits that she has been interested in cancers since she was a young girl. “I like the idea of studying biology and learning about molecular mechanisms and seeing how they apply in a clinical setting.”

"Everything you learn leads to another question"

During her undergraduate degree, she was awarded two Sarah Lawson Research Bursaries and worked for two summers with her honours supervisor, Arunika Gunawardena.

After graduating with the Dalhousie Biology Medal and securing funding for her master’s degree from both the Canadian Institute of Health Research and the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation, Wertman traded in her plant cell studies with Dr. Gunawardena for human cell research with molecular biologist and immunologist Denis Dupré.

Dr. Dupré praises her hard work and positive attitude: “She has a background in philosophy, and I think that every student should have more of that. She has been able to think creatively and sometimes outside the box to make her project go forward. Put that critical thinking together with enthusiasm and that makes a great scientist combo!”

Wertman’s thesis examines two factors that contribute to cancer progression and metastasis (the spread of cancer to other organs). She proposes that blocking the interaction between these two factors may be a more effective therapeutic approach than treating each factor with drugs individually. Although her research has focused on prostate cancer to date, her findings have the potential to be applied to several cancer types. Working with Dr. Dupré inspired Wertman to keep going with her research. “Projects are never really over,” she says. “Everything you learn leads to another question.”

An ambassador for science

Passionate about research, she plans to continue her studies of cancer in her PhD and also hopes to spend more time working with fundraisers and awareness campaigns. She has always had an interest in knowledge translation and dissemination and recently took the opportunity to participate in the Motorcycle Ride for Dad, a national campaign that promotes early testing for prostate cancer.

“I think it’s really important to be connected to organizations and to the individuals you are trying to help. You can feel removed when you are sitting alone in a lab,” says Wertman, who has served as social chair and coordinator for multiple societies in the Faculty of Medicine.

She was happy to speak directly to the people her research affects, providing them with explanations for why various tests are necessary and helping to remove the stigma associated with prostate cancer testing.

Raising awareness about diseases is one cause for which Wertman is eager to be a squeaky wheel.

“We should be ambassadors for science,” she says. “I’m outspoken and proud of it.”


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