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Toronto, Ontario - M5V 1R2
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Students with Stories: Cancer Researcher, Brendan Grue

Written by Ryan Bolton

In this new series, we’re shining the spotlight on awesome students. We’re kicking it off with a bang with Brendan Grue from Dalhousie University and his cancer research. Mighty impressive work. If you know a fellow student we should recognize, let us know.

In as clear language as possible, tell us about your cancer research work.

I investigated the link between inflammation and cancer. Mainly, I’ve researched, and experimentally examined, the anti-inflammatory properties of various chemicals found within plants, and incorporated them into a theoretical model for cancer prevention and treatment. Turns out the evolved methods plants have created to drive off pathogenesis over millions of years actually work just as good, if not better than some of our modern pharmaceuticals. Go figure!

How did you come to get the NSERC undergraduate research award?

Not all by myself, that’s for sure. I first became aware of the award from my good friend Paul Manning, who received the award prior to me. He has since received a lot of recognition, including a Rhode Scholarship to study entomology at Oxford. My biochemistry professor at the time, Vasantha Rupasinghe also suggested that I apply for the award. So, as a long shot, but I applied. After already securing full time employment at a rock climbing gym for the summer, I received the surprising, yet very exciting news. I spent that summer after my second year working part time as a rock climbing instructor, and all of my time outside of that in the lab.

What inspired you to join the NGO Getting to Know Cancer?

My motivation in my research was to maximize the amount of people that I could reach and help. Cancer was top of mind. I started to read. During the time before I started my experiment in the lab, I began to write, what would later become a review paper, mainly as a way to interpret the seemingly endless scientific information at my reach.

“My motivation in my research was to maximize the amount of people that I could reach and help. “

The paper blossomed into over fifty pages of what were basically my regurgitated notes. After reviewing those notes, the president of the international NGO Getting to Know Cancer asked me to come aboard as a contributing scientist. I couldn’t pass that up!

What advice do you have for fellow students?

My advice comes in the form of a quote from author Alice Walker, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” I believe this to be true for many students. Students sometimes feel they are just a number, just another face in the crowd. That there must be someone else that will out shine them. The problem is, there is absolutely no one with the exact same set of characteristics as you, characteristics which have evolved as a culmination of every experience they’ve ever had. I feel that too many students become discouraged to even apply themselves just because they don’t have the highest marks. I know that I, as one of those students, didn’t even contemplate the idea of receiving a position in a lab, let alone an NSERC award position, until the encouragement of my friend, Paul, and the support of everyone else around me. So go for it!

What drives you?

The idea of what if. The, “what if I apply myself?”, “what if I succeed?”, and finally the “what if I fail?” For it’s the latter that drives me the most. I feel that fear can be modified according to how it’s interpreted. Sure, it can leave you lying face down in your bed on a Monday night wondering what you’re ever going to do or become, but it can also provide you with a heightened sense of achievement when things finally do fall into place (and they will… eventually).

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

It’s funny because I’ve actually just met with a career counselor to try and help me answer that very question, and the answer is, I don’t know. And I’m ok with that. I don’t think anybody really knows where their going to be in five years, and nor would I want to. I‘m just going to embrace my path as it unfolds and try my best to absorb everything I encounter along the way.

Tell us a little about yourself. Favourite hobby? Schooling?

I’m addicted to the gym. For me it’s the ultimate therapy, as it offers a wicked amount of benefits, not just physically, but also mentally. I’ve also recently taken up home winemaking. For me winemaking applies both what I’m learning in school combined with the fine artistic aspect. And hey, it’s wine.

Rapid Fire Questions

How many tattoos do you have?

None. I’m just not permanent enough of a person to get any; I’d change my mind about it a few days later.

Weapon of choice?

Knowledge, resulting in confidence and empowerment.

Where would you visit if you had the chance?

Honestly, I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth and I really feel that too many people take the place that they live for granted. Get out and explore.

Superman of Batman?

Obviously Superman.

ED. Note: Do you know a student with a great story? They don’t have to cure cancer, but that’s a good start. Send us an email with their contact info at

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.