This interview with Dr. Daniel Durocher, senior investigator at Sinai Health’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, or LTRI, is part of Behind the Science, a regular series from Sinai Health Foundation that asks some of its brightest and world-leading researchers about what drives their curiosity about the human body in health and illness. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Dr. Durocher has been behind major discoveries about how cells repair broken strands of DNA that could have exciting implications for the treatment of cancer.
What is your area of research and what are you hoping to discover?
I am studying how cells keep their DNA intact to prevent diseases like cancer.
What's been your biggest 'A-HA' moment to date?
While it is not the biggest discovery of my career, I remember very well when I made the discovery during my postdoctoral training that a small protein segment mediated how cells communicate DNA damage.
I was alone in the lab and I was so thrilled that I was basically shaking of excitement. I knew at that exact moment that I was observing something no one had ever seen before and that this finding would open me the doors I needed to open so I could land a job at a leading research institution. I could not sleep that night I was so excited!
What's one of the biggest challenges you've faced and why?
Scientists basically run small businesses that have issues like human resources and budgets; yet our training does not usually prepare us to deal with those challenges. The transition from being a trainee with few responsibilities to leading my own group was exhilarating but incredibly difficult. I made so many mistakes, it is embarrassing!
What’s been one of your greatest rewards in your career so far?
While the thrill of discovery is incredible, what has surprised me the most in my career is the deep satisfaction of mentoring the next generation of scientists. I am very thankful to be part of their journey, whatever they end up doing as their career.
What is one thing you’d like to accomplish in the next decade?
I would like to bring one drug to market based on our discovery in the clinic so I can have the opportunity to see how our discovery research can impact people’s lives.
Did you change any of your or your family’s habits as a result of anything you learned from your research?
Life is so fragile, enjoy it as much as you can and take nothing for granted!
What advice would you have to share with your 19-year old self?
Go study abroad, you won’t regret it.
What is on your bucket list?
Have a holiday house by the Mediterranean Sea (see next answer!).
What would your perfect day be like?
Wake up one summer day by the Mediterranean Sea and have breakfast outside with my wife and daughter. Go swimming, have a boozy lunch, read a good book and then go out for more swimming. We would then meet friends for a big dinner party at a fine restaurant with plenty of local (and delicious) wines. I would walk back to our house by the sea in the moonlight having my daughter and wife by my side.
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