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Serendipity in Science

Paige Collins

Paige Collins | Friday, January 15, 2016

Following the Bhatia lab's January 2016 publication in Cancer Cell, we caught up with the study's first author Dr. Borhane Guezguez to hear about his experience at the SCC-RI.

Earlier this week, the Bhatia lab published an exciting study demonstrating the possibility of early prediction for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), one of the most common, and lethal forms of leukemia among adults. In what’s been described as “serendipity,” the team was able to identify clear steps in the development of AML, and use the molecular fingerprints of those steps as tools for predicting if, and how, the disease will develop in myelodysplasia (MDS) patients.

The interesting thing about serendipity is that it tends to follow from hard work. In this post we’d like to highlight someone who certainly didn’t shy away from the hard work it took to reach this point: the paper's first author, Dr. Borhane Guezguez.


In fact, for Borhane, his recent publication in Cancer Cell represents the culmination of many years of hard work, and a high note upon which he will end his term at the SCC-RI.

In his tenure in the Bhatia lab, Borhane has worked on a wide range of projects, but this one stands out.

“It feels like coming full circle,” said Borhane, “I was originally hired to work on GSK-3.”

Borhane joined the SCC-RI after completing his PhD in his native Paris. As a researcher with a deep and personal appreciation for hematopoiesis and a keen interest in leukemia, joining Dr. Bhatia’s lab was a natural choice. So, without ever having visited Hamilton, or even Canada, he made the move solo and settled in a home close to McMaster in the Locke St area.

Fun Fact: Before moving to Canada, Borhane learned English as a hobby by watching popular movies.

Since then, the Institute has changed a lot – growing both in size and scope. Borhane sees this growth as a critical factor in the work happening at the SCC-RI today, recognizing how it has helped facilitate strong collaborations that make work like the Cancer Cell paper possible.

Beyond publications, these collaborations, both within the Institute and without, have also had a positive impact on his development as a researcher. He noted the advantage of having “the ability to work with experts in the field of leukemia and other blood disorders, like Dr. Kristin Hope,” as a major benefit of continuing his training at the SCC-RI.

Borhane identifies another major advantage of joining the SCC-RI as the “intellectual freedom” afforded to him.

“I have always been able to pursue the questions that interest me, and I have always been able to access anything I need to undertake a quality research project.”

Borhane credits his boss and mentor, Dr. Mick Bhatia, with creating this culture of inquiry and initiative, always pushing his lab members to adopt a DIY attitude and approach things in new ways.

“Mick fosters a good, supportive environment. He’s very pragmatic; he never says ‘no it can’t be done,’ he thinks of alternative routes instead.”

Following Dr. Bhatia's example, Borhane has offered mentorship to more junior lab members throughout his time here, playing a role in encouraging and training countless other post-docs and students. When I asked him what his go-to piece of advice is for incoming lab members, he paused for a moment to reflect, and decisively came up with this:

“Don’t let your emotions take over. Always learn from your mistakes. Don’t get mad or upset; instead, try to understand what went wrong.”

For any up-and-coming researchers hoping to experience their own case of serendipity, this seems like pretty sage advice.

As Borhane advances in his career, he will continue to study leukemia and other types of cancer. In memory of his late nephew, Borhane is dedicated to continuing the search for improved treatments for patients battling cancer.


For more coverage of the Bhatia lab's latest AML discovery, check out this video.