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Dr. Heather Gardner Among First Researchers to Utilize Advanced Technologies New to Cummings School
Dr. Gardner studies bone cancer in dogs to develop new treatment options
December 7, 2021

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University added advanced digital spatial profiling and next generation sequencing technologies to the Peabody Pavilion lab space this fall. Dr. Heather Gardner, assistant professor at Cummings School, is already putting these new tools to good use studying bone cancer in dogs.

Dr. Gardner’s specialized expertise and this unique opportunity to utilize these new technologies (spatial profiling is only a few years old) came together in a way she never expected.

“My career path was not a straight line; I took some unexpected turns,” said Dr. Gardner. “Looking back, it gave me the tools to be where I am right now. If things had happened differently, I may not have found my passion for research the way that I did.”

What has not changed is her lifelong interest in animals—from marine mammals when she was young to small animal medicine and medical oncology during her undergraduate and veterinary studies at Washington State University. After earning both her BS and DVM from Washington State University, she completed a small animal rotating internship at Alameda East in Denver Colorado, followed by an oncology specialty internship at the University of Florida. She completed her clinical trials internship and residency at The Ohio State University under Dr. Cheryl London.

Following completion of her clinical training and subsequent board certification in medical oncology, Dr. Gardner transferred to the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Tufts University, earning her PhD in genetics and staying on as a faculty member at Cummings School.

“I realized during my clinical training that there was a lot of interesting work being done to identify mutations in canine cancers, but we didn’t always know what that meant for our canine patients or how to translate that information in a clinical setting. I wanted to build a research program to help bridge that gap,” she explained.

Dr. Gardner’s research focuses on the comparative and translational aspects of canine osteosarcoma (bone cancer) genomics. Osteosarcoma is common in dogs, providing ample opportunities to study the disease and develop better treatment options for canines and possibly humans as well.

With the recent $2 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, Dr. Gardner now has access to the most advanced technologies to conduct her research.

“We used to rely on bulk sequencing to get an average read of changes in a tumor. Now we can look at individual cancer cells and different regions of the tumor to better understand how mutations effect each cancer cell and evaluate that information in the structural context of the tumor,” explained Dr. Gardner.

The new technologies are applicable to fields outside of osteosarcoma, including infectious disease and cardiology.

Dr. Gardner teaches fourth-year clinical students, oncology residents, and occasionally pre-clinical and master’s degree students.

“I want to give trainees the tools and interest to ask questions and figure out the answers—and make it fun in the process,” she said.

Dr. Gardner has found a supportive environment at Cummings School over the past four years.

“Fellow faculty members are really engaged and interested in working together as a team and trying to give students the best experience coming through the program,” she said. “The collaboration within Tufts and the surrounding areas, especially with canine cancer research, made it exciting to start a lab and career in this area.”