Shawn Hercules


Video of the Researcher

Lab name

Dr. Juliet Daniel Lab



Full name

Shawn Hercules


Conducting an expression profiling of biomarkers to find the underlying mechanisms responsible for Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Type of researcher

Research Assistant (PhD)

Introduce yourself, your experience and your credentials

Currently exploring and comparing health disparities among populations in the Caribbean with respect to social determinants for breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancers, depression, asthma and COPD.

Describe your research

The incidence of breast cancer is higher in white women compared to black women. However, the mortality is higher in black women compared to white women. We’re not sure why this is.

Some people think it’s because of social economic status, access to health care, or simple things such as mammography rates. Even though these things do contribute to the mortality in breast cancer, even after adjusting for these things mathematically, we still see a higher mortality rate for breast cancer and black women.

We’re not sure why this is. If you look deeper at this breast cancer phenomenon, we know that there are different types of breast cancers. One of the most aggressive subtypes of breast cancer is called negative breast cancer. There’s a higher prevalence of this particular cancer and black women compared to white women. This is probably what’s driving the higher mortality rate in black women in breast cancer.

Simply put, it’s not just the social economic status and these barriers to health care is also the tumor biology and biology and black women.

So triple negative breast cancer can be explained by the absence of three key receptors: estrogen receptors progesterone receptors, and human epidermal growth factor receptors 2. In the absence of these three key receptors the tumor can be deemed triple negative.

Furthermore, if the tumor is positive for estrogen receptor or human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, it can be treated with specific targeted therapies. Triple negative breast tumors can not be treated with targeted therapies. And this is what is also driving the high mortality rate.

Furthermore, triple negative tumors have a high propensity to spread to vital organs such as the brain the liver and the lungs and these high metastatic rates are driving the high mortality rates. Now why are black women more likely to get these aggressive tumors?

We’re not sure why that is and that is what my project is trying to identify. So I’m looking at identifying the epidemiological risk factors for triple negative breast cancer in black women, and I’m also identifying the genetic risk factors.

For the epidemiological part, I am collecting health data from Nigeria and Barbados specifically and also Jamaica for my project. After looking at these epidemiological and demographic variables, we can do comparisons to see which specific variables are more common in each population.

Additionally, I am also looking at protein expression levels in these populations specifically for Kaiso. Kaiso is a protein that we work on in our lab that is linked to aggressive cancers and most recently it is linked with the racial disparity observed in breast cancer and prostate cancer.

So I’ll be conducting an expression profiling of Kaiso and other cancer biomarkers to see what is the expression in these different populations. Is it different in these populations or is it linked to other epidemiological risk factors for these specific populations? Or are they correlated with Kaiso expression in these tissues?

This is another part of my project that I will be investigating.

Explain its significance

The reason why this is important is because we can identify and further understand what are the epidemiological risk factors ascribed to triple negative breast cancer specifically in women of African ancestry in Nigeria and Barbados and perhaps other places in the Caribbean.

Also, we can identify novel mutations that may be driving this phenotype in black women. These novel mutations can be perhaps used for targeted therapies or even diagnostic tools such as the BRAC 1 mutation that we know is driving breast cancer specifically in women of Jewish ancestry.

Hopefully we can identify such a mutation in another gene for black women and women of African ancestry.


Institution name

McMaster Universtity

Type of institution



Health care and social assistance