The afternoon-long event also featured a presentation on cell division by Dr. Yixian Zheng, from the Carnegie Institute for Science at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Baltimore.
With the new enrollment, the Burnett school now has 119 students in its graduate program.
““It was so exciting to see the medical school auditorium filled today with graduate students and faculty,” said Dr. Roseann White, associate director of the Burnett school, said as she mingled through the research posters and talked to the students.
Ph.D. student Rebecca Boohaker presented a poster on a “death protein” which she said has the vital “day job” of maintaining energy levels in cells. But at some point, the cell creates a “death signal” that causes cells to perish. Rebecca’s research is aimed at using that “death signal” to wipe out cancer cells. Such targeting would allow doctors to kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells that are often destroyed during chemotherapy treatments. Rebecca started working in a research labs when she as 16 and said, “I never looked back. I love solving puzzles.”
Alex Fagenson is getting the opportunity to conduct scientific research as an underclassman in the Burnett school and said he hopes to use his experience as a transplant surgeon. “I want to be the kind of doctor who knows this stuff because he’s been in a lab, rather than just memorizing it out of a book,” he said. Alex’s research focuses on the “Topo 11” enzyme in DNA that allows cells and their chromosomes to divide and multiply. The enzyme is more active in cancer cells and by de-activating it, scientists may find a way to keep cancer cells from multiplying.
Ph.D. student David Paladino is looking at ways to treat pancreatic cancer, one of the most lethal forms of cancer with a five-year mortality rate of 95 percent. David’s research is looking at how cancer cells do not seem affected by the normal checks and balances that control other cells in the body. Cancer cells, he said, “hijack” pathways in the body that allow them to grow and spread. The goal of his research is to try to block those pathways. David says he loves scientific research because it allows him to explore new areas and approaches and to create his own knowledge. “Yeah, I guess you could say I’m a laboratory adventurer,” he said.