Hello! I am a PhD student in Thomas Gilmore’s lab in the Cellular and Molecular Biology Department at Boston University. I am interested in how cancer cells survive and in finding the molecular characteristics that define distinct survival mechanisms. By narrowing down on the differences between survival tactics, we can ultimately find the most potent and specific treatment for each cancer.

All substances are poisonous, there is none that is not a poison; the right dose differentiates a poison from a remedy. Paracelsus (Auroleus Phillipus Theorstratus Bombastus von Hohenheim), alchemist and physician, 1538

The cancer that I am studying is Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL), which is a cancer of specific immune cells (B cells) that circulate in the blood. While DLBCL cells from different patients may appear morphologically similar, studies show that there are many genetic and behavioral differences between cancers from different patients. In fact, DLBCL is a disease that encompasses many different types of cancer that are difficult to distinguish from one another. More than a dozen subtypes of DLBCL have been defined, but heterogeneity within subtypes suggests that further sub-typing is necessary.

In our lab, I try to define a subtype of DLBCL based on the expression of a mutant form of a specific HAT protein. HAT proteins broadly affect which genes get turned on and off, and a mutant HAT protein can misregulate many genes. Importantly, this particular HAT protein has been shown to be mutated in up to 30% of DLBCL cases, suggesting that this mutation contributes to the way that these cancers survive. My goal is to understand if this mutant HAT really does contribute to cancer cell survival, and if so, if these survival tactics are distinct from other DLBCL cases that lack the mutant HAT. If this is the case, then the existence of a mutant HAT protein may serve as a marker for a new subtype of DLBCL. Ultimately, exploiting the function of this mutant HAT will be a very potent and specific treatment in treating this mutant HAT-defined DLBCL subtype, especially since healthy cells do not harbor mutant HAT proteins.

For the 2013-2014 school year, I will work with Zach Smith, who teaches 7th grade Earth Science at Boston Latin School. Zach has done field work in Antarctic, the Amazon, the Arctic, the Caribbean, and across the US and Europe. Together, Zach and I plan to bring our experiences as scientists into the classroom to help students use scientific reasoning and argument in approaching problems. Specifically, we will focus on using precise and accurate scientific language, collecting and interpreting data, and communicating results in a quantitative manner. Zach routinely uses group discussion of science-related current events to generate fluency in science talk among his students. By introducing the students to real data sets on climate change, we are focused on applying these skills toward approaching and understanding real scientific problems that they will face in the world.