UW madison
UW School of Medicine and Public Health
Carbone Cancer Center

Checking in with our fall 2018 cancer biology graduate students

Left to right: : Stuart Fogarty, Amada Loke, Dongwhan (Heron) Jeon, Katie K.,  Alejandro Casco, Santina Snow 

Last fall, six new graduate students joined the Cancer Biology program. During their fall semester, they had a chance to rotate between several labs. Then, in December, the students choose their home labs at which they will study in throughout the rest of their graduate program. Now that they’ve had a year under their belt, we checked in to find out about some of their Madison favorites and current research projects. 

Alejandro Casco

1. Research project title and lab

Dynamics of Epstein-Barr Virus Lytic Transcription; Johannsen lab

2. Research statement—or summary of current project

Elucidating the spatial and temporal organization of EBV lytic transcription.

3. What piece of advice would you give to first year graduate students in Cancer Biology, after a full academic year under your belt?

Be open minded when picking your rotations. Some of us come here with a specific research area we are interested in, but choosing one or two rotations focused on other research affords you not only the opportunity to find a different interest, but also learn different molecular and bioinformatic techniques you may not be exposed to.

4. Favorite season in WI --Polar Vortex vs Hot/Humid Summer?

The Polar Vortex was definitely my favorite since I’ve never experienced anything remotely that cold before.

5. New favorite Madison cuisine? 

Ian’s Mac N Cheese Pizza is my favorite.

6. Favorite off-campus WI attraction?

The Terrace during the summer. Great times and somehow there are never mosquitos there.

7. What surprised you the most about living in WI?

The outdoor culture here is great, there is always something to do and someone doing it.

 

Stuart Fogarty

1. Research project title and lab

The role of PIPKIα in stabilizing p53, both mutant and stress-induced wildtype; Cryns lab

2. Research statement—or summary of current project

We have recently demonstrated that both mutant and stress-induced wildtype p53 are stabilized by the activity of the enzyme PIPKIα and the small heat shock proteins αB-crystalin and Hsp27. Phosphatidylinositol phosphate kinases (PIPKs) phosphorylate PI(4)P and PI(5)P to produce PI4,5P2, also known as PIP2. PIPKIα is a type I PIPK that converts PI(4)P to PIP2. We demonstrated that PIP2 is then associated with a polybasic motif in the C-terminal regulatory domain of p53, and then recruits the small heat shock proteins αB-crystalin and HSP27. Both PIP2 and small heat shock proteins were demonstrated to be required for the stabilization of nuclear p53. Additionally, since phosphoinositides are small molecules and kinases are typically druggable, the development of an inhibitor of PIPKIa may prove to be a feasible and specific strategy to target mutant p53 for destruction and kill tumor cells driven by this oncoprotein.

3. What piece of advice would you give to first year graduate students in Cancer Biology, after a full academic year under your belt?

When choosing a lab, the science is important, but the people in a lab you are choosing are arguably even more important, as they will be the ones supporting you and forming the environment in which you will work for your graduate career. 

4. Favorite season in WI --Polar Vortex vs Hot/Humid Summer?

Fall

5. New favorite Madison cuisine?

Bartaco in Hilldale 

6. Favorite off-campus WI attraction?

Milwaukee County Zoo

7. What surprised you the most about living in WI?

How healthy and active people in Madison are.

 

Dongwhan (Heron) Jeon

1. Research project title and lab
Potential of Toll-like receptors in cancer immunotherapy; McNeel lab

2. Research statement—or summary of current project

McNeel lab has recently found that the stimulation of Toll-like receptors increases the efficacy of anti-tumor immunity of CD8+ T cells. This was mediated through IL-12 secretion by professional antigen presenting cells, specifically dendritic cells, and led to suppression of PD-1 expression on CD8+ T cells. Following on these preliminary results, my project is to determine whether the combination of TLR agonists with different immune stimulants, including other TLR agonists or T-cell checkpoint blockade affects CD8+ T cell function.

3. What piece of advice would you give to first year graduate students in Cancer Biology, after a full academic year under your belt?

I think rotation during the first semester is really really really (really) important for your entire graduate study, even more than coursework. You should find the lab that fits perfectly for you.

4. Favorite season in WI --Polar Vortex vs Hot/Humid Summer?
Hot/Humid Summer ( I don't prefer humid but..)

5. New favorite Madison cuisine?
Cheese Curds!!!!!!!!

6. Favorite off-campus WI attraction?

Devil's Lake, Wisconsin Dells

7. What surprised you the most about living in WI?

Incredibly safe (even at night), low living cost, perfect neighbors, awesome bike trails

 

Katie Knutdtson

1. Research project title and lab

Investigating Mutation-Dependent Interactions with Subclonal and Extratumoral Cell Populations; Deming lab

2. Research statement—or summary of current project

My research focuses on understanding how different molecular profiles of colorectal cancer (CRC) direct interactions with the tumor and tumor environment. CRC is the second-leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States and is now being understood as a collection of diseases determined by the molecular profiles of the tumors. Many proto-oncogenes and tumor suppressors are deeply involved in a number of cellular processes, such that their mutations could uniquely impact cellular metabolism and extracellular signaling. Cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) are developed by signaling with cancerous cells and are known to support cancer. My research aims to evaluate the metabolic and growth dynamics across molecular profiles with and without treatment using novel 3D mouse and patient-derived organotypic cancer spheroids combined with optical metabolic imaging (OMI), which takes advantage of the inherent autofluoresence of metabolic coenzymes NADH and FAD. Further, I aim to use these tools to investigate how the molecular profile affects cancer cells’ interactions with subclonal populations and cancer-associated fibroblasts in order to have a more complete understanding of how different mutational profiles signal to their environment, with the goal of finding targetable pathways to improve treatment selection and efficacy.

3. What piece of advice would you give to first year graduate students in Cancer Biology, after a full academic year under your belt?

There’s a lot of great things to do in Madison. It may be tempting to stay in when you get a break from the lab, but it’s a lot more fun to go out and experience what the Madison area has to offer.

4. Favorite season in WI --Polar Vortex vs Hot/Humid Summer?

Summer

5. New favorite Madison cuisine?

New Orleans Take Out

6. Favorite off-campus WI attraction?

Nearby, Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona is a good hangout. For longer trips, Door County is highly recommended.

7. What surprised you the most about living in WI?

There’s no BBQ here.

 

Amanda Loke

1. Research project title and lab

Elucidating the role of transcription factor Atoh1 in development of Merkel Cell Polyomavirus Positive (MCPyV+) Merkel Cell Carcinoma using in vitro and in vivo methods; Lambert lab

2. Research statement—or summary of current project

The focus of my primary, current project is to study the potential role of the transcription factor Atoh1 in inducing Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC) in the presence of Merkel polyomavirus viral proteins (MCPyV). Atoh1 is a transcription factor that is involved in Merkel cell fate determination. Published in vivo evidence indicates that overexpression of Atoh1 in transgenic mice expressing the Merkel cell polyomavirus T antigen expression produce a MCC-like disease phenotype in the skin. I plan to approach this research topic using in vitro and in vivo experiments to study development of MCC. My studies will use tissue culture and transgenic mouse model systems established in the Lambert laboratory

3. What piece of advice would you give to first year graduate students in Cancer Biology, after a full academic year under your belt?

Keep an open mind; you'll learn and get so much more out of your graduate school experience!

4. Favorite season in WI --Polar Vortex vs Hot/Humid Summer?

Neither. I like a happy medium- fall is my favorite season. (If I had to chose between summer or winter, I'll probably choose summer)

5. New favorite Madison cuisine? 

Morris Ramen on King Street - I love a bowl of Japanese ramen and green tea combo.

6. Favorite off-campus WI attraction?

Lakeshore Path - it has the great view of the lake as well as a place to relax. The commemorative rock dedicated to Howard Temin is also a great source of motivation!

7. What surprised you the most about living in WI?

How accessible everything is here - I was not expecting the ease of getting around the city with just public transport. 

 

Santina Snow

1. Research project title and lab

Identification of Molecular Features Impacting Polyp Growth and Progression; Halberg lab

2. Research statement—or summary of current project

In the Halberg Laboratory, we study colon cancer. Polyps can form in the colon, however, only 5% of polyps become cancerous. We are curious as to why this small percentage of polyps become malignant while the vast majority remain static or even regress in size. My project focuses on identifying the underlying molecular differences between polyps of known growth fates (growing, remaining static or shrinking). It is important to know what causes the various growth progressions in order to better predict a patient's risk of developing colon cancer in the future. A patient's risk assessment could be used to develop a more personalized surveillance regime and prevent interval cancer deaths. 

3. What piece of advice would you give to first year graduate students in Cancer Biology, after a full academic year under your belt?

Make finding a work/life balance a priority now while you're still figuring out your new life routine rather than later when your routine is already set. Incorporate activities into your daily life that allow you to decompress in order to remain physically and mentally healthy to prevent feeling burnt out. 

4. Favorite season in WI --Polar Vortex vs Hot/Humid Summer?

My favorite season is fall when I can hike amongst the fall foliage, go apple picking, carve a pumpkin or get lost in a corn maze. If I had to choose between Polar Vortex or a hot/humid summer, then I would definitely choose long, sunny summer days! 

5. New favorite Madison cuisine? 

That would be a tie between frozen custard and cheese curds (squeaky fresh or deep fried- both are delicious!). 

6. Favorite off-campus WI attraction?

CrossFit Madtown!!! I also find up north in the woods just glorious and deeply relaxing. I really enjoy hiking and snowshoeing in the state parks particularly Mirror Lake, Devil's Lake, Governor Dodge and Blue Mounds. 

7. What surprised you the most about living in WI?

I'm not from the Midwest and I had only heard about 'midwestern nice'. Now that I live here, I understand why it is a phrase since the people are just so friendly and kind.

 

 

 

By Dominique Barthel (dbarthel@wisc.edu)

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