When I first arrived at MD Anderson Cancer Center, I knew relatively little about the complexities and dynamics of epigenetics. However, by the end of my research internship, I can safely say that I feel confident talking about this topic and my work. Though my project is far from complete, I know that I made strides towards answering some interesting questions about cancer biology.
I was able to successfully utilize gene editing methodology to analyze the levels of various genes, including vital tumor suppressor genes that are lost in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), that are targeted by enhancer of zeste homolog 2 (EZH2). By successfully knocking out EZH2, a histone methyltransferase involved in gene repression, using CRISPR-Cas 9 constructs, I was able to visualize an upregulation in expression of its targets, which was one of the goals of my project this summer. However, this was not the only goal of this summer. I also learned about how answering one small question in biology can lead to a myriad of more advanced, complicated questions. This other goal was to keep on questioning and knowing that a ten-week project is only just the beginning of this cascade of “what-ifs.”
The findings of my work suggest that the polycomb protein EZH2 could be a therapeutic target in PDAC, especially in samples with MLL3 (mixed lineage leukemia 3, involved in a complex of proteins that facilitate gene activation) inactivating mutations. A better understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which EZH2 functions will be necessary for the development of specific EZH2 methyltransferase inhibitors to combat pancreatic cancer.
These past ten weeks have been extremely vital in reaffirming my belief that there are many individuals who are dedicated to STEM. I feel very fortunate to have been able to spend my summer learning and working with such a talented and dedicated team. The opportunity to work with these scientists, side by side, deeply enhanced my thinking about my current and future academic, professional, and personal endeavors.
Academically, learning about the epigenetics underlying pancreatic cancer has augmented by commitment to cancer biology research. The time spent reading journal articles and attending seminars opened my eyes to what good science is truly about. Professionally, this experience has grounded me. I am critical and cognizant of the rigors of graduate school. Everyone in the lab was extremely hard working, and I aspire to embody that same attitude towards my work moving forward. And finally, personally, I think this summer experience was a good reminder that sometimes the problems we are trying to solve are literally right outside our doors. I want to embrace the philosophy behind bench-to-bedside research because I believe that our ultimate goal in all biomedical research is to help the patients. I hope to continue researching interesting problems in the future in order to find cures.
As I transition from this summer of intensive wet-lab work to integrating wet and dry-lab work in a systems biology lab (computationally modeling complex and dynamic biological systems), I hope to take the analytical skills I gained within the Maitra and Gupta lab and combine them with my budding computational skills to think about the emerging systems problems that are central to the areas of biology and disease.