A Reflection Most Cathartic

Hey readers! Well, after 8 short weeks of gratifying summer research, the time has come for me to graduate from the BSURF program. Yesterday I presented the poster I created detailing the research I performed this summer. It felt satisfying to show so many people the work I am so proud of completing. A lot of the people I talked to had little to no experience in cancer research, so it was good practice explaining my project from the most basic level. I also got into some really good conversations with other cancer researchers, and there was one particular PI that I talked to for a while who focused his research on one of the genes I identified as being upregulated in metastasis. It was a lot of fun walking around the poster session and seeing what other students had spent their time researching.

The poster session marked my last day of BSURF, so I think it’s fitting that for my last blog post I will reflect on the summer as a whole. First of all, I am so grateful to Jake (my primary mentor), Ben (another hugely helpful graduate student in the lab), Dr. Pendergast (my PI), Dr. Grunwald (program leader of BSURF), Anna (another program leader of BSURF), and everyone else who helped support my research this summer. That includes the funding provided by the Biological Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program as well as the NIH. So much planning went into creating this opportunity to grow as a researcher this summer, and I am extremely appreciative of it all.

As far as my research in the lab, I think I identified both a lot of answers and a lot of questions. My screen of potentially upregulated genes in metastasis revealed 8 ABL kinase-linked genes that are significantly upregulated in the brain metastatic line. I also determined that 5 of these genes were driven by the transcription factor TAZ, a known downstream target of ABL. Many of these genes were kinases or receptors whose upregulation I believe fit the phenotype of a brain metastasis. However, there are still questions to be answered, such as what is/are the transcription factors responsible for the upregulation of the other 3 genes, and what about these genes promoted metastasis? For my assessment of ABL in the EML4-ALK fusion cell line, I showed that although ABL is a functional part of the signal transduction pathway, knocking out ABL has no impact on cell viability. Although this means EML4-ALK isn’t a great model in which to study ABL, this was really useful information for the lab who had not explored this cancer type previously.

It’s also amazing to see how much I grew as a researcher this summer. I began this research experience with the main goal of becoming more independent in the lab. Through a fairly independent research project, a mentor that trusted me to work on my own, and personal perseverance, I was able to improve in my independence. I also learned multiple new techniques, most notably RT-qPCR which was a large part of my project. I also honed my Western Blot skills to the point where Ben trusted me to perform some of his blots for him (they came out very well). Furthermore, since I had never given a poster presentation before, I learned a lot about scientific communication, a skill repeatedly emphasized by Dr. Grunwald. Synthesizing my research into a single poster, and then a single abstract was difficult at first, but after practice much easier. I grew a lot as a scientist this summer, and although there is a long way to go before I’m ready for my future career as a cancer researcher, I am extremely proud of what I accomplished and what I learned this summer.

This is the end of my summer blog series! I hope you enjoyed following along as much as I enjoyed writing. Although it won’t beunder the BSURF title any more, I’m sure I’ll be writing things in the future, hopefully with the journal title “Nature” or “Cell” in there somewhere. See ya then!

-Brennan

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