Meet the LCRC Summer Fellows
Front: Abigail Bendixsen, Tayla Hunter, Annabelle Bolitho, Camilo Fernandez Bellorin
Back: Derek George, Jean-Jacques Hunter, Richard Dong, Abigail Huddleston
Not pictured: Adam Aldahir
The Louisiana Cancer Research Center (LCRC) welcomed its inaugural summer Fellows at the start of the summer. The talented group of college students and recent graduates will spend eight weeks working alongside researchers in the lab from LSU Health New Orleans, (LSU Health), Tulane School of Medicine (Tulane), and Xavier University of Louisiana (Xavier), as part of the LCRC Undergraduate Summer Cancer Research Experience.
Derek George, a senior from Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, was accepted by other programs and chose the LCRC to learn more about cancer research in Tanzania. Derek previously studied in eastern Africa and saw a connection at the LCRC. “I wanted to be in Dr. Charles Wood's lab because he is doing a lot of work with patients in Tanzania.” Dr. Wood is professor of interdisciplinary oncology and associate director of basic science at Stanley S Scott Cancer Center at LSU Health. He runs the Zambia and Tanzania AIDS Malignancies Training and Research Programs and is director of the LCRC Summer Fellows Program.
Richard Dong, a junior at Tulane, is getting an introduction to Drosophila models in the lab of Wu-Min Deng, PhD, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Tulane. “I have gotten the opportunity to work with fruit flies, and I have been able to use them in a variety of ways for my research. Since they have short lifespans, it is easy to begin setting up and performing experiments within a couple of weeks,” he says. “Being able to conduct my own experiments and taking the time to understand different projects has given me a chance to apply some of the concepts that I have been taught in my science classes in college.”
Adam Aldahir, a track and field athlete at Tulane, is also working in Dr. Deng’s lab, researching the effects that tumors have on the oenocyte (liver-like organ) of the fly. “I am looking at cancer cachexia and its effects on cellular autophagy and lipid mobilization/metabolism within the fly and the liver,” Adam said. He is just back from Bangkok where he presented research conducted prior to his LCRC fellowship, on vaccine uptake in conflict areas, specifically looking at the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on childhood vaccination rates in the Anbar province of Iraq.
Abigail Bendixsen is a Brigham Young senior studying the role of human endogenous retroviruses (HERVs) in Glioblastoma under the guidance of Dr. Monika Rak of LSU Health. “Something interesting that I have observed in my time here is how labs and researchers do things differently,” Abby says. “Researchers working at neighboring benches have different preferences on how to approach certain experiments. To me, this seems like a testament to how much genuine passion each researcher has for their work.”
Tayla Hunter, a New Orleanian and recent graduate of Howard University, wants to use her talents to give a voice to the underrepresented in areas such as Louisiana’s Cancer Alley. Her LCRC research project focuses on health disparities and is overseen by Dr. Fern Tsien, assistant dean of medical school research at LSU Health. “We are looking at pediatric oncology patients’ ADI Score (Area Deprivation Index) in comparison to their survival rate. The hypothesis is that if an individual has a significantly high ADI score (more deprivation), then their chances of survival significantly decreases,” Tayla explains. A 2022 Goldwater Scholar, she plans on completing an Intramural Research Training Award Postbaccalaureate Program at the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging before applying to medical school.
Abigail Huddleston, a Tulane sophomore, recently lost her grandmother to cancer, adding to her lifelong passion to pursue cancer research. Abigail is amazed at what she has learned during her Fellowship. She is working in the lab of Dr. Matthew Burow, assistant professor of hematology and medical oncology at Tulane. “I have had the opportunity to work with human tissue adipose and breast tissue, human derived cell lines, and patient derived xerographs,” she says. “I have learned a variety of different laboratory methods such as PCR, Western Blots, and Cell Culture, and I am so excited to learn more as these weeks go on.”
Camilo Fernandez Bellorin, a junior from LSU, is investigating the effects of a small molecule drug in combination with an antibody, targeting a specific biological pathway. This research, in the lab of Dr. Bolin Liu, a professor of interdisciplinary oncology at LSU Health, aims to evaluate the potential synergy between these two targeted interventions and their impact on inhibiting the growth and progression of triple negative breast cancer cells. Camilo is from Venezuela and an avid guitar player. He draws comparisons between his role in the lab and in a band where members of both propose their own ideas while collaborating toward a common goal.
Annabelle Bolitho, a Tulane sophomore, never realized it until she started her Fellowship, but her baking hobby may come in handy. “I love to bake and although I thought nothing of it, I had briefly mentioned it to my mentor who told me people who cook and bake are more likely to do research due to the precision and similar techniques it involves!” She is working in the lab of Dr. Hongbing Liu, an assistant professor of pediatric nephrology at Tulane, studying how certain proteins and transcription factors cause the development/progression of Wilms Tumor (nephroblastoma)
Jean-Jacques Hunter, a Tulane junior, is testing the viability of several compounds in-vitro in the lab of Dr. Krzysztoff Reiss, a professor of hematology/oncology at LSU Health New Orleans. The hope is that the compounds will be potent yet safe enough to kill glioblastoma in-vivo. “I have acquired several skills since joining Dr. Reiss' lab such as mammalian cell culture, drug testing, statistical data analysis, and concepts regarding medicinal chemistry.” Jean-Jacques, a Tulane defensive back, aspires to be a physician scientist and his LCRC Fellowship “grants me the opportunity to think creatively, tackle challenges, and put into practice the knowledge I've acquired over the last several years.”
Each Fellow will design and implement a research project that they will present at the conclusion of the program in July.