By Neuro-Oncology Branch Staff
August 26, 2021
Each summer, NCI’s Center for Cancer Research, Neuro-Oncology Branch (NOB) welcomes students participating in the NIH Summer Internship Program in Biomedical Research. Summer interns are provided an opportunity to spend a summer working side-by-side with leading scientists in the world, in an environment devoted exclusively to biomedical research.
Part of the Neuro-Oncology Branch internship experience includes immersing interns in the translational research that is conducted within the branch. Trainees working in the NOB participate in projects aimed to improve research, care, treatment, and outcomes for people living with brain and spine tumors. They also participate in the NOB-TRIP (Translational Research Immersion Program), which consists of weekly meetings with Mark Gilbert, M.D., and Terri Armstrong, Ph.D., chief and deputy chief of the NOB, and monthly meetings with all branch trainees. This unique program includes lectures on mentorship, career planning, and ways to reduce stress and burnout. The NOB welcomed six summer interns for the summer 2021 cohort who were able to observe and engage with clinical and laboratory professionals that lead clinical, translational, and basic research.
Translational Immunology Program
Under the leadership of Dr. Gilbert, Tuesday Haynes is a summer intern in the Translational Immunology Program. Tuesday studies biology at the University of Texas at Austin and hopes to attend medical school in the future.
Previous research has shown that primary brain tumors occur more frequently in non-Hispanic whites than those of African ancestry. Tuesday’s research focused on why those racial differences might occur. She reviewed published research to see if genetic changes could be protective against brain tumors for people of African ancestry. She focused her review to see if genetic differences in the interleukin-4 and interleukin-4 receptor gene may contribute to the differences in primary brain tumor rates among those of African and European ancestry.
Tuesday is grateful for the opportunity to learn about medical research and neuro-oncology. “I am excited to continue learning about how genetics may influence the incidence of glioma. I hope this research can lead to future studies to improve outcomes for primary brain tumors,” shares Tuesday.
Patient Outcomes Program
McKenzie Kauss and Allie YuXin Lin are summer interns in the Patient Outcomes Program under the mentorship of Dr. Armstrong and Heather Leeper, M.D., Outcomes Section Staff Clinician. McKenzie studies neuroscience at the University of Michigan and hopes to attend medical school in the future to become a neuro-oncologist. Allie studies psychology at Columbia University and hopes to attend graduate school in the future to earn a Ph.D. to become a researcher.
Combining their interest in psychology and neuroscience, McKenzie and Allie worked together to look at the impact of survivorship care for people living with cancer. Survivorship care focuses on the health and well-being of a person with cancer from the time of diagnosis until the end of life. McKenzie reviewed literature on survivorship care in breast cancer, and Allie reviewed literature in lung and gastrointestinal cancers. “Currently, there is little research about survivorship care in neuro-oncology, so we hope to use this review to determine how best to improve the lives of people with brain and spine tumors,” shares Allie.
Both McKenzie and Allison are excited to be part of the Patient Outcomes team. “While most research focuses on treating the disease, there is also a need to address the burdens experience by survivors and their families,” shares McKenzie.
Cancer Stem Cell Biology Program
LaYow Yu is a summer intern in the Cancer Stem Cell Biology Program under the leadership of Senior Investigator Zhengping Zhuang, M.D., Ph.D. LaYow is a student at Washington University in St. Louis studying biochemistry and French. She hopes to attend medical school to become a physician-scientist in oncology.
Her project focused on using antibody therapy to activate T cells in glioblastoma. T cells are part of the immune system and may help fight cancer. LaYow’s project investigated the impact of an anti-Carbonic Anhydrase IX/CD3 bispecific antibody in targeting glioblastoma cells and activating T cells. In the future, Dr. Zhuang’s lab hopes to see if this antibody therapy could convert immunogenic “cold” glioblastomas to be more responsive to immunotherapy.
LaYow is inspired by the brilliant and supportive people in the Zhuang lab and at the NOB. “Learning from every conversation, receiving fantastic advice, and being able to feel like you have people to aspire to has been the most exciting part of this internship,” shares LaYow.
Molecular and Cell Biology Program
The Molecular and Cell Biology Program welcomed Kaitlynn Slattery under the mentorship of Investigator Chunzhang Yang, Ph.D. Kaitlynn studies biology at George Washington University. She hopes to attend medical school to become either a neuro-oncologist or gynecologic oncologist.
As an intern, she worked with members of Dr. Yang’s lab to better understand the isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) mutation, specifically identifying transcriptomic signatures from the IDH mutation. This work is important as gliomas commonly have this mutation, and targeting pathways involved in the IDH mutation may help to improve treatments for IDH-mutated brain tumors.
This internship allowed Kaitlynn to be immersed in cutting-edge research and to witness the rapidly developing field of neuro-oncology. “There is a real promise for developing new therapies that could help many people living with IDH-mutated gliomas, so it is an honor to be part of that,” shares Kaitlynn.
Basic Immunology Program
Under the leadership of Investigator Masaki Terabe, Ph.D., Laura De Ravin is a summer intern in the Basic Immunology Program. Laura received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Maryland, College Park where she studied psychology and neurobiology. She hopes to attend medical school in the future and is interested in pediatric neuro-oncology or pediatric oncology.
Laura’s project investigated potential immunotherapies to treat glioblastoma. Her project used whole exome mutational analysis of mouse glioma cell lines to develop a cancer vaccine. In the future, they hope to test the vaccine’s effectiveness and use it in combination with other immunotherapies.
“Dr. Terabe, my lab mentor, lab members, and others at the branch have all provided exceptional guidance and feedback and have given me the opportunity to challenge myself in a really encouraging environment,” shares Laura. She is hopeful that the work being done in Dr. Terabe’s lab will improve treatments that can have a significant impact on the lives of those with glioblastoma. “Successful therapies could provide much hope and drastically improve the quality of life for patients,” says Laura.
Upcoming opportunities are available for high school, college, graduate school, and professional school students for the 2022 Summer Internship Program.
“We are committed to providing trainee opportunities and exposure to research in neuro-oncology and are inspired each year by the creativity and work that the summer interns do,” says Dr. Armstrong.
“Although this was a challenging year in the midst of the pandemic, I am very proud of all of the NOB summer interns for their terrific effort, accomplishments and wonderful presentations of their work at both the Summer Intern Poster Presentation event and our NOB Research meeting,” shares Dr. Gilbert. “With amazing students like these interns, the future looks bright for medicine and biomedical research.”