Summer Interns Work Side-by-Side with Leading Neuro-Oncologists

The Neuro-Oncology Branch welcomed six summer interns during the summer of 2021, who observed and engaged with clinical and laboratory professionals leading clinical, translational, and basic research.

By Neuro-Oncology Branch Staff

August 26, 2021


Woman sitting by a window writing notes in a binder and typing on a computer

Each summer, the NCI Center for Cancer Research's 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 an environment devoted exclusively to biomedical research.

Part of the NOB 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 in the summer 2021 cohort, who were able to engage with clinical and laboratory professionals who lead clinical, translational, and basic research.

Translational Immunology Research Program

Under the leadership of Dr. Gilbert, Tuesday Haynes is a summer intern in the Translational Immunology Research 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,” Tuesday says.

Patient Outcomes Research Program

McKenzie Kauss and Allie YuXin Lin are summer interns in the Patient Outcomes Research Program under the mentorship of Dr. Armstrong and Staff Clinician Heather Leeper, M.D. 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 become a researcher.

Combining their interests in psychology and neuroscience, McKenzie and Allie worked together to look at the impact of survivorship care on 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,” Allie says.

Both McKenzie and Allie are excited to be part of the Patient Outcomes Research Program. “While most research focuses on treating the disease, there is also a need to address the burdens experience by survivors and their families,” McKenzie says.

Cancer Stem Cell Biology Research Program

LaYow Yu is a summer intern in the Cancer Stem Cell Biology Research 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 summer 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 Dr. Zhuang's 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,” she says.

Molecular and Cell Biology Research Program

The Molecular and Cell Biology Research 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, identifying transcriptomic signatures from the mutation. This work is important because gliomas commonly have this mutation, and targeting pathways involved in the mutation may help to improve brain tumor treatments.

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,” Kaitlynn says.

Basic Immunology Research Program

Under the leadership of Investigator Masaki Terabe, Ph.D., Laura De Ravin is a summer intern in the Basic Immunology Research 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 glioblastomas. Her project used whole exome mutational analysis of mouse glioma cell lines to develop a cancer vaccine. In the future, the researchers 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,” Laura says. She is hopeful that the work being done in Dr. Terabe’s lab will improve treatments and have a significant effect on the lives of those with glioblastoma. “Successful therapies could provide hope and drastically improve the quality of life for patients,” she says.

Look toward the Future

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,” Dr. Armstrong says.

“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 at both the Summer Intern Poster Presentation event and our NOB Research Meeting,” Dr. Gilbert says. “With amazing students like these interns, the future looks bright for medicine and biomedical research.”

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