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Women Scientist Appreciation Month

By Neuro-Oncology Branch Staff

March 1, 2020

In celebration of International Women and Girls in Science day on February 3, we are celebrating female scientists and physicians at the Neuro-Oncology Branch training the next generation females involved in ground-breaking research for brain tumor patients.

Dr. Jing Wu and Madison Butler

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Dr. Jing Wu and Madison Bulter
Dr. Jing Wu and Madison Butler

Dr. Jing Wu and her post-baccalaureate fellow Madison Butler have worked together for 2 years studying IDH-mutated gliomas. Dr. Wu’s laboratory also focuses on a multi-kinase inhibitor TG02, or recently named Zotiraciclib, which has recently been grated orphan drug status by the Food and Drug Administration for its positive impact on high-grade glioma patients.

As part of Dr. Wu’s laboratory, Madison was involved in a pre-clinical study investigating whether a combination of two drugs, targeting DNA and inhibiting damage response pathways, effectively kills glioblastoma cells. She utilized patient-derived glioblastoma cell lines to understand how these drugs work together and determine the potential survival benefit for patients in the future.

“My experience at NCI has been wonderful and helped me gain confidence in my research, scientific and critical-thinking abilities” says Madison. She also emphasized that Dr. Wu was an ideal mentor to expose her to clinical projects by “providing many opportunities for professional growth and investment in my career goals while also valuing my ideas and contributions to her research team”.

Dr. Wu shares in Madison’s enthusiasm of working together, stating that “it has been very rewarding to see Madison making progress over the last two years and knowing that I have participated in her career development”. Since Madison is pursuing a career in medicine and research, she says working with Dr. Wu has been and “instrumental opportunity to gain significant research training and knowledge in neuro-oncology, in addition to learning from many different people at NCI, including having Dr. Wu as an inspiring female role model”.

Dr. Terri Armstrong, Dr. Dorela Shuboni-Mulligan and Dr. Amanda King

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Dr. Amanda King, Dr. Terri Armstrong, and Dr. Dorela Shuboni-Mulligan
Dr. Amanda King, Dr. Terri Armstrong, and Dr. Dorela Shuboni-Mulligan

Dr. Terri Armstrong has mentored several female scientists in the past through her robust laboratory and clinical endeavors focused on improving outcomes for brain tumor patients. Through her NCI-CONNECT program and Natural History Study, her research seeks to understand the trajectory of brain and spine tumors, their symptom burden and quality of life through treatment and afterwards.

Her two postdoctoral fellows, Dr. Dorela Shuboni-Mulligan and Dr. Amanda King are focused on similar aspects of the research program. Dr. Shuboni-Mulligan arrived at the Neuro-Oncology branch with a background studying circadian rhythms and is focused on developing preclinical models to explaining changes in sleep cycles after a patient undergoes radiation therapy. Dr. King, on the other hand, brought her experience in stress research to the branch and is exploring how virtual reality can help ‘scanxiety’ or the anxiety related to undergoing cancer imaging can impact a brain tumor patient or their loved ones.

Dr. Shuboni-Mulligan has only high praise for Dr. Armstrong, stating that she is “truly an inspiration for young female scientists like me because she has been able to create a groundbreaking program of research in a male dominated field that does not compromise her passion for the patients she cares for in clinic”. Dr. King shares a similar, very positive sentiment about working with “such an inspiring and successful female mentor”. Since she and Dr. Armstrong both hail from nursing backgrounds, Dr. King says it has been easy to be on the same page with approaching research problems and has helped her successfully design a clinical trial.

Dr. Armstrong is also committed to the success of not only her two postdoctoral fellows, but all scientists that are mentored with her. “One of my favorite parts of working with trainees is providing opportunities for them to have access to resources, experiences, and leadership opportunities that help them on their own professional growth and trajectory” she says. Even as a woman and nurse-scientist, Dr. Armstrong says that supportive leadership and other women providing opportunities to each other has been crucial.

As some words of advice to (aspiring) female scientists, researchers or physicians, Dr. Armstrong offers some words of support:

“I learn from each trainee that I have had the opportunity to mentor.  My biggest piece of advice would be to try something outside of your comfort zone to grow and learn. Work hard and deliver – as opportunities are given to those who are productive, and trust in your ideas and passions – integrity and vision are key to success!”