My doctoral research at UAB focused on the unusual mechanism of protein synthesis by internal ribosome entry sites, or IRESs. IRESs are RNA sequences in the noncoding region of messenger RNAs that regulate the translation of downstream coding sequence. They are required for the synthesis of viral proteins in some RNA viruses and for the translation of important cellular messages involved in growth, development, and apoptosis; and when de-regulated, can be involved in the progression of cancer. Thus, IRESs have a pivotal regulatory role in both viral infection and tumorigenesis. My studies ranged from examining the natural diversity of a family of model viral IRESs, to studying a highly conserved ribosomal protein (Rps25) that is required for both viral and cellular IRESs to function. My work lead us to pursue Rps25 as a potential anti-viral and anti-cancer agent.
My research as a post-doc had been to define the underlying mechanism behind the genetic interaction between the DNA replication protein, Cdt1, and DNA topoisomerase 1 (Top1) the cellular target of the chemotherapeutic drug, camptothecin (CPT). There are two FDA approved derivatives of CPT used clinically however patient response is variable. My goal was to look for novel protein targets to serve as candidates for drug combination therapies in order to increase the success rate of CPT. My training expanded my scientific expertise to include classic S. cerevisiae yeast genetics and biochemistry.
I have had a broad mentoring experience in graduate school and as a post-doc. I have mentored two rotating graduate students and four undergraduate students from freshmen to seniors. One of my undergraduate mentees pursued graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania studying molecular biology, and another went to medical school. I derive great personal satisfaction from showing students the wonders of molecular biology and then watching them develop into independent researchers. This has been very rewarding, and bolstered my desire to pursue teaching and mentoring of young scientists.
Me with my undergraduate mentee, Andrew. He was enrolled in the Summer Enrichment Program at the UAB Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center (MHRC) which allowed him to do research with me for two summers. He won awards for his poster at the end of both summers.
My future goals as an independent researcher would be to continue studying molecular biology and genetics in the S. cerevisiae model organism. Yeast is inexpensive to work with and forgiving making it an ideal organism for undergraduate research. My research can be performed with relatively simple, routine molecular biology techniques. Therefore, when undergraduates start a project in my lab, they will have the opportunity to become proficient in several techniques and have a high probability of achieving results in a timely manner. Therefore, students can examine cutting-edge biological questions using standard experimental techniques that require minimal infrastructure to accomplish.
This work can also be easily adapted to a classroom laboratory setting. Large screens, while daunting for a single individual, can be used as a teaching tool for upper-level lab courses. For example, a screen could be conducted to answer the following question, “Which protein when over-expressed, suppresses the phenotype of condition X.” In a class of 25 students, each person could examine the effects of over-expressing different proteins. Promising preliminary data in the teaching lab will influence the direction of research in my lab.