Biology major studies prostate cancer as Wake Forest intern

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Jessica Dean prepped for cancer research in the Cancer Biology Department at Wake Forest University
Jessica Dean prepped for cancer research in the Cancer Biology Department at Wake Forest University

Biology major Jessica Dean invested two months of her summer break in studying cellular aspects of prostate cancer at Wake Forest University.  Jessica presented her findings before the Wake Forest Baptist Health's Comprehensive Cancer Center, and she was one of only a handful of UNC Pembroke students who gave oral presentations during the 2019 RISE End-of-Summer Research Symposium. Read what Jessica has to say about her summer internship (funded by the National Cancer Institute) and about her current research activities at UNCP:

“Over the summer I participated in the Program to Promote Diversity in STEM at Wake Forest University's Cancer Biology Department. It was a really great opportunity to explore my interests in cancer research. I worked as a research intern in Dr. Bethany Kerr's lab, where we studied the mechanism of prostate cancer metastasis to bone and CD117-SCF (Stem Cell Factor) binding. CD117 is a cluster of differentiation (a type III receptor tyrosine kinase) found on a subclass of stem-like prostate cancer cells. The lab was interested in multiple aspects of CD117-SCF signal transduction, but the focus of my summer research project was on CD117+ cell affinity for SCF. Using an IncuCyte Live Cell Imager and a 96-Well Chemotaxis Plate, I was able to track the rates of CD117+ cell migration to varying concentrations of the ligand, SCF, and found which ligand concentration induced the most CD117+ cell migration.

“My experience in Dr. Kerr's lab was one that solidified my commitment to going to graduate school. Every member of the lab happily taught me valuable lessons and aided in my development of specific laboratory skills. I became proficient in cell culture, immunohistochemistry, protein BCA assays and Magnetic Activated Cell Sorting. One skill that I particularly enjoyed developing was the sectioning of paraffin embedded tissues. I became very good at it; producing over 100 slides of sections for the lab during my time with them.

“During my time as a RISE Fellow at UNCP, I have gained a lot of experiences in the lab. In 2018, I conducted research with Dr. Conner Sandefur in assessing the biodiversity of the Lumber River, and have been doing research in yeast genetics with Dr. Maria Santisteban since January 2019. Under the mentorship of Dr. Santisteban, I have been studying histone modifications and nucleosome remodeling complexes active in transcription initiation and elongation. Our investigation is focused on two Saccharomyces cerevisiae double mutants, to test the hypothesis that HTZ1 and the chromatin remodeling complex, SWR1-C, operate in the same pathway, or if there are any unknown applications for SWR1-C.

“I am currently applying to many immunology and biomedical umbrella PhD programs for 2020. My goal is to earn a PhD in Immunology, and go on to do a postdoc program to continue research into cancer immunotherapies.”

Originally from Massachusetts (and a Navy brat), Jessica lived in Hawaii and Georgia before moving to North Carolina.  She has memberships in Tau Sigma National Honor Society, Alpha Chi National Honor Society, UNCP Biology Club, and the American Society for Microbiology member.  She is on schedule to graduate in May of 2020.