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I am a fourth year Cancer Biology PhD student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor conducting my dissertation work in the laboratory of Dr. Jacques E. Nor. My work focuses on studying the role of p53 in regulating stemness properties of mucoepidermoid carcinoma cells. Prior to this, I did a two-year post-baccalaureate program at The Mayo Clinic where I worked in the laboratory of Dr. Karen Hedin. My work consisted of studying the role of SDF-1 in inducing apoptosis in Acute Myeloid leukemia, specifically on the molecular structure of the CXCR4 receptor and the downstream signaling leading to apoptosis.
I received a B.S. in Industrial Biotechnology from the University of Puerto Rico - Mayaguez. My major consisted of core courses in biology, chemistry, and chemical engineering. Although a challenging major, I loved that it taught me to think with the perspectives of both a scientist and an engineer when solving problems. As an undergrad, I started conducting research very early on in a material sciences lab and then went on to nanoparticle synthesis in the laboratories of Dr. Marcelo Suarez and Dr. Oscar Perales. With my efforts, I received several merit scholarships and presented my work in many local, regional, and national conferences. Thanks to my engineering training, I did an internship at Eli Lilly and Company as a process engineer. Although I had a successful undergraduate career in engineering-based fields, I decided to pursue a PhD in cancer biology with the hopes of integrating basic cancer research and engineering.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, it is my desire to be able to give back to my community as a female-scientist in the biomedical sciences field and as an ambassador of higher education in underrepresented communities. It is to this extent that I have been involved in teaching and mentoring students throughout different levels of training. I hope that my journey can inspire other Puerto Rican and Hispanic students and that I can serve as a role-model in every step of my academic and professional career.
Mucoepidermoid carcinoma (MEC) is the most common malignant salivary gland cancer, yet very little is known about its pathobiology. As a result, no mechanism-based therapies have been developed for the treatment of MEC. Little to no response has been observed with the use of conventional chemotherapies. Consequently, standard of care is limited to surgery and/or radiation therapy, resulting in high patient morbidity. Work done by our group showed that cancer stem cells (CSCs), identified by ALDHhighCD44high cells, are drivers of MEC tumorigenesis. MI-773 is an inhibitor of the MDM2/p53 protein-protein interaction that result in p53 accumulation and activation of p53-mediated signaling. Our group found that treatment of MEC cell lines (UM-HMC-1, UM-HMC-3A, UM-HMC-3B) with sub-lethal doses of MI-773 significantly decreases the CSC population in vitro and in xenograph tumors. We hypothesize the p53 pathway regulates MEC stem maintenance. To address this hypothesis, we have been looking at the effects of p53 on stem cell self-renewal, apoptosis, cell cycle, symmetric and asymmetric division, and cell-fate.
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