A Summer In Cancer Biology

Jorge Rodriguez, COL ’26, Vineland, NJ

This past summer I was given the opportunity of being an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Donita Brady’s lab, which is a part of the Cancer Biology Department and Abramson Family Research Institute within the Perelman School of Medicine. The Brady Lab focuses on how cellular interactions between copper and other cells may alter the growth and spread of cancer cells. Specifically, the goal is to target Cu-dependent kinase with drug repurposing and development. From previous biology classes and work within the lab, I have learned that kinases are direct responders in relaying information to drive cellular processes. Thus targeting kinases through trials of experiments is important because any abnormal kinase activity can throw off the balance between cell growth and death, which aids in the growth and spread of cancer cells. I often worked with two different cell lines, one being titled CTR 1 cells which are Copper Transporter cells, and the other being the CTR 1 knock-out cell; these prevented copper from entering into the cell. If copper cannot enter the cell the kinases will not be able to activate.

As an undergraduate, I came into the lab with very little lab experience. With the help of the mentor I was paired with, I was able to build the skills I needed to work within a lab setting and keep my cells alive. During the first week, I learned to properly operate lab equipment and began grasping at the concept behind our lab’s work. Soon enough, I began to take my first steps in conducting experiments on my own. After additional weeks under my mentor’s observation and assistance, I would soon come into the lab already knowing what needed to be done and the steps needed in order to complete the task. One experiment that I became familiar with involved amino acid deprivation. This process consisted of treating my cells with a salt-based solution over the course of six hours. This led to one of my biggest takeaways being patience. In order to get experiments done effectively and safely, working cautiously is sometimes best. After the amino acid deprivation step, I would then begin the reverse transcription step, which produces DNA out of RNA. During this experiment, I would work with a chemical known as TRIzol, which is corrosive to the skin and eyes. This would further influence my understanding of approaching experiments with patience.

This experience has taught me multiple skills that are applicable to many fields outside of the lab. From understanding concepts of biology and chemistry that have not yet been taught to me in class, to knowing when a coworker just does not want to be bothered. There are many takeaways a lab can teach someone and I am grateful to be a part of the Brady Lab.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2023 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services