Off She Goes into the Wild Blue Yonder: A Research Success Story

Haven Frazier, an honors biology major from Chandler, Arizona, has finished her thesis project researching tumor recurrence in relation to immune systems and will graduate summa cum laude – congrats Haven! She will attend medical school at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences and will join the Air Force, where she plans to serve as an Air Force physician. Haven’s research could lead to methods to combat the recurrence of tumors that suppress the immune system.

I performed research at the Laboratory for Vaccine and Immunotherapy Delivery (LVID) under the guidance of my research mentor Dr. David Zaharoff and Ph.D. candidate Sruthi Ravindranathan. The goal of LVID, also known as Zaharoff Laboratory, is to develop effective vaccines and immunotherapies for different types of cancer using different delivery methods.

LVID focuses primarily on immunotherapies for cancer, but also performs research on drug addictions and some infectious diseases.

The main goal of my project was to determine how and why different lines of breast cancer suppress the immune system more than others. If this can be understood, then drugs that combat the recurrence of tumors that suppress the immune system can hopefully be developed. I worked with five sister cell lines of breast cancer, meaning they were isolated from the same strain of mouse. These five cell lines differ in their abilities to metastasize, or spread to the rest of the body. Two of the lines are aggressive and metastatic, while the other three are unable to metastasize and are significantly less aggressive.

Under the guidance of Sruthi Ravindranathan, who is working on her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, I measured the release of cytokines, or chemical messengers, from each cell line. We focused on seven different cytokines that are known to suppress the immune system so we could better understand how and why each cell line behaves the way it does. Because of the data Sruthi and I obtained early on, we were also able to study how these cytokines affected the levels of myeloid derived suppressor cells, or MDSCs, in murine spleens. Sruthi and Dr. Zaharoff taught me the techniques and procedures for culturing cells, performing chemical assays, and using flow cytometry to analyze the levels of cytokines until I was comfortable going through each process on my own.

During the past year and a half at the Laboratory for Vaccine and Immunotherapy Delivery, I have learned much about tumor cells, the immune system, and the basics of conducting research, and I was able to obtain more data than I originally expected I would. I unfortunately did not get to travel and present my research at a conference, but my data supported Sruthi’s conclusions and parts of it will be published in her dissertation. The cell lines I studied had not been characterized before, and learning about their cytokine expression and their affects on the spleen, an important organ in the immune system, will help LVID understand the differences in their immunogenicity. I will hopefully be beginning medical next fall, but I would like to take advantage of any research opportunities for medical students that my future school may provide.

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