Nick received his B.S. in Biological Sciences from Virginia Tech in May 2013. As an undergraduate, he worked in Dr. David Bevan’s molecular modeling laboratory studying the accumulation of amyloid beta, a protein that plays an important role in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. While at Virginia Tech, Nick also worked with Dr. Rick Jensen on bioinformatics projects and an SRF literature review project focused on identifying single-nucleotide differences in DNA sequences (called SNPs), which are associated with aging.
During his internship last summer in the lab of Dr. Judith Campisi at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, Nick worked with Dr. Albert Davalos researching ways to prevent senescent cells from promoting tumor growth.
“A senescent cell is a damaged cell that has stopped dividing because it was at risk of becoming cancerous. Senescence, therefore, is a naturally occurring form of cancer prevention. Chemotherapy works by targeting cancer cells to undergo cell death, but as a byproduct, induces senescence in non-cancerous cells. Unfortunately, senescence is a double-edged sword because senescent cells also secrete proteins that promote tumor growth in the surrounding tissue. To make matters worse, our research last summer suggests that the presence of normal, non-senescent cells may accelerate these harmful secretions from senescent cells.
Consequently, the goal of my project was to inhibit these harmful secretions while maintaining the beneficial aspects of cellular senescence.
After exploring several possibilities for achieving this, I found a specific class of small molecule activators capable of reducing nearly all secretions by senescent cells. It even worked on senescent cells whose state was induced by chemotherapy. Better still, the small molecule activators also kill cancer cells and are currently in clinical trials as chemotherapeutics.”
Upon completing his summer internship, Nick was funded by SRF to study further methods of reducing the harmful effects of senescent cells at the Buck Institute. One such strategy involves analyzing the behavior of a protein called HMGB1. This work culminated in a manuscript on which Nick is an author. The article, published in the Journal of Cell Biology in May of 2013, described how inhibiting the activity of this protein prevented senescent cells from secreting harmful substances.
Nick continues to work on the SRF literature review project.
In September, Nick will begin graduate school at Stanford University in the Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine program.