Human Science Major Advances Cancer Research

APRIL 1, 2016 – Jennifer LaPier (NHS’16) says that Washington, D.C. is “quite a change of pace” from where she grew up in Connecticut – on the edge of the Meshomasic State Forest where she could play in the orchards and ride horses.

Yet the senior human science major has made a home for herself on the Hilltop, taking part in research and participating in the student-run ambulance service GERMS.

She also served as one of several co-authors on a recent article in Oncotarget looking at strigolactones. (Click here for more information.) The activity grew out of her work on the laboratory team of Ronit Yarden, PhD, assistant professor of human science.

LaPier recently took some time to share more about her experiences.

NHS: Tell us about your research experience at Georgetown

JL: I was encouraged to get involved in research by John Glavin, PhD, a professor of English who leads the Carroll Fellows Initiative. I knew that I wanted to conduct cancer research, and I was particularly interested in breast cancer research, which is one of Professor Yarden’s specialties.  I set up a meeting with her, and she was happy to introduce me to the lab and connect me with the then-seniors who could train me. 

I love the research that we do because we are working to develop a novel cancer therapy.  Our lab concentrates on strigolactone, a plant phytohormone, and its therapeutic potential for treating cancers such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, and osteosarcoma. My work combines strigolactone with an FDA approved chemotherapy drug called Olaparib.  Our preliminary results have shown a synergistic effect between the two drugs, which gives the combination very promising therapeutic potential. 

What stands out most about my experience as an undergraduate research assistant are the skills that I have gained.  With Professor Yarden’s mentorship, I have learned so much about how biomedical research is conducted and how to critically evaluate the research that is presented to you.  I now feel confident planning and executing my various experiments, and I’m looking forward to presenting my work over the past two years in my honors thesis.   

NHS: What else have you enjoyed about your time at Georgetown?

JL: I enjoy the hard sciences, so my favorite aspect of the Human Science Program curriculum is our focus on hard science in the context of medicine.  The curriculum at the same time is very versatile. The “Molecular and Cellular Fundamentals” class, taught by Alexander Theos, PhD, assistant professor of human science, was excellent preparation for my time in lab, while “Pathophysiology” has been very helpful in my EMS work. 

Outside of class, I am a volunteer with GERMS as an acting crew chief and driver. I also organize education initiatives within GERMS as the director of OnGoing Education.  GERMS has definitely been one of the most meaningful experiences of my undergraduate education.  I value the lifesaving skills that I have learned and the friends that I have made in GERMS along the way. 

As a first-generation college student, the transition to Georgetown was not easy, and the Georgetown Scholarship Program (GSP) was always there to support and guide me.  GSP has been a huge factor in making me feel comfortable on campus and connecting me with resources to help me thrive here at Georgetown. 

NHS: What are your future plans?

JL: I plan on applying to medical school next cycle.  In my gap year, I want to work in clinical research to gain experience with a different aspect of biomedical research. I also plan on volunteering back home at my local children’s hospital.  

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