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Exploring the Wonders of Science
My research aims to understand the concepts and mechanisms which underlie the complexities of diseases and eventually find their cures. I use advanced techniques and technologies to explore and investigate the scientific hypotheses to bring ground-breaking treatments into the clinic. My research is generously supported by funding from the government and several foundations.
A LITTLE ABOUT ME
I am a translational scientist at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, where I focus on bringing innovative cures to the clinic for patients with advanced and difficult-to-treat cancers. I developed novel therapeutics for deadly brain cancers like adult glioblastoma and pediatric medulloblastoma at the Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). I have been actively working with children diagnosed with brain cancers and their families to spread awareness about this deadly disease by creating short videos on social media and organizing fundraising events. In my graduate work, I identified prognostic biomarkers for clinical trials in advanced lung cancer patients at the Max Planck Society in Cologne, Germany. Alongside serving as an editor and editorial board member in scientific journals, I am also a professional mentor for postdocs and graduate students at MGH and MIT offering high-level guidance for long-term career development and targeted coaching in life science consulting, grant writing, and networking.
I am passionate about serving and transforming society by making science open, inclusive, and accessible to create a welcoming, diverse environment where all can thrive. She was the co-vice chair of the Massachusetts General Hospital Postdoctoral Association (MGPA) in Boston where she advocated to provide a platform for research and career development and communication for postdoctoral fellows. Parallelly, I served on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Subcommittee (DEI) of MGPA promoting the equitable treatment of all members of the postdoctoral community, particularly those underrepresented in science and medicine.
I am interested in studying the natural systems which shape and guide the processes of the natural world. My long-term goal is to identify and characterize the scientific mechanisms specific to my principal areas of research; Scanning Electron Microscopy, Cell Culture, and Gene Sequencing. Read more about these projects below.
PEDIATRIC BRAIN CANCER
Nothing can prepare any parent for such news that his/her kid has cancer. We see worried faces at the Pediatric Cancer Center here at MGH all the time. Although surgical resection accompanied by chemotherapy and radiation give these little kids a new lease on life, survivors often suffer gravely from substantial cognitive and neurological dysfunction. This can include severe hearing loss, blindness, speech defect, growth hormone deficiency and delayed puberty; in short – severely compromised quality of life. Sometimes those tumors recur even more aggressively. This unmet need motivates me to find better cures for medulloblastoma that promotes durable response without therapy-associated side effects.
ENGINEERING OUR OWN IMMUNE SYSTEM TO FIGHT CANCER
Building upon work done by a former lab colleague, I have developed a powerful tool for use in the identification and characterization of the processes in my model system. A major advantage of this development is its improved sensitivity, which allows it to detect subtle dynamic property changes in response to my experimental setup.
BLOOD VESSELS IN CANCER - FRIEND OR FOE?
Tumor cells often remain in a dormant state before dividing in an uncontrolled manner. During this dormant period, approximately as many cells die off as regenerate. Change in the tumor cell genetics leads to messenger compounds being secreted that stimulate proliferation of blood vessels. Only then the tumor can begin to expand. Without this transition from dormant to an active state, the growth of cancer cells would be limited to a dimension harmless for the body.
During my Ph.D. at the Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research in Cologne, Germany, I identified a new positive feedback loop involving the Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) and its receptor ‘VEGFR-2’ in human lung adenocarcinoma. When VEGF binds to VEGFR-2 on cancer cells, secretion of the growth factor itself is boosted consequently accelerating tumor growth. In preclinical models of lung cancer, I switched off the growth-factor and proteins responsible for this signaling thereby slowing down tumor growth. The tumors were even reduced in size by employing other inhibitors in combination. I thus proved the existence of VEGF Receptor-2 on tumor cells and described a new signaling pathway in lung cancer cells that triggers the sprouting of new blood vessels. In addition, we also learned from examinations of lung cancer patients that therapy with these inhibitors only makes sense if the cancer cells express large numbers of VEGFR2. These results can contribute to developing new cancer therapies.
owever, not all types of cancer are suited to this kind of treatment. These inhibitors can only be effective if the cancer cells also express the receptors for VEGF (VEGFR-2) on their membranes in moderate to high numbers. According to our results, about every fifth lung cancer patient has VEGFR-2 on the tumor cells and could therefore be treated in this way.
LACK OF ANGIOGENESIS BIOMARKER: THE UNMET NEED IN LUNG CANCER THERAPY
I identified a novel biomarker in lung cancer that would allow for selecting patients for an
angiogenesis-targeted therapy, increasing the therapeutic benefit for those patients.
New drugs targeting angiogenesis for the treatment of lung cancer
are very expensive; their use is neither limited by patient selection nor by a predefined number of
administered cycles, like chemotherapy. This leads to exploding costs of cancer treatment, and not only in lung
cancer. The biomarker I identified provides an enormous potential financial advantage of cutting costs of
drug discovery, clinical trial, and approval.
RESEARCH PROVIDES INSIGHTS ON COLORECTAL CANCERS’ IMMUNOTHERAPY RESISTANCE
Immune checkpoint inhibitors, which unleash the immune response against tumor cells, have revolutionized cancer treatment; however, the medications aren't effective in a large number of patients, including those with colorectal cancer. New research published in PNAS that was led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the University of Geneva (UNIGE) provides insights on why some types of colorectal cancer don't respond to immune checkpoint inhibitors and offers a strategy to overcome their resistance.