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Environmental Factor, May 2012

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NIEHS scientist wins top rating at cancer conference

By Heather King

Harriet Kinyamu, Ph.D., and Jun Yang

Kinyamu, left, and Yang held their prize ribbon in front of their winning poster. (Photo courtesy of Heather King)

NIEHS Staff Scientist Harriet Kinyamu, Ph.D., won a poster prize at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting March 31-April 4 in Chicago. Kinyamu, who works in the Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis (LMC), presented a poster describing her research on the RNA-binding protein LIN28.

The poster was designated top ranked by the AACR with a special listing in the itinerary planner and a ribbon to signify its status during the poster session. Kinyamu said she was elated to be recognized for her work, and was quick to thank her supervisor, LMC head Trevor Archer, Ph. D., and NIEHS biologist Jun Yang for their contributions.

The AACR seeks to prevent and cure cancer through research and education, and its mission is well aligned to the goals of the LMC, which seeks to improve cancer prevention and therapy by investigating biological events that lead to cancer. Archer served as a chairperson and organizer for the AACR meeting, heading The Ruth Sager Memorial Symposium on Cancer Genetics and Epigenetics.

Archer also presented work by Kevin Trotter and Ajeet Singh, Ph.D., that demonstrates the role of chromatin remodeling proteins in transcription and development. Several other LMC members attended the AACR meeting along with Archer and Kinyamu, including head of the Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology Group Jack Taylor, M.D., Ph.D., and postdoctoral fellows Kimberly Wiggins, Ph.D., Ashley Godfrey, Ph.D., and Jill Hesse, Ph.D. (see text box)

Targeting protein misregulation

When asked about the relationship between her work with LIN28 and cancer, Kinyamu explained, “There is some belief that important molecules in development are misregulated in cancer. The LIN28 protein is a classic example of this.”

Kinyamu’s research has identified interactions between LIN28 and specific RNA transcripts that allow LIN28 to regulate gene expression during development and also allow it to play a role in tumorogenesis. Her poster also described experiments that show MG132, a compound similar to the chemotherapeutic Velcade, inhibits LIN28 activity.

A supportive research environment is something Kinyamu feels has been essential to her work, and to work conducted throughout LMC, where scientists are constantly working to better define biological mechanisms that are important during carcinogenesis. In the LMC, intrepid science is not only encouraged, but also supported with mentorship and resources. Kinyamu noted, in particular, the ability to use new technology to answer scientific questions as instrumental in her own work.

New sequencing technologies have given researchers, such as Kinyamu, the ability to analyze global changes in gene expression and protein promoter interactions. Access to such technology comes with working in a program poised on the cutting edge of scientific discovery and of new experimental methods. Kinyamu’s AACR poster award reflects a winning combination of experimental freedom, supportive mentorship, and talented team members — what she considers hallmarks of the NIEHS Intramural research program.

(Heather King, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Structural Biology Protein Expression Core.)

Presentations by NIEHS researchers at the AACR meeting

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