NMSU students work alongside renowned cancer researchers in Seattle

LAS CRUCES – After a busy year of virtual lab meetings, online class work, and redefining research methods for a socially distant world, seven New Mexico State University students packed their bags for Seattle and a much-needed summer of personal research experience.

Each of the NMSU students who made the Pacific Northwest their home for the summer were inducted into the research groups of award-winning scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. For nine weeks, students received hands-on training in cancer research areas ranging from basic science, public health, human biology, and clinical research.

The students, six undergraduate students and one graduate, were part of a larger cohort of 26 students from around the country who participated in the Fred Hutch Summer Undergraduate Research Program and were accepted into the laboratories of Fred Hutch scientists. The paid internship experience for NMSU students is supported in part by the Cancer Research Advancement Partnership, a federally funded partnership between NMSU and Fred Hutch.

NMSU interns (and their Fred Hutch mentors) include Ella Cano-Linson (Megan Othus, Public Health Sciences), Cecy Corona (Salene Jones, Public Health Sciences), Toteona Gray (Christopher Li, Public Health Sciences), Katalina Lopez (Kevin Cheung, Public Health Sciences), Ester Lujan (Chris Kemp, Human Biology), Clarissa Nunez (Taran Gujral, Human Biology) and Nicholas Soliz (Brandon Hadland, Clinical Research).

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NMSU student Katalina Lopez joined Dr.  Kevin Cheung at Fred Hutch's.  The Cheung lab is focused on understanding metastatic breast cancer to enable further therapies for patients.

After the cancellation of many internship programs last summer due to COVID-19, NMSU students were more excited than ever to join Fred Hutch’s ranks.

“It felt good to be back in a laboratory setting,” said Nicholas Soliz, a bachelor’s degree studying chemical engineering and biology. “I did research (at NMSU) in the engineering department, but it was very limited due to the COVID pandemic.

“When we went back to the lab, it was more practical, closer to people. It brought back a really good culture that I missed; the banter among each other, the laughter, the learning from each other, that’s just something that you can’t get with online learning. “

Throughout the summer experience, students work with their mentors on an independent research project while also participating in a number of advanced training events, academic seminars, and networking events.

Nicholas Soliz, an NMSU chemical engineering and biology student, assisted on a study of pediatric leukemia in Dr.  Brandon Hadland at Fred Hutch.

For Clarissa Nunez, an undergraduate biochemistry student, her internship at the Gujral lab meant a busy summer doing experiments on cell migration and signaling pathways from start to finish.

“The most memorable part for me was how much I was taught,” said Nunez. “I feel like two months on a summer internship, it doesn’t seem like much and it doesn’t feel like you’re doing as much as you can, but I really feel like I was given a great opportunity like this in this laboratory, just to learn everything that I’ve been accused of. The postdoc I worked with gave me the opportunity to learn from her and do it myself and do the analysis.

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“(The lab) really got me going in the first few weeks. None of my time there felt wasted in any way – everything I did was productive and I benefited from it. “

Graciela Unguez, NMSU Regents Professor and PACR Co-Director, said this internship program is an outstanding opportunity for NMSU students because of the variety of research opportunities and the depth of skills they impart.

“The research laboratories available to our NMSU students include five departments with research focuses on basic science, public health and the development of new treatments and diagnostics,” said Unguez. “Very few summer research programs have a choice between research laboratories that examine every aspect of the disease process from the cellular level to the population level.

“Summer research programs are specifically designed to teach students how to think scientifically, design experiments, fix bugs, and solve problems. Our students experience what research should be like when they work alongside a PI or a research mentor who can also provide insights into scientific and / or medical careers and build good professional relationships. “

You can find more information about the partnership or the summer internship program at cancer.nmsu.edu.

Kaitlin Englund is a writer for Marketing and Communications at New Mexico State University and can be reached at 575-646-2647 or by email at [email protected]

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