And - Director, Didactic Program in Dietetics
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you think are amazing but “unreachable”.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
See more of my story here
Among the many challenges cancer patients navigate during treatment is a particularly unpleasant side effect called Chemotherapy-Induced Diarrhea (CID). Approximately 50 percent of all colon cancer patients suffer from CID, which represents more than a temporary discomfort or a burden to their quality of life. CID can actually impact their course of treatment—severe CID can force a stoppage in chemotherapy, which can extend the length of treatment; still others must lower their treatment’s dosage, which can impact effectiveness.
Currently, there are no known biomarkers to indicate a person’s susceptibility to CID. I want to change that.
I am myself a cancer survivor and a leading researcher in the relationship between diet, microorganisms, disease and health. I have received a CAREER Award from the Department of Defense (DOD) aimed at discovering both biomarkers and potential determinants of the condition.
The DOD grant will enable me to enroll and collect data from over 100 patients with stage-two or stage-three colon cancer, through a study in partnership with the Baylor Scott & White McClinton Cancer Center in Waco and Baylor Scott & White Clinic in Temple. With my lab team I will collect data from patients on their dietary intake, analyze data on microbes in their gut at the time of diagnosis, and collect gut bacteria and stool samples for study throughout chemotherapy.
We’ll be looking to see if there is any correlation between with the microbiome gut analysis, and if there are specific metabolites or bugs that actually correlate with the prevalence or severity of CID. With this information, we can then start to develop algorithms using artificial intelligence or machine learning to develop biomarkers or predictive biomarkers that we can give to clinicians and patients to help them understand how to better treat and manage people that are undergoing colon cancer treatment.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?
I was always interested in science, and subscribed to popular science magazines. My father and I built a model of the stealth bomber when I was in primary school. However, in sixth grade I had a really awful experience in math class that crushed my self-confidence, and from then on I decided to focus on my other passion, fashion design. After being accepted into fashion design school my mother ultimately decided it was not what I should be doing, and once again I had to find something else. I really loved nutrition and eating healthy as an athlete growing up and decided to pursue a degree in nutrition, followed by a masters degree in sports nutrition...then I was diagnosed with cancer at 24 and decided I did not want anyone to suffer what I went through and so decided to combine my love of nutrition with cancer prevention and pursue a PhD in cancer biology... see the rest of the story at the link above.
HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?
I had massive imposter complex - still do but not as bad. Now with my success in obtaining external grant funding I am more focused on mentoring other young scientists, especially females.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"
I would go back and tell my younger self to learn to code in as many languages as possible, and that I AM good at math no matter what anyone says. Also, that you don't have to be a genius at math to be a great scientist.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?
I love the dream of being able to find a cure for a disease, like cancer. Also, I love the ability to find answers to questions no one else knowns. Mentorship is also extrememly rewarding.
BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?
Don't be afraid to reach out to people you think are amazing but "unreachable", they may very well love to talk to someone like you! Whatever your mind wanders to when you are dreaming of what your future self will be doing, follow that dream and find someone to talk to who is already doing it!
"Difficulties mastered are opportunities won" - Churchill