Meet the Researcher - Emily Aller

Breakout Room: 5

Emily_Aller_PortraitResearcher Name: Emily Aller
Title of Research: Investigating the Role of PA28γ in Regulating the Proteasome-Mediated Degradation of the Oncoprotein c-Myc  
Division Representing: Biology
Institution: Austin College
Institution Location: Texas
Home State: Texas
District Number: 4
Advisor/Mentor: Lance Barton
Funding Source: National Science Foundation

Research Experience:  
In my four years at Austin College, I have had numerous opportunities to grow as a scientist. The first of these came during my second semester, when I was offered a position as a laboratory prep assistant. This position allowed me to practice some of the basics of scientific benchwork techniques, and I was able to apply those skills that summer while I participated in cancer research as part of the Austin College Sciences Summer Research Program. Following this experience, I was invited to join my PI's research lab during the semester, and I have worked in that lab for a total of five semesters while serving as a mentor to two other students in the lab during this past summer. As a part of this lab, I have participated in numerous projects, all of which focused on the role of a particular oncogene in cancer. Alongside my work at Austin college, I also had the opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary research at MD Anderson during the summer of 2019, where I worked at the intersection between radiation physics and cancer biology. This provided me with experience at a large research institution and offering a new perspective on cancer research. Using the skills and knowledge I have acquired over the past several years of cancer research, I was able to design my own project. I am currently completing my Honors Thesis investigating the relationship between two oncogenes, which will be completed by April 2021. 

Presentation Experience: 
Through my research experiences I have had many opportunities to present to different audiences. In both 2018 and 2020 my lab partners and I presented our research posters to biologists at the international ASCB-EMBO Cell Biology Conference. I also had an opportunity to present my research to fellow cancer-researchers at the MD Anderson end of summer poster presentation. I have presented posters to more general audiences through the 2020 Sigma Xi conference and the various conferences held each year at Austin College, including the Austin College Student Scholarship Conference and the Austin College Women's Health Forum. In each of these events I presented my research to the public and members of the Austin College community, requiring me to adjust my approach as my audience's familiarity with the subject changed. Finally, I have already presented my research four times in the Austin College Biology Seminar Series. I will also present my research as a poster at the 2021 NCUR conference and orally at the Southwest Regional Beta Beta Beta convention this spring. In sum, prior to participating in POH, I would have presented 8 scientific posters and given 6 oral presentations during my career at Austin College

Significance of Research:       
Although cancers are a highly diverse group of diseases, they are identifiable by the demonstration of ten behaviors, or hallmarks, including increased proliferation, capacity for metastasis, and altered metabolism. Proteins contributing to multiple hallmarks are generally more likely to be altered by mutation in cancers making them appealing targets for the development of chemotherapies. One such protein affecting multiple hallmarks is c-Myc, a transcriptional regulator involved in growth, proliferation, metabolism, and differentiation. Meta-analysis of gene expression data has indicated a correlation between cellular levels of c-Myc and the proteasome activator, PA28γ, in multiple cancers. Normal PA28γ function is also associated with cell growth, proliferation, invasion, and metastasis. Recent studies have demonstrated contradicting roles for PA28γ in the regulation of c-Myc's cellular abundance, with one study indicating that it degrades c-Myc via the ubiquitin-independent proteasomal protein system (UIPPS), and another indicating that it stabilizes c-Myc via an unknown mechanism. This project investigated the relative importance of the ubiquitin proteasome system (UPS) and the UIPPS in the regulation of c-Myc's stability in cancer. Using normal and cancer cell lines expressing differing amounts of PA28γ, I identified a correlation between elevated PA28γ expression and increased c-Myc levels in breast cancer. Increased c-Myc levels, however, are not due to alterations in UPS-mediated c-Myc degradation. Unfortunately, alterations in UIPPS function alone also cannot explain the increased expression of c-Myc. Therefore, further analysis of PA28γ function in these cells is required to determine its viability as a chemotherapy target.

Uniqueness of Research: 
PA28γ  is a biomarker for cancer, but its role in promoting cancer development and growth is unclear. This research has the potential to identify a novel way of treating cancer through the cellular regulation of c-Myc, which is a well-known and potent oncoprotein that is difficult to target directly. 


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