Researcher of the Month
Biology major, Class of 2017
Research Mentor: Dr. Berhane Ghebrehiwet, Medicine (current); Dr. Richard Lin, Dr. Lisa Ballou and Dr. Peter Brink, Physiology & Biophysics; Dr. Miriam Rafailovich, Materials Science & Engineering (previous).
“Research isn’t about answers; it’s about questions. Having the chance to try to answer them and figure things out — that’s the exciting part,” reflects Evelyn Kandov, Class of 2017.
Evelyn is on track to graduate in May with an honors degree in Biology — and in just 3 years! She is a member of the Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) honors program, and has been active in research at Stony Brook since she was a Yeshiva University High School for Girls participant in the Garcia Research Scholars program. As an undergraduate freshman, Evelyn began doing research in the Physiology & Biophysics Department and participated in the 2015 PSEG-sponsored Explorations in STEM program, a program administered by the Dept. of Technology & Society, URECA and the Career Center that provides research/professional development in STEM areas. Working primarily with Dr. Richard Lin and Dr. Lisa Ballou during 2015-2016, she gained a strong foundation in basic laboratory research techniques on a project involving protein interactions in pancreatic tumor cells.
When her primary interest shifted to immunology research, Evelyn joined the laboratory of Dr. Berhane Ghebrehiwet (Medicine) in January 2016, a placement that she credits as being crucial to her development as a scientist. "What drew me to him the most was his mentorship. He is such an amazing mentor." And indeed, Evelyn has thrived in Dr. Berhane’s lab. In summer 2016, Evelyn received funding from URECA to support her workon the function of C1q and gC1qR in a breast cancer cell line. Recently, Evelyn has been working as a first author on a publication (submitted) titled: “The dual roles of membrane and soluble forms of gC1qR and C1q in the breast cancer microenvironment." She will be presenting a poster at the The American Association of Immunologists, in Washington D.C, this coming May. And you can hear a preview of her presentation at the annual URECA campus symposium on April 26th.
This summer, Evelyn will be interning at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and working with Dr. Ellinor Peerschke. In the fall, she will start a two-year post-baccalaureate program at the NIH working with Dr. Nataliya Buxbaum on the metabolomics of immune cells in Graft-versus-Host Disease. Evelyn has a strong interest in a translational research career and intends to pursue MD/PhD dual degree training.
Evelyn was selected to be a member of the Women’s Leadership Council, an initiative that matches high potential women undergraduates with top philanthropic leaders in the SB community. She is also the Founder and President of the BRIDGE Science Enrichment Program at Queens Gymnasia Elementary School; is a photographer for the Stony Brook Young Investigators Review; and has served as a volunteer at the Adolescent Health Center at Mount Sinai Hospital. Below are excerpts from her interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen. Tell me about your current research.
We are interested in better understanding the interplay between cancer and the immune system, and are looking at the role of the Complement system (a component of the innate immune system, the body’s first response when there is any kind of infection) in the development and metastasis of cancer. Specifically focusing on the first component of complement C1q and its receptor gC1qR in a breast cancer cell line, we have been examining the expression of these proteins and the effect that they have on the proliferation of the cells. One of our big discoveries for a paper we recently submitted was that these cells express C1q: C1q is really important for their growth and for their ability to proliferate and survive. We’re also looking at the interaction of C1q and gC1qR in the microenvironment. It’s really interesting because if we’re looking at C1q on the cell surface, its role is tumor proliferative. If we’re releasing it into the microenvironment, it has the opposite role: it induces cell death.
What will be the next step in your research?
Right now we’re looking at a different breast cancer cell line, and at testing the therapeutic potential of a monoclonal antibody that was developed in the lab. I’m going to have the chance to work this summer at Sloan Kettering with Dr. Berhane’s collaborator and wife, Dr. Ellinor Peerschke. We’re going to use the antibody in mouse models as a potential treatment and see if it has the same effect we saw in cell culture on solid breast tumors.
What are your future plans?
I’ll be graduating this summer (after the internship) and and I’m going to start a post-bacc fellowship program at the NIH this fall. My long term goal is to apply to MD/PhD programs.
I notice that you will be graduating next month, in just 3 years.
It kind of just happened. I didn’t expect to. I realized that I could last year and I decided that I would – because I could. I think that taking the opportunity to be in the lab full time for the next two years doing a post-bacc is really the best choice for me because the lab is where I learn the most. I’m a hands-on learner. So spending my time reading articles and doing research will develop my thinking more than taking classes could.
What was your first experience in research?
My first exposure to research was in high school as a participant in the Garcia Scholars research program. We worked under the direction of Dr. Miriam Rafailovich.
Was that a factor in your decision to attend Stony Brook University?
Definitely. Because I saw how much research there is at SB, and the fact that it was accessible even to high school students. There were some undergraduates who were helping us too. So I knew it would be a place where I could have access to doing research and be taken seriously as an undergraduate in research. It was really important to me to be able to explore doing research during college. I knew right away that I was going to apply to a lab as a freshman.
And you did get involved in research right away.
Yes, when I came to Stony Brook as a freshman, I had the opportunity to join the laboratory of Dr. Richard Lin in the Department of Physiology & Biophysics. I spent a year in the lab, and had the chance to work there over the summer through the Explorations in STEM program. My project involved assisting in the development of a recombinant PD-1 protein to manipulate the interaction between PD-1 and and its receptor, PD-L1 on pancreatic tumor cells to facilitate the interaction of drug delivery vehicle cells and tumor cells in vivo. The staff scientist I worked with, Dr. Lisa Ballou taught me the principles behind molecular biology. She gave me a great foundation, and developed my work ethic in the lab.
As I started to learn more about the immune system, and became more fascinated with different components of the immune system and all the recognition units that are specific to the body’s immune system though, I decided I would like to join a laboratory that was focused on immunology research. And I found Dr Berhane.
Tell me about your experience working with Dr. Berhane.
What drew me to him the most was his mentorship. He is such an amazing mentor. He gave me independence and guidance in a way that I was able to critically think about the research and develop the project and experiments. He encouraged me to pursue my own independent project. And when you have a mentor who is willing to let you take chances, and explore ideas, that really builds confidence as a researcher! One unique aspect of the lab is that there are no graduate students. So although at times that was a challenge, it was also so important to my growth as a researcher. Dr. Berhane has helped me to develop critical thinking skills, and has always been so encouraging. He recently encouraged me to present my work - which I’ll be doing in May -at the Immunology conference in Washington DC.
Have you had the chance to present your work before at any meetings?
I had presented a poster at the conclusion of the Explorations in STEM program. But I’m glad I’ll have the chance to get to practice here at the URECA event in April before moving to the big stage in DC. I’m also just excited about talking to other researchers, learning more about the work that they do, figuring out what I can apply to the work that I want to. I’m really looking forward to it.
You participated in the URECA summer program this past summer. And the summer before
that in Explorations in STEM. How helpful was it to have a summer research experience
(apart from the financial support)?
Being in the lab full time is an amazing experience because there are no interruptions. You can really focus on the lab work. I was able to be around Dr. Berhane a lot, and we got a lot done. Another really good part was the opportunity to mentor high school students from the Simons program: having the chance to teach someone solidifies what you know, and mentoring someone, seeing how they grow in their thinking, was so fulfilling. I found that I really like mentoring.
What do you do to to keep motivated?
It’s a cyclical process. Sometimes I stay in the lab for 12 hours a day and I’m there really late and things are just not working so I have to take a step back and give myself some time to rest, give my brain some time to think about the research, and think about what I’m doing wrong. And when I come back, I have a fresh start and I’m able to think more clearly. That’s the pattern: I work really hard for awhile, then things inevitably go wrong – and then taking a step back really helps me to put things in perspective and think of new ideas.
Were you always interested in science?
Yes I was – but I became really passionate about science in my 9th grade in my biology class. My teacher Mrs. Fried went above and beyond the Living Environment curriculum. We learned a lot more in depth about all the systems in the body. That’s really when I started to become interested in research. That’s when my passion for science began. She also gave me the confidence boost that I needed to get started ... Now it’s hard to imagine not being in a lab every day, not doing research. I’m so using to being in that rhythm, thinking about projects, different ideas…it’s a part of the way that I think now.
What influenced your decision to pursue an MD/PhD rather than a straight MD or PhD?
I was a straight premed when I started at SB. I’m not sure when the switch happened . . . I just knew that I wanted do an MD/PhD and be involved in translational research.
I guess it may have been triggered when I read this one scientific paper. Because reading a paper takes you on a journey from the start of the idea through all the experiments and how they come together. I knew that I wanted to have that experience by getting a PhD. Doing research as an undergrad is amazing and there is a lot to learn. But to have the chance to take a project from its infancy through all the pitfalls, all the twists (…it’s never linear path)— that’s what I want to experience. To me, that’s the most exciting part, troubleshooting, thinking of different paths. I know that research will continue to be a big part of my career as a physician–scientist.
What is it you like about doing research?
It kind of works your brain in a way that nothing else does. Most of the time you’re shooting in the dark, trying to figure which way to maneuver. And sometimes you hit a target and sometimes you miss. I like how it’s unpredictable....With the discovery of C1q expression in the breast cancer cell line, our ideas were completely transformed. Initially, we didn’t even know it was possible for the cells to express C1q because we saw that it had an antiproliferative effect on the cells. We had a path we thought was set. And then suddenly a new development switched our ideas, our thinking - and that has made our story so much richer.
It’s so exciting going through this process, and knowing something that wasn’t known before. And now there are so many more questions... because every answer leads to 15 more questions. Research isn’t about answers; it’s about questions. Having the chance to try to answer them and figure things out — that’s the exciting part.