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Researcher of the Month

October 2019

Tiana ReyesTiana Nicole Reyes

Biology major, INDUCER program; Class of 2019 (December)

Research Mentor:  Dr. Jennie Williams,  Family, Population and Preventive Medicine


For over two years, Tiana Reyes has been doing research on cancer biology and racial health disparities. Tiana initially started doing research at SB in the summer of 2017 under the mentorship of Dr. Jennie Williams (Family, Population and Preventive Medicine) as a Nassau Community College participant in BioPREP, an NIH-funded program administered by i-STEM that encourages underrepresented community college students to further their education and pursue careers in biomedical sciences. Tiana continued her research in the lab well beyond the end of the summer program; and subsequently transferred to Stony Brook in January 2018 to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Biology. In summer of 2018, Tiana joined INDUCER/Increasing Diversity in Undergraduate Cancer Biology Education and Research, an NIH-National Cancer Institute program that helped to support her ongoing research in the Williams research group, where she began collaborative work with Dr. Berhane Ghebrehiwet  (Medicine). The INDUCER program opened up many other opportunities as well. Tiana has presented at campus poster events, as well as the ABRCMS/Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (Phoenix, Arizona- 2017; Indianapolis, Indiana-2018). Recently, she presented a poster at the AACR Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved (September 2019) titled: “The Effect of C1q and gC1qR in Breast Cancer: Racial Health Disparities.”  Later this month, Tiana will be presenting a poster at SACNAS 2019- The National Diversity in STEM conference (Hawaii, October 2019).

For Tiana, doing research complements her future plans to pursue an M.D. It is also personal: My mother passed away when I was 11 from breast cancer…That fueled my interest within science to understand how cancer can come to be and how I can make a difference in the lives of people that are suffering.”    Tiana reflects that keeping hold of her long-term goals, and the larger picture, is also helpful in overcoming the day-to-day obstacles of doing research: “We’re here to do work and make actual differences. Maybe I might not make a difference… but I know my work is going somewhere and that it means something even if I don’t get the results I want. No result is still a result! “

At SB, Tiana has been active as a CSTEP mentor; and as a volunteer for Alternative Spring Break outreach (Pasadena, CA, spring 2019); and enjoys hiking. She was born in Brooklyn, NY and is a graduate of East Meadow HS, and Nassau Community College where she earned an associate of science (A.S).degree. Below are excerpts from her interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.


The Interview:

Karen.  Tell me about your research.
Tiana. So the main focus of my lab is on cancer racial health disparities. African Americans have a higher incidence and mortality rate of most cancers.  In our lab, we do cell culture work. And right now, we’re most interested in looking at differences in breast cancer between African American and Caucasian Americans and are using breast cancer cell lines as a vehicle. We are particularly interested in studying the role of C1q and gC1qR, which are involved in the complement system of the immune system, as potential targets for breast cancer chemotherapeutics.  In one of our studies, we noted that an African American cell line did not express gC1qR compared to Caucasian American derived cell lines which sparked our interest in this study. I have begun treating with antibodies to these proteins and observing the results. I’m going to be presenting this work at an upcoming AACR meeting.

How did you first get involved in the lab?
My mentor is Dr. Jennie Williams. I got into the lab through a program called BioPREP. That was in the summer of 2017, when I was a student at Nassau Community College. Through that program, I was able to start research. And I stayed in lab from that summer on, even before I transferred to Stony Brook in the spring semester (2018). Then after I was a student here, I had the opportunity to join the INDUCER program. I’m still working in the same group with Dr. Williams, though I’ve worked on several different research projects — about 4 different projects now.

BioPREP and INDUCER are both great programs.
I really feel like these programs have helped me a lot… They want you to do well in your research and they gear you that way. They support you to present at conferences. They really care.
INDUCER is about increasing diversity in STEM.  And it has been great at doing that. We have people from many different backgrounds. It helps to see what other people are doing and understand basically what research is all about, and see what other people can add to that. And for me personally, it has been helpful in getting me into research, to figuring out what I want to do with my life, and where I want to go… I know that I want to go into medical school. And these programs, both BioPREP and INDUCER, have helped me to stay focused on my plan. My mentor, Dr. Williams, also gives great advice. She helps with laying out what I have to do to get into medical school and how to get to that point, step by step.

Did you have any previous research experience, prior to joining the Williams lab?
No, I had only taken a few classes with lab.

Were you always interested in pursuing medicine?
Yeah it’s been that way for some time. It’s personal …My mother passed away when I was 11 from breast cancer. That fueled my interest within science to understand exactly how cancer can come to be and how I can make a difference in the lives of people that are suffering.   

Tell me what you most enjoy about doing research.
I honestly enjoy doing hands-on work, and being able to see things in action. When you are treating the cells with antibody for a receptor and can see the effects on the cells — that is what keeps you interested. A lot of the times you try something and it doesn’t work. That’s the thing with research. You can have an idea but does it really translate? But I like that. That’s what I find interesting.
Some people might get turned off initially because doing research can be difficult.  It’s not always simple, or straightforward. There are obstacles. You might try something only to find that it doesn’t work. Right now, I’m having problems with the incubator. Little things or issues like that always come up – it’s trial and error.  But I think you also have to keep in mind the larger picture of what your impact could be.

So that keeps you motivated?
Yes, I know there is a larger picture – and in the background, that’s always what we’re working towards. We’re here to do work and make actual differences. Maybe I might not make a difference...but I know my work is going somewhere and that it means something even if I don’t get the results I want. No result is still a result!

What advice would you give to new students about research?
Talk to your professors. Go to office hours. Try to make connections. It’s hard to do this sometimes, when classes are big. But that’s the best thing to do. Reach out. Also just look around for different programs, different opportunities. INDUCER is looking every year for students to come into the program. You need to actively look for ways to get involved on campus and find opportunities.

Do you enjoy presenting your research?
Putting it all together, presenting a whole poster—that is the best. It gives you a focus. And that’s when you lay it all out and you can see, “This is what I’ve done. I’ve made progress here.” You sometimes don’t see the progress you’ve made until you try to put it all together for a presentation.

I imagine you’ve also enjoyed going to off-campus meetings/conferences.
Definitely! It motivates you to see the hundreds of people doing research – not just students here on campus, or even other students in NY – but people all over the country coming together, who are doing research in the topics you’re interested in.  You get to walk around, talk to people and really see the scope of how far research has come!