Amy Paschall, a biomedical sciences doctoral student majoring in Biochemistry & Cancer Biology (BCB), is investigating ways to increase the efficacy of the immune system’s response to fighting cancer with the goal of giving those diagnosed an increased chance of survival. Amy is performing her research in the lab of Dr. Kebin Liu, her mentor.
Amy was raised on a farm, and runs it today, raising cattle when she’s not in the lab. Her passion for biomedical science can be traced back to her youth on the farm, as she watched animals get sick and she was able to help in their treatment.
“That’s where I learned about immunology,” she explained. “We were giving the cows antibiotics, and veterinarians would come out and explain the process to me. The caring of the animals on the farm formed the basis of my interest in the biochemistry of immune responses.”
To understand the research Amy is working on, you must first understand the nature of our DNA. A person’s DNA is wrapped around “histones,” which allows DNA to be packaged into the cell tightly and correctly. Any modifications to those histones can affect how your DNA is wound, and can determine whether certain genes can be transcribed. This is important when researchers are looking at cancer because if you have one modification that turns off tumor suppressor genes in your DNA, while turning on oncogenes, you may have an increased risk of cancer.
Amy’s hypothesis is that Fas (a cell death receptor) is silenced on tumor cells through histone modifications, and that certain drugs that inhibit those modifications can restore Fas expression, which signals the immune system to induce cell death of the tumor cell.
Amy has been using flow cytometry and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to examine Fas expression on tumor cells treated with a drug she believes prevents histone modifications. She has discovered that regulating histone methylation can restore Fas expression on tumor cells, thereby improving Fas ligand-based therapies. This is significant as many cancers have developed a resistance to Fas ligand-based therapies.
“My research makes me feel like I’ve done something that is truly an accomplishment, and I hope that it will go towards long-lasting effects that will make a difference,” she said.
Amy has thrived in the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program at Augusta University. She has several publications under her belt, and was the 2015 recipient of the American Association of Immunologists’ Thermo Fisher Trainee Award. In addition, she has presented her research at several conferences across the country, from coast to coast.
“The Graduate School encourages students to present their research and provides travel funding for graduate students,” she said. “Because of this support, I was able to present my research at a National immunology Conference in Hawaii.”