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Biochemistry major interns at major cancer research center

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Posted on Friday, October 29, 2021

A Westminster biochemistry major spent the summer researching epigenetics and molecular carcinogenesis at the Virginia Harris Cockrell Cancer Research Center at The University of Texas MD  Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC) in Houston.

Jenna Toohey, a senior from Mount Pleasant, Pa., focused on ATP-dependent chromatin remodelers—a key class of epigenetic regulators. She also looked at the defining qualities of a specific chromatin remodeler, SWI/SNF, a group of proteins that associate to remodel the way DNA is packaged. This focus allowed Toohey to dive deep into a potential future of chromatin targeting drug therapies.

Toohey researched under Dr. Blaine Bartholomew, professor in the Department of Department of Epigenetics and Molecular Carcinogenesis at MDACC.  MDACC is the largest cancer centers in the U.S. and one of the original three comprehensive cancer centers in the country

After stumbling upon the research internship by chance, Toohey applied online and was accepted. She moved to Smithville, Texas, a week before the program started and lived in a house with six other women from five different countries—and she called it “the experience of a lifetime.”

“I formed lifelong connections with the post-docs in my lab and the people I met within the community,” Toohey said. “This alone opened my eyes to so many new cultures and experiences.”

The in-personal internship allowed Toohey to work in a hands-on learning environment much like she does at Westminster College.“This experience aided in my decision of what path to take following graduation since I was not sure if I wanted to go into scientific research or the medical field,” said Toohey. She plans on taking a gap year to get clinical experience and travel. Then, as the 2022-2023 cycle begins, she will begin applying to medical school.

To learn more about Westminster College’s biochemistry program, click here.

Toohey is pictured on the far right in the back row

~ Mackenzie Basalla '19