Joy Agee is beginning her second year at HudsonAlpha, where she is studying triple negative breast cancer in the Myers lab. After earning her undergrad at Spelman College in Atlanta and her master’s degree in biological science at UAHuntsville, Agee swiftly moved on to pursue her Ph.D.
How and when did you come to HudsonAlpha?
In spring 2010, I learned that I would be awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. I was due to complete my master’s the following fall and was unsure if I wanted to continue on the same research project for my doctorate. I discussed my options with my professor, Dr. Joe Ng, who suggested that I consider joining a lab at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. I’d been to several seminars and symposiums at HudsonAlpha and knew that it would be an amazing place to do my doctorate. I later began a rotation in the Myers lab, which allowed me to learn about all of the different projects in the lab and the various technologies implemented. I officially became a member of the Myers lab in January 2011.
What is your research area and what is your role in the lab?
My research interests are to learn the underlying molecular mechanisms of triple negative breast cancer, a subtype of breast cancer that does not express estrogen, human epidermal growth factor 2 (Her2), and progesterone hormone receptors, therefore preventing it from being treated using hormonal therapies. It is usually diagnosed at late stage and is very aggressive.
Why is this research especially important to you?
While African American women have lower incidence rates of breast cancer diagnosis compared to white women, African American women have disproportionately higher death rates from breast cancer. Furthermore, 30 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses in African American women are triple negative. My research is not just important to me, but the world because learning more about the basic biology of TNBC will put us a step closer to developing better therapies, saving lives and eradicating this disparity.
What sparked your passion for science?
It started in my high school honors biology classes. I loved the labs! I loved learning about cell division, identifying various stages of cell division under the microscope and learning how changes in the cell can lead to diseases such as cancer. Now I get to participate in the ongoing efforts to determine what causes cells to change. Also, I enjoyed doing dissections in my biology and physiology labs – I was always the go-to person in group projects because I wasn’t afraid. I knew early on that I liked science because it is such a hands-on discipline.
What do you like best about working at HudsonAlpha?
The people! There are so many wonderful scientists with different backgrounds and research goals. There are plenty of opportunities to get to know the other scientists and share research ideas. More importantly, everyone here wants you to develop into a successful, innovative scientist. This place is a think tank for great ideas.