After earning her graduate degree in biochemistry, cell and developmental biology at Emory University, Marie Cross joined the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. More than two years later, she continues her efforts to better understand two types of cancer that can prove devastating.
Q: What led you to HudsonAlpha for your postdoctoral research?
My previous research experiences focused on cancer in one way or another. When looking for a postdoctoral opportunity, I wanted to continue to pursue cancer research. I was excited to learn about the cancer research projects involving next generation sequencing in Rick's lab because next generation sequencing really has great potential for improving patient care. When I visited HudsonAlpha, I was highly impressed with the quality and breadth of research in Rick's lab and all across the institute, from the other nonprofit labs to the private associate companies. I knew right away I had to be a part of it.
Q: What is your role in the Myers lab?
I am part of the disease research team and my research focuses on both prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer. We use next generation sequencing technology to investigate DNA methylation patterns and both mRNA and microRNA expression patterns in cancer tissue and patient-matched normal tissue. The goal is to integrate these data sets and compare patterns from normal tissue to patterns in tumor tissue to discover cellular pathways involved in the progression of these diseases. We hope to discover novel pathways that can be targeted therapeutically for treatment of these cancers. Furthermore, we hope to identify molecular signatures that can be used as diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for these cancers.
Q: Why is this research important?
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in men and is the second leading cause of cancer death in men. Currently, diagnosis of prostate cancer relies on an invasive biopsy. Since there are no available prognostic biomarkers to provide information on how aggressively the tumor will progress, often more disruptive therapies are chosen. We would like to identify biomarkers that can be used for less intrusive diagnosis and prognostic biomarkers that can molecularly distinguish patients with less aggressive tumors.
According to national statistics, pancreatic cancer is a deadly cancer, with a grim five-year survival rate of ~5 percent. The reason for this is two-fold; pancreatic cancer is typically not diagnosed until after the disease has already spread to other parts of the body and pancreatic cancer is highly resistant to current chemotherapeutics. Consequently, we are hoping to discover new cellular pathways that are more vulnerable to therapeutic intervention as well as biomarkers that can be useful for early detection of pancreatic cancer.
Q: What sparked your passion for science and what keeps it strong?
My interest in science began with my Uncle Jim because he was always very inquisitive about the world around him. Anytime he traveled, he would take samples of sand home where he could look at it more closely under his microscope. This inspired me to ask for my own microscope one Christmas, and I got one! I spent hours looking at different leaves, flowers and plants I collected from around our yard — which ultimately was the root for my love of cell biology.
Q: What is it the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is getting the opportunity to work with these extremely precious cancer patient tissue samples to try to understand these cancers on a deeper level and hopefully make a difference in patient care. Our wonderful collaborators — in particular our collaborators at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and at Stanford University– provide the patient tissue samples and make this type of research possible.
Q: What do you like best about working at HudsonAlpha?
That is easy: the people working here. Everyone is so friendly, encouraging and helpful! It is a team environment that ultimately leads to more productive research.