When Jada Boyd was in 9th grade, her brother received a liver transplant at Children’s Hospital Colorado. He had been suffering from primary sclerosing cholangitis, a condition in which a blocked flow of bile causes severe liver damage, eventually shutting down the entire organ.
“I spent most of eighth and ninth grade, and I guess some of seventh grade too, sleeping in the hospital with my brother,” she says.
The experience changed her life.
“Seeing how my brother’s doctor, Dr. Sundaram, and the rest of her team worked together to care for my brother and other patients really shaped my relationship with doctors,” says Jada, who describes her hometown as “near the airport on the line between Denver and Aurora.”
Now Jada, a Biomedical Sciences major at Colorado State University is on the path to becoming a doctor, herself. In Summer 2015, Jada worked as an intern in the laboratory of University of Colorado Cancer Center’s Dr. Lucas Argueso, assistant professor and Boettcher Investigator at CSU’s Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. Students come from around the country to CU’s Cancer Research Summer Fellowship program but since Jada is also a CSU student, she was able to extend her summer internship into a school-year position in the Argueso lab.
“I really enjoyed myself in the summer and when I asked if I could stay in his lab, Dr. Argueso said he would be more than happy to have me all year. I was excited to be able to stay and continue working on the project I had started in the summer!” says Jada.
Early in the fall, Dr. Argueso encouraged Jada to attend the NIH/NIGMS-sponsored Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Seattle, WA.
“I applied for and received some travel funds from ABRCMS, and then CSU’s Department of Biomedical Sciences complemented that to help me fund the trip,” Jada says.
It turned out that Jada was able to do more than just attend the conference. In Seattle, Jada also presented a poster describing her CU Cancer Center summer research. The poster won an award in the Cancer Biology section at the conference.
In genetics, a “translocation” is the cut-and-paste relocation of one chunk of genetic material to another place in the genome, commonly seen in cancer cells. “There are different ways these translocations can form including two pathways known as ‘canonical homologous recombination’ and ‘break-induced replication’ or BIR. These two pathways can be difficult to tell apart,” says Jada.
By selectively blocking the cells’ ability to use the BIR pathway, Jada and her collaborators in the Argueso lab hoped to learn how many of the translocations were due to canonical homologous recombination versus BIR. Understanding these basic processes can hint at strategies that may one day be used to prevent cancer-causing translocations in people.
Though her research won a highly competitive award, she doesn’t consider that the highlight of her trip.
“There were about 4,000 people at the conference, including 2,000 undergrads and graduate students presenting their research. To see that many undergraduate and graduate students presenting was amazing. It’s so easy to look out in the world and only see bad news, or hear about all the mishaps students are involved in, but at the conference it was the exact opposite. I saw so many people doing wonderful things,” she says.
This fall Jada will finish what is technically her junior year at CSU, starting as a senior after the winter break. She plans to take her MCAT exams in May 2016…and already knows the exact date is May 20. Then she plans to apply to medical schools.
“I’ll apply to CU of course, and Rocky Vista University,” she says, “but I can see myself going any place it feels like the campus creates a ‘family-type’ atmosphere. The journey of becoming a doctor is about helping people. I want to feel like I’m helping people and being helped by the community at medical school along the way.”
From everyone at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, we say Good luck, Jada!