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Biologist Wins NIH AREA Grant for Cancer Research

Yan Zhu
Friday, May 11, 2018

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Yan Zhu, Ph.D., is making significant impacts on both cancer research and the students in her lab. She recently received a competitive Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA R15) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the amount of $492,000 for her proposal, “Elucidating the Function of Cancer-Associated MDM2 Mutations in P53 Regulation.”

The proposal focuses on the mechanisms by which the oncogenic protein MDM2, and its cancer-associated mutants, regulate the function of P53, a major tumor suppressor signaling pathway. Dr. Zhu hopes to provide a better understanding of the oncogenic activities of MDM2 and a mechanistic basis for development of novel anticancer strategies.

The NIH AREA program supports meritorious research as well as working to strengthen the research environment of schools that have not been major recipients of NIH support, and to create additional research opportunities for students.

“This funding will allow us to explore new directions in medical treatment of cancer, and contribute to public health,” said Dr. Zhu. “Most importantly, it will allow more undergraduate and graduate students at St. John’s to get involved in this research, and many of these students have had personal or family experiences with cancer, making it even more rewarding for them.”

Dr. Zhu has already published research in collaboration with the graduate and undergraduate students in her lab. Along with students Harman Chopra ‘17C, Zara Khan ‘17C, Jamie Contreras ‘16C, ‘17G, Herui Wang, and Abanob Sedrak ‘18C, Dr. Zhu published the article, “Activation of P53 and Destabilization of Androgen Receptor by Combinatorial Inhibition of MDM2 and MDMX in Prostate Cancer” in the journal Oncotarget. Also, along with Wang and Asha Thuraisamy ‘18C, Dr. Zhu has submitted a chapter entitled “MDM2/P53 Inhibitors as Sensitizing Agents for Cancer Chemotherapy” to the forthcoming book, Protein Kinases Inhibitors as Sensitizing Agents for Chemotherapy (Elsevier).

“My time working with Dr. Zhu has been nothing but rewarding,” said Thuraisamy. “When I first started working with her, I lacked confidence in my laboratory research skills, but Dr. Zhu was always very patient with me, and she took the time to thoroughly explain and demonstrate new lab techniques. Through her mentorship, I have gained proficiency in these methods and I have become a self-confident student researcher. I know that the skills I have gained through her guidance will stay with me in all my future career endeavors.”

Dr. Zhu came to St. John’s in September 2015, after a position as Associate Research Scientist at Columbia University. Her Ph.D. in Biochemistry is from Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.