Meet Pranati Ahuja
Graduation Year: May 2017
Field of Study: Molecular Biology
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most prevalent form of lung cancer, affecting both smokers and non-smokers alike. As the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, it deserves attention towards finding viable therapies. Protocadherin-7 (PCDH7), a Cadherin superfamily transmembrane protein, is overexpressed in NSCLC. Previously, the O’Donnell lab demonstrated that PCDH7 overexpression potently synergizes with lung cancer drivers including mutant KRAS to induce MAPK signaling and tumorigenesis. Loss of PCDH7 sensitizes KRAS-mutant NSCLC cells to MEK inhibitors in vitro, and inhibits tumorigenesis in vivo. This project focuses on loss-of-function of endogenous mouse PCDH7 to determine whether PCDH7 is required for tumor initiation and to validate PCDH7 as a therapeutic target. CRISPR-Cas9 technology was used to identify sgRNAs that effectively knockout PCDH7 in mouse cells. The next steps in the project are to perform PCDH7 knockout in KrasLSL-G12D;Tp53 fl/fl mice and assess lung tumorigenesis. We hope that the findings from these studies will help us learn more about the role of PCDH7 in tumorigenesis and help develop novel therapies targeting NSCLC.
Even as an underclassman, I was extremely interested in the Green Fellows program, and when I was accepted into the 2016 program, I was thrilled for the experience to come. Coming into to a molecular biology lab not knowing much about the subject was a bit overwhelming at first. Fortunately, my mentor, PI, and the graduate students in the O'Donnell lab were very friendly and helpful - always willing to answer my questions and give technical advice whenever I needed it. They truly provided an open environment for me to learn and grow as a researcher by constantly exposing me to new techniques and broadening my comfort zone, and I'm so thankful to them for that. Culturing cells and performing Western blots to probe for proteins on a regular basis took my appreciation for details to a whole new level. This also helped me avoid contamination through *most* of the fellowship! In a single semester, I got several opportunities to experience both failure and success, helping me keep an open mind and appreciate the trouble-shooting process along with researchers' ever-steady determination against all types of roadblocks. Overall, this enriching experience has opened my eyes to the life of a researcher and has strengthened my interest in clinical applications of research. I'm thankful to the Green Fellows Program for giving me such a wonderful opportunity!
New ideas give rise to new questions - don't ever be afraid to ask!
The key to making the most of your experience at UTSW when you get time aside from your project is reading relevant literature, attending lectures, and getting to know the people around you and their research to expose yourself to new ideas. New ideas give rise to new questions - don't ever be afraid to ask! It will keep you moving forward and open doors even as you begin to work independently. I came in to the lab with tons of questions - spending time discussing them in detail with my mentor turned out to be extremely helpful and even gave rise to a small side project. Be prepared to put in your best effort, but also be prepared for mistakes, failure, and contamination, because they grace everyone's path at some point. Lastly, be sure to enjoy your research and your time during the Fellowship, because the semester flies by and you'll be presenting your poster before you know it!