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Kanayo Ikeh Named UVM Cancer Center Juckett Scholar

June 28, 2023 by Kate Strotmeyer

This summer, 20 summer scholars were awarded $4,000 stipends to deepen their engagement, hone their skills, and drive towards new discoveries under the guidance of a UVM Cancer Center mentor. Among the group is Kanayo Ikeh, this year’s 2023 Juckett Summer Student Scholar.

Kanayo Ikeh investigates translesion synthesis in the Chatterjee Lab.

Ikeh to investigate the role of Translesion Synthesis (TLS) in cancer therapy resistance under the mentorship of UVM Cancer Center member Nimrat Chatterjee, Ph.D.

Science doesn’t go on summer break; UVM Cancer Center researchers and their talented trainees take to the bench year-round. This summer, 20 summer scholars were awarded $4,000 stipends to deepen their engagement, hone their skills, and drive towards new discoveries under the guidance of a UVM Cancer Center mentor. Among the group is Kanayo Ikeh, this year’s 2023 Juckett Summer Student Scholar. 

Ikeh is a doctoral student in the Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Science program working with Nimrat Chatterjee, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, to explore the role of the DNA damage bypass pathway, Translesion Synthesis (TLS), in contributing to cancer therapy resistance.

When cells become cancerous, their primary goal is to replicate and spread, which is called metastasis.  To stop metastasis in its tracks, cancer therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy target and, ideally, kill a cell’s DNA. But, TLS can interrupt this process because it effectively plugs the DNA damage enabling harmful cells to proliferate, ultimately working against the desired therapeutic outcome. 

“Cancer therapy resistance and recurrence continues to be a pressing global concern. Deepening our understanding of TLS becomes increasingly vital to learning about the root mechanisms behind this naturally-occurring phenomena,” said Ikeh. 

Tissue samples in the Chatterjee Lab. This summer, Ikeh is looking for ways to cripple the tenacity of TLS to maximize the effectiveness of cancer treatments. Studies in mouse models have shown that when a drug called JH-RE-06 is paired with the common chemotherapy cisplatin TLS is interrupted. Ikeh is furthering this research by examining the biological process of autophagy – how cells manage their own waste – and how this interaction may influence TLS. 

“Summer research provides students the unique opportunity to delve into their specific area of interest and gain hands-on experience in conducting scientific investigations,” said Dr. Chatterjee. “The hope is that understanding the underlying mechanisms that drive resistance to cancer treatments will ultimately pave the way for the development of more effective therapeutic strategies.”

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