Shaina Hasan BRAVO! Experience in Singapore

In these past few days since I’ve returned from Singapore, all of my friends have been asking me how my trip was; I can only reply with a, "It was great!" One person scoffed at my simple answer and asked, "Only great? Nothing else?" The problem is, I can’t explain just how wonderfully fantastic and enlightening this entire experience was for me without taking several hours to properly communicate what an impact this past summer has had on my entire outlook on life, so I decided to keep it simple and sum it up with the most proper (but unfortunately most overused) word possible: GREAT.

Funded by the BRAVO! grant, I was sent to Singapore to work in the lab of Dr. Vinay Tergaonkar at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) for three months to determine if there was a possible interaction between the proteins atypical PKC and NFκB. This would implicate a different mechanism for cancer development in certain epithelial tissues, leading to possible therapeutic treatments targeting these two proteins in order to enhance survival and success rates in the cancers they contribute to. The lab I work in at the University of Arizona, which is the lab of Dr. Sourav Ghosh in Cellular and Molecular Medicine, is interested in the different signaling pathways the kinase atypical PKC contributes to, including its role in cancer development. Dr. Vinay Tergaonkar's lab is interested in the deregulation of the NFκB signaling pathway in cancer, a signaling pathway that is involved in stimulating an immune response in cells by causing transcription of certain inflammatory genes. The possible connection between these two proteins - like if one regulates the other - has not been completely understood, which I was attempting to investigate this past summer. Through the implementation of several different molecular and biochemical assays- nuclear/cytosolic fractionation, westerns, EMSA, and gene expression - we have found that certain isoforms of aPKC may regulate some of NFκB’s target genes, but possibly through a different molecular mechanism that does not interact with the NFκB pathway.

During this past summer, I was trained to perform techniques that I had never done before in order to acquire the data required of this project, and even though that was an incredible learning experience in itself, I had learned even more about the nature of scientific research and what a research-oriented career is like by looking through the lens of the ten postdoctoral researchers and two graduate students coming from eight different countries all over the world. Singapore is truly an international hub, which was reflected in my own lab, and I had the wonderful opportunity to interact with a huge variety of scientists who all had their own experiences with research and were able to provide me with a holistic understanding of what it is to be a scientist

Alongside the scientific aspect of my adventures in Singapore, I was floored by the astonishing uniqueness of the culture found in this city. Yes, the country is incredibly modernized and technologically savvy like many Western cultures, but it is still heavily influenced by East Asian traditions and values resulting in my own fair dose of culture shock during my first few weeks in Singapore (but the fantastic food made up for it). Being born and raised in the state of Arizona, full of wide-open space and vast deserts, it was strange for me to adjust to the fast-paced city life and competitive work life of this tiny but densely populated country and understand its culture of shopaholics and the strange English slang that the locals call Singlish.

But on a personal level, Singapore became much more than a fantastically clean and architecturally creative city with a strict government that bans the unsightly mastication of gum from its streets; it became a place where I was able to become truly independent and learn to break away from the mold while forming connections with people that I hope will last a lifetime. For the first time, I was able to take charge of what I would be doing, where I would be going, and whom I would be interacting with, and even though it would sometimes become mentally and physically exhausting, it was always a refreshing change. I used to have difficulty with being by myself because I enjoyed the company of others and was afraid of the silence that comes from solitude, but being on my own in a new country allowed me to appreciate and begin to enjoy the company of one. Interestingly, it was because of my developing independence that I attracted and cemented the friendship of even more people than I had imagined I would be able to connect with, and their diverse backgrounds and varying insights on life gave me an even larger perspective on lifestyles, cultures, and religions - I can only be exceptionally grateful for all that I have learned from these special individuals.

It was a summer full of science, adventures, good food, and beautiful people, and even though it’s cliché, I know it’s a summer that I will never forget. It was such a fantastic opportunity to go abroad and conduct research in a new and international setting while immersing myself in the culture and its people, and I must thank the BRAVO! program for providing me with this chance to experience something so incredible. I must also thank Dr. Sourav Ghosh and his lab members for providing me with mentorship and guidance along with Dr. Vinay Tergaonkar and his lab members for being so welcoming and providing me with an unbelievable learning experience. Finally, I must thank Dr. Carol Bender for all of the help and support she has provided me through all of my ups and downs this past year; I cannot fully describe in words how much I appreciate all that she does for us undergraduate students.

My research was funded by a grant to the University of Arizona from the National Institutes of Health (MD 001427).