Nicole Hensch, third year Ph.D. candidate in the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program, has recently been awarded the Greehey Graduate Fellowship Award.
The Greehey Graduate Fellowship Award recognizes students researching children’s cancer within the Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute. This award helps to assist a student’s research by providing a doctoral student stipend for one full academic year plus payment for tuition and fees.
Hensch is in the laboratory of Dr. Myron Ignatius. She is working on several projects, ranging from uncovering a radiobiological mechanism for relapse in pediatric fusion negative-rhabdomyosarcoma (FN-RMS) to characterizing the cancer stem cell population of malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors (MPNSTs) in zebrafish lacking the tumor suppressor tp53.
For the radiation project, we are finding evidence that suggests that SNAI2, a transcriptional repressor, may be regulated by Ras signaling, which is a known driver of FN-RMS. We propose that treating FN-RMS with low doses of MEK inhibitor, Trametinib, and radiation will be effective in reducing tumor size through downregulation of SNAI2 expression and subsequent upregulation of pro-apoptotic regulator BIM.
For the MPNST study, we have already completed the first round of single cell sequencing of a zebrafish-derived MPNST and plan on collaborating with other labs that have single cell sequencing data of human patient MPNSTs to determine if the cancer stem cell characteristics are similar between what is seen in the clinic and our model system.
Before entering the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program at UT Health San Antonio, she earned her bachelor’s in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology from California State University, Fullerton and her master’s in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Western University of Health Sciences.
At UT Health San Antonio, she has served in several leadership roles through her participation in oversight committees such as the Cell Biology, Genetics, and Molecular Medicine (CGM) Retreat Planning Committee and the IBMS Recruitment Committee. She also received 2nd place for the Research Presentation Award – Long Talk at the CGM Discipline Retreat this past year.
Besides school, she enjoys volunteering as a judge for local science fairs, as well as mentoring high school and undergraduate students during the summer. Her immediate and long-term goals are to earn a Ph.D. and start building a career in the pharmaceutical or biomedical industry. She is also exploring the possibility of working on biomedical research related to space flight or becoming a scientific journal editor.
“Being selected to receive this funding is an incredible feeling,” she said. “As a graduate student, funding is always at the forefront of our thoughts, and mine have been put at ease during the stress associated with graduate school. I am immensely grateful to the Greehey Family for supporting young researchers who are pursuing research in pediatric cancers. This fellowship will allow my research to move forward unhindered by the worry of funding. I am proud that I can do my part in the lab to not only participate in the fight for a cure for childhood cancer, but also to contribute to the lab by securing my own funding for the next year.”