Sascha McKeon, PhD
I graduated in March of 2013 from the lab of Dr. Jan Conn, in the Infectious Diseases track.
While in the lab, I worked on three species complexes of mosquitoes in Amazonian Brazil. Some projects focused on the population genetics of individual species, specifically local and regionally important vectors of malaria. The first project examined two populations of Anopheles marajoara along the Amazon River and revealed distinct differences to support the hypothesis of incipient speciation, which was later confirmed by collaborators. Another project compared the demographic history of two co-occurring species and revealed that though these species share habitats, there were distinct differences in their ability to exploit the environment and thrive possibly due to biological differences. Lastly, I examined larval ecology, which identified species specific habitats and individual correlations from environmental variables, such as shade, vegetation, and salinity. These lines of inquiry can be used to predict changes in malaria transmission and implement a targeted control strategy. All three of these projects have been published.
My advice to students currently in the program is to really reflect on who you want as your PI -a good match makes all the difference. When choosing a PI, consider your career goals, journals you might want to publish in, how long their last student took to graduate, and their mentor style (hands on, hands-off, lots of micromanaging, etc). Another key factor in success = Networking. It's never too early to start. While I do not consider myself the typical BMS student, as I knew early on that I wanted a teaching career with research being an optional pursuit, I still attended conferences annually, workshops in both research specific fields and teaching. Look for opportunities to learn new skills and meet new people that can help you get where you want to be. For me, this meant volunteering as a TA at SUNY Albany, teaching my own summer course, attending a Compact for Diversity Teaching Conference and a computer programming workshop in Spain.
Currently I am a tenure track professor at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, OR. I teach majors and non-majors level general biology, as well as microbiology. My first year was hectic as I was simultaneously writing my thesis, and designing and proctoring 3-4 courses a term, but it has been invigorating working with students who are as excited about health sciences as I was when I began my academic career. This year, I am working on some small research grants to establish an apiary on campus, as well as reconstituting the campus greenhouse. My goal as an instructor is to provide students with meaningful and hands on experiences to bring concepts such as photosynthesis, ecosystems and land-use management to life.
Additionally, I am working on a review of larval ecology and analysis.
Daniel Munson, PhD
I graduated in November of 2011 from the lab of Dr. April Burch in the Biomedical Sciences program, the Infectious Diseases track.
While in the lab, I worked on three different projects which focused on the pathogen host interface. Our pathogen of choice was HSV-1, a dsDNA virus which is fairly ubiquitous within the human population (~80% seroprevalence). My work focused on HSV-1's interaction with the cellular proteasome, specifically the proteasome protein Mss1 which is relocalized during infection, and the formation of the immunoproteasome which is more active in infected cells. My third project was an exploratory project looking for microRNAs produced by the virus during lytic infection. We discovered one in particular that when deleted causes a large drop in viral titres and makes smaller plaques in cell culture. The phenotype can be rescued by providing the microRNA coding region in trans, and preliminary screens to determine the target of the miRNA point to ICP4, a viral gene involved in the establishment of latency or lytic infections. All three of these projects have been submitted as manuscripts and we are hopeful they will be published soon.
Currently I am working as a postdoc in the lab of Dr. Jill Slansky at The National Jewish Health campus in Denver, CO. Our lab focuses on identifying altered peptide epitopes in the hope of improving the immune system's response to cancer. Specifically, I work on breast cancer and four of the most predominantly expressed antigens, Her2/neu, Telomerase, NY-ESO-1, and Muc-1. These altered peptides, or mimotopes, have been shown to elicit a more robust response to specific cancer peptides and enhance the ability of low affinity, self-tolerant, T cells present in the body to kill cancer cells presenting the native antigen. My goal is to take T cells isolated from breast cancer patients (in collaboration my The City of Hope Research Foundation) which have had the TCR sequenced in order to determine the most abundant CDR3 regions and use a peptide library produced in baculovirus to identify mimotopes for each epitope, then determine which mimotope(s) elicit a stronger immune response. The hope is that the mimotopes can be used as a vaccination for patients with cancer (breast in my case, but it is applicable to all cancers) to stimulate T cells within the body to divide, activate, and become more reactive toward cancer antigens and thus cancer cells.
Additionally, I am taking my knowledge of Herpesviruses and working in collaboration with Dr. John Gutman, also at UC Denver, to isolate cord blood stem cells from CMV infected infants, stimulate those cells to become T cells, and using a presenting cell that I'm developing, activate and expand the CMV reactive T cells. These cells will then be injected back into the bloodstream of the infant from which they came in order to fight the infection.