Hello everyone! My name is Richard Fang and I am currently a rising sophomore majoring in Molecular Biology and Sociology, with minors and certificates in Chemistry, Computer Science, and Global Health. Something about me is that I traveled to three national parks at the beginning of this summer, and hiked around 30 miles in just a few days!
I am a recipient of the Brackenridge Fellowship for Summer 2022, so over the course of the summer I will be working at Hillman Cancer Center in the Aird Lab to study the cellular localization of mTORC1 and ATR in a non-canonical p16 pathway. In simpler terms, my goal is to identify where and how two specific proteins are interacting within a cell as part of a tumor suppression pathway.
Around half of human cancers have been found to be p16 low or deficient and only one pathway has been well-documented, so my role will be to study a specific protein pathway in a much less understood pathway. Traditionally, p16 is understood to suppress tumor growth by slowing the cell’s progression from the G1 to S phase of the cell cycle, and this is achieved via p16 interactions with CDK4/6. However, in the pathway I will be studying, p16 is hypothesized to operate on ATR which then in turn upregulates activation of mTORC1, an important protein complex implicated in a number of cellular processes.
Considering half of human cancers have p16 deficiencies yet only one pathway has been elucidated, I would consider this research to be immensely important. mTORC1 is typically found within the cytoplasm and ATR in the nucleus, so locating the cellular location of interaction could have implications for how drugs are packaged for delivery into the cell. It was only recently that the Aird Lab collected data confirming that mTORC1 and ATR do indeed interact, so locating and determining their mechanism of interaction is a logical and important next step.
For the longest time I knew I wanted to be a physician and work with patients, but my first year at Pitt has opened my eyes to new career prospects. I really fell in love with research, so I think my ideal path would be to pursue an MD-PhD so I can combine both my passions. Since I am currently studying cancer mechanisms, I think it would be awesome to go into medical or radiation oncology while continuing to research cancer. I’m also very much interested in health policy and global health, so I would love to find a way to incorporate those aspects into any future career paths I may take.