August 21, 2017 at 3:14 pm

Biochem Major Probes Cancer in Internship at St. Jude

Grube at work in St. Jude's natural product chemistry lab.

Grube at work in St. Jude’s natural product chemistry lab.

by Kristin Distel

Senior Amy Grube, a biochemistry major in the Honors Tutorial College, spent the summer fulfilling a lifelong goal: interning at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“I’ve dreamed of working for St. Jude since I was really little. There’s just something so special about all that St. Jude has accomplished, and I’ve almost always wanted to be a part of it,” Grube says. “So when looking for something to do this summer, St. Jude was the first place I looked.”

Hands-On Experience in Cancer Research

St. Jude’s internship program, called the Pediatric Oncology Education (POE) program, has allowed Grube to see firsthand how biochemistry and laboratory research affect the lives and health of children and their families.

“One of the best things about this internship is being able to see the immediate results from my research,” Grube says. “The compounds that I make are taken straight to be tested on leukemia cell lines after they’re made and the structure is confirmed. So, I have results within a few days that tell me whether my compounds are toxic to certain cancer cells.”

Grube spends most of her time in the lab, which specializes in natural product chemistry.

“We synthesize compounds (make compounds from smaller, commercially available chemicals) that are based on natural products with anti-cancer properties,” Grube explains.

Her specific project is “modifying a compound that is a CDK-9 inhibitor to help with the absorption of the compound into the body. The scaffold is based off a natural product, and there is a current drug out similar to it that has been used in chronic lymphoblastic leukemia (CLL) and acute myeloid leukemia (AML).”

In addition to intensive lab work and research, Grube has been able to meet experts in the oncology field. Each day features a “lunch and learn,” in which the internship coordinators bring in a medical expert who describes their current research and their role at St. Jude.

Gaining a Competitive Edge at OHIO

Grube was one of 59 successful applicants selected from a pool of around 600 candidates. After completing the application and obtaining recommendation letters, Grube received an exciting email from St. Jude’s internship director: Dr. Fatima Rivas, a  primary investigator at St. Jude was interested in working with Grube and wanted to interview her.

Within a week, Grube found out that she’d been selected and would fulfill her dream of interning at St. Jude.

Grube notes that the strong foundation she has obtained at Ohio University was essential to being selected as an intern, especially among such a large pool of applicants.

“One of the big factors that I think helped me to get this internship was that I’ve been working in the lab at OHIO for over a year, so I had a lot of research experience for an undergrad compared to some of the other applicants,” Grube explains.

Like many other OHIO students, Grube found that having a strong faculty support system made a significant difference in securing an ideal internship.

Dr. Mark McMills is my PI at OHIO, and he wrote one of my letters of recommendation. He encouraged me throughout the application process,” she explains.

Bringing New Knowledge Back to OHIO

Grube is certain that transferring knowledge and new skill sets from her internship will make her a stronger student here at OHIO.

“I’ve learned a lot of new lab techniques, as well as some new ways to look at the chemistry that I do. I hope to use that in completing my thesis this year,” Grube remarks.

Some of those internship lessons, she notes, are less tangible but equally important.

“Being at St. Jude has shown me the relevance of what I’ve learned in the classroom and the amazing things that lab work can accomplish. Knowing that, I think going back to OHIO to finish my degree will be a lot more enjoyable.”

‘Such an Amazing Place’

Her internship experience also reminded of the importance of ongoing education, especially in the medical field.

“I feel that being here at St. Jude, you are always going to learn something new. So many people at the hospital are experts in their field, yet they’re constantly bringing other experts in from all over the world to talk. This internship has taught me to never stop learning, and that even when you’re an expert in something there’s still more for you to learn,” she notes.

Grube describes her internship—a time of learning, researching, and helping patients in need—as an unforgettable experience.

“St. Jude is such an amazing place.”

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