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From Marine to Molecular Biology

Annual Report - Winter 2012

Student benefits from mentoring

By Mary Jane Schier

Andria Schibler hopes the yeast she uses every day will do much more than make bread dough rise. Her ultimate goal is to help improve leukemia patients’ survival.

Instead of a kitchen, Schibler works in a laboratory at MD Anderson’s Science Park in Smithville, Texas. Her tools include test tubes, incubators and beakers.

A student in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences,
Andria Schibler (middle) shares her research goals with
Ronald DePinho, M.D., MD Anderson's president. Her
mentor, Sharon Dent, Ph.D. (left), leads MD Anderson's
Science Park facility in Smithville, Texas.
Photo: Wyatt McSpadden

Schibler, whose parents were both school teachers, intended to be a marine biologist when she went to Suffolk University in Boston, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in biology. But during an internship at Harvard Medical School/Massachusetts General Hospital, she got hooked on molecular biology.

“After learning about 
MD Anderson, I applied to GSBS (Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences) ... and moved to Houston in August 2007. I’ve never been so hot,” she relates.

Schibler took rotations with several MD Anderson scientists who train students at GSBS, which is jointly operated by MD Anderson and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. She was delighted when Sharon Dent, Ph.D., then professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, agreed to be her mentor.

Yeast mimics genetic mutations

Dent moved her laboratory to the Science Park after being named chair of the Department of Molecular Carcinogenesis in mid-2010, and Schibler followed a few months later. Two other GSBS students are members of Dent’s laboratory.

“Using yeast as a model, I’ve mimicked genetic mutations that are present in some leukemia patients and that correlate with poor prognosis. By studying the gene’s function in both mutated and normal cells, I’m getting a clearer idea of how normal cells should behave and what happens when the gene is mutated,” Schibler says. Her research is supported by a Schissler Foundation Fellowship.

She recently started collaborating with a senior leukemia specialist at 
MD Anderson to see if her research could help improve patients’ diagnosis and treatment.

“Dr. Dent gives us the flexibility and independence to test our ideas and grow scientifically,” Schibler says. “I love what I do.”

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