In the summer of 2009, Arianexys Aquino-Lopez arrived at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to participate in the summer research program known as U54, a partnership with the University of Puerto Rico. Not only was her interest in research sparked, but she learned about another program that would bring her back to MD Anderson four years later.
Now she’s enrolled in the M.D./Ph.D. program between The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus. After completing the first three years of medical school back home in Puerto Rico, Arianexys moved to Houston to enroll in the Clinical and Translational Sciences (CTS) program at GSBS.
“When I was in undergrad, I did a lot of research. This is the perfect combination,” she says of the ability to have both medical and research degrees. “My main goal is to do research and use all the clinical knowledge that I get from medical school to apply to the research experience.”
The goal of the CTS program is to address gaps identified in clinical settings, translating research from the “bench to the bedside,” in order to provide more immediate results for patients. The program exposes students like Arianexys to individuals with different backgrounds, which aids in the collaborative process.
The research in her lab focuses on immune therapy for pediatric cancers. She studies the natural killer (or NK cells) of healthy donors and patients, to see how they may be used to eliminate tumor cells. A better understanding of how NK cells kill tumors might lead to personalized therapies in which NK cells could be infused to target the patient’s tumor cells.
Although her roots run deep in science, Arianexys also has a creative side. In high school she performed in a band with her family and friends, and even created a demo. When it was time to go to college, she had to choose.
“I realized could do music as a hobby, but I couldn’t do science as a hobby. So I decided to do science and keep music as a hobby,” says the 26-year-old.
She remains in tune with her hobby by singing with her church youth group and is sometimes invited to sing at special events, such as weddings.
After completing the CTS program, Arianexys and her husband will return to Puerto Rico so she can complete her last year of medical school. She loves Houston and MD Anderson, and hopes to return to complete a residency in pediatrics.
“I feel like this place has everything. In the cafeteria, you can see doctors and surgeons and nurses and patients in the same place. You can tell everybody’s working together in this place. It’s awesome.”
My main goal is to do research and use all the clinical knowledge that I get from medical school to apply to the research experience.