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.
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."
This is just one piece of a larger story demonstrating how MD Anderson is educating professionals and the public.