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Student Spotlight: Anne Carlisle researches cancer cell metabolism at GSBS

By Kylee Denesha

UMass Medical School Communications

September 14, 2020

Anne Carlisle, PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, came to Massachusetts from Nebraska in 2015. After attending three undergraduate colleges in five years, it had come time for her to make a decision on where she’d pursue a graduate degree. She discovered UMass Medical School through a GSBS Career Eco-Virtual Fair.

“It was the interview sessions that really got me,” said Carlisle. “It was already a challenging time figuring out exactly what I wanted to do and where I wanted to live to pursue my goals. Once I learned more about UMass and what Massachusetts has to offer, I was set. When you come to campus, you see how special it is to be here.”

Carlisle kept busy during her college years, interning at Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Missouri, and at Ames Laboratory within the U.S. Department of Energy in Iowa. Her interest in chemistry and biology carried her through a diverse educational experience.

“I did a lot of traveling in my early 20s; it’s something I am so grateful for,” she said. “Having the chance to be so involved during undergrad really confirmed for me that science is my calling. The troubleshooting, the optimization, working with my hands, trying to find an answer to a question. That’s what science is to me and why I enjoy it so much.”

Now in her sixth and final year of the PhD program in the Department of Molecular, Cell & Cancer Biology, Carlisle is preparing to defend her thesis on Nov. 6. She is studying cancer cell metabolism in the lab of Dohoon Kim, PhD, assistant professor of molecular, cell & cancer biology.

Carlisle’s project analyzes how to utilize toxic metabolites, or substances formed in metabolism, in amino acid biosynthesis pathways for selective cancer cell poisoning. She does this by investigating the role of selenophosphate synthetase 2 (SEPHS2), a selenium processing enzyme in cancer. Her research has been published in Nature Metabolism and Oncogene.

“We found we can actually use selenium to poison cancer cells, leaving normal cells alone,” Carlisle said. “I’m so grateful to have Do as a mentor. I was actually one of his first graduate students, so I’m excited to have done such innovative research under his supervision. Our lab is very tight knit, we communicate well together.”

Carlisle served as co-president of the Graduate Student Body Committee from 2018 to 2020 and served as secretary of the Student Government Alliance from 2018 to 2019.

“I was able to see the ins and outs of multiple facets of the community. By being a student leader, I was involved in a lot of different initiatives that I am really thankful for,” she said. “I met people from the medical school and the nursing school who showed me that even though we have very different programs, we are all in this together.”

Worcester has been a home to Carlisle for more than five years, a drastic change from her prior life in the Midwest United States. She said taking the leap of faith to move across the country was a decision she does not regret.

“The culture here is wonderful. The food, the proximity to Boston, the access to a fantastic science education. After all this time, it still feels comfortable.”

The Student Spotlight series features students in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Graduate School of Nursing and School of Medicine. Do you know an interesting student who should be included? Email UMassMed News at UMMScommunications@umassmed.edu.