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Biomedical sciences student studying fertility in Mello lab

By Kaylee Pugliese

UMass Chan Medical School Communications

June 14, 2022

Humberto Ochoa, PhD candidate in the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, knew he wanted to be a scientist from a young age.

“Watching movies like Jurassic Park really got me into science. I didn’t know it at the time, but I later realized they were doing science, and it eventually led me to study biology,” Ochoa said.

Ochoa works in the lab of Nobel Laureate Craig C. Mello, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, the Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine and distinguished professor of RNA therapeutics and molecular medicine. Ochoa is studying membraneless organelles and how they interact with proteins to play a central role in RNA silencing and interference. They are working to understand how fertility is induced or affected by these processes.

“In the United States, there is a rapid decline in fertility at the moment,” Ochoa said. “Understanding how environmental factors interact with some of these molecular components may give us insight into what’s causing the fertility decline and how to fix it.”

Born in Guatemala, Ochoa was 6 when he and his family moved to New Jersey. He earned a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from Colgate University and worked as a National Cancer Institute Cancer Research Training Award researcher at the National Institutes of Health.

“In breast cancer, a small subset of cells called cancer stem cells are becoming critical therapeutic targets because of their capacity to initiate and sustain tumor growth,” Ochoa said. “I studied how control of gene expression in these cancer stem cells was regulated by a factor called PADI4, which is required to limit the population of these cancer stem cells and the aggressiveness of the tumors.”

Outside of his research, he spends time at the UMass Chan gym. He also enjoys getting out into the city to explore.

“Worcester is great for food,” he said. “There is a lot of diversity in the people and the restaurants reflect that.”

The Student Spotlight series features UMass Chan Medical School students in the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing and T.H. Chan School of Medicine. For more information about UMass Chan Medical School and how to apply, visit the Prospective Students page.

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