I grew up in the Seattle area, and (of course!) have massive Seattle pride! Go Hawks! grew up playing an abundance of sports, but soccer was always my primarily. I am through-and-through defender, and played competitive select soccer from 7th grade until my senior year of high school. I loved playing high school ball though, which I have always found to be kind of backward from my peers. I loved it though, and was a second team all-league defender my freshman year. I blew my knee out my sophomore year, was captain my junior year, and got back on the all-league teams for my senior season before I injured myself again. I also participated in choir, piano, musical theater, and enjoyed as well as being the typical nerd who took AP and College level classes.
And, of course, I did always find myself fascinated by and gravitating toward science. It all started, cheesy as it may seem, when I saw Outbreak in my 9th grade biology class! Now, I realize how delightfully inaccurate that movie is, but at the time it didn't matter. I wanted to know what those people who stopped the spread of the disease were doing and how they were doing it! That class would also provide me my first glimpses into "research," where my two big projects would land me at the Seattle Aquarium interviewing an octopus expert on the intelligence of octopuses, and at my grandparents cabin on the tidal flats of Quilcene Bay measuring marine sessile growth on tiles in varying locations throughout the tidal flats. I couldn't help but think, "Dang - this stuff is pretty cool!"
When I started thinking about college, that experience seeing Outbreak and doing those couple research projects would be a very important catalyst. I knew I liked science, and because of Outbreak, started looking into Microbiology programs at the varying Universities in the Pacific Northwest. When I was touring Washington State University's campus with one of my long time friends, I had the opportunity to meet with a Microbiology professor (unfortunately who's name has now eluded me for years). I talked to him about Micro, what I thought I wanted to do, why I thought Micro was a good option for me, etc. Ultimately, he told me to read the book Microbe Hunters By: Paul DeKruiff. He said, "If you like this book, then you're going into the right field. Needless to say, I loved it, and two years later, I found myself kicking off my educational and scientific journey on the WSU campus.
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I was an odd duck at WSU. One of those weird kids who knew their major when they started school. I ultimately majored in Microbiology & Genetics & Cell Biology. When I was 18, I started working in research labs almost immediately upon starting my freshman year of college. I had come into the semester believing that I was going to way-lay looking for research opportunities, so that I could allow myself some type to adjust to college. But, when a paid undergraduate research assistant position was advertised in my Honors college newsletter, I couldn't pass it up. Not two weeks into school, I applied to, interviewed, and got my first research position in the reproductive biology lab of Dr. Michael Skinner. I would spend the next four years working with many members of the lab, primarily with Dr. Ramji K. Bhandari, on the mammalian male sex determination cascade of basic helix-loop-helix transcription factors. I completed an undergraduate honors thesis on this research, which passed the Honors thesis requirement with Distinction. I graduated from WSU in 2011 Cum Laude, with Honors. My undergraduate research was then published in the journal Biology of Reproduction, and I was a second author, which was a very exciting moment! Perhaps the thing I was most proud of were the fact that my immunohistory chemistry experiments and images were published in this paper! That's not something I thought I would accomplish as an undergrad.
Following graduation, I planned to take some time off from school. I really didn't know what I wanted to do. There were seemingly so many options - MD, MD/PhD, PhD, Immunology, Infectious Disease, Pathology, Parasitology, etc. I didn't really know what to choose, so I took some time to figure it out while working in the retroviral gene therapy lab of Dr. Grant Trobridge. I really feel like this is where I came into my own as a research. In addition to essentially managing the lab, I also ran projects which included the development of a novel approach to identifying prostate cancer driver genes, retargeting of foamy retroviral integration, etc. My work identifying novel drive genes of advanced prostate cancer progression was published in Molecular Cancer, and I was a first author.
In 2013, I moved to Michigan to start my PhD in the Program of Biomedical Sciences (PIBS) at the University of Michigan in the department of Microbiology & Immunology. This came after a whirlwind interviewing process, which found me spending 5 weeks flying all over the country, switching time zones every 2-3 days. I interviewed and was accepted at Michigan, UNC-Chapel Hill, Emory, Indiana, Northwestern, and OHSU. Ultimately, I came to Michigan because it really felt like home. The department and the people were welcoming, and I felt I could make that transition from Pullman to Ann Arbor much more seamlessly than, for example moving from the cow-town that is Pullman to Atlanta or Chicago.
In 2014, I joined the lab of Suzanne Dawid, MD, PhD. I am currently working on the understanding the cross-regulation between two quorum-sensing systems in the biofilms of the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. This has been a fascinating project so far, that has enabled me to learn a number of new microbiological techniques, as well as experiment with mathematical modeling. I left in 2016 with my Master's and hoped to pursue a teaching career back in my hometown of Seattle. I'm also working toward the completion of an additional MS degree in Hospital and Molecular Epidemiology at Michigan's School of Public Health, and was a fellow in the newly formed Integrated Training in Microbial Science training grant.
I am also a contributor a newly formed science communication blog at Michigan, Michigan Science Writers. You can find some of my pieces from MSW on the blog!
A NOVEL APPROACH TO IDENTIFY DRIVER GENES INVOLVED IN ANDROGEN-INDEPENDENT PROSTATE CANCER
Ellyn N. Schinke, Victor Bii, Arun Nalla, Dustin T. Rae, Gary G. Meadows, Grant D. Trobridge - Molecular Cancer. 23 May 2014. 13:120.
Retroviral mutagenesis screens have been used in a number of different diseases in the past to identify important genes in disease progression. In these screens, a retrovirus in integrated into the DNA to serve as a sort of "tag" for where the DNA was changed. As a result, when a given characteristic is achieved in the population, where this "tag" is located provides some indication of which genes are involved. In this screen we hoped to identify genes involved in the progression to androgen-independent prostate cancer, an advanced form of prostate cancer. We treated prostate cancer cells with these "tags" and enriched for these specific genes we were looking for by selecting for them in an androgen-deficient growth environment. Those with an advantage would out-grow the others. Once the cells reached androgen-independence, we would then use a technique called "shuttle vector rescue," which would allow us to recover these "tags" and identify what gene they integrated in or nearby to. As a result we identified 5 candidate genes that influence prostate cancer progression. We identified many new genes, as well as a gene, PTRF, that was previously associated with prostate cancer.
SRY INDUCED TCF21 GENOME-WIDE TARGETS AND CASCADE OF BHLH FACTORS DURING SERTOLI CELL DIFFERENTIATION AND MALE SEX DETERMINATION
Ramji K. Bhandari, Ellyn N. Schinke, Md. M. Haque, Ingrid Sadler-Riggleman, Michael K. Skinner - Biology of Reproduction. 2012 Dec 6. 87(6):131.
There are cascades of gene activation that control many of the developmental processes in life. The same is true for the development of our reproductive systems. In this paper, we study some of the genes that are downstream of the "master" male reproductive regulatory, SRY. SRY is the first gene that must be turned on to initiate male reproductive development. We had previously identified one gene, called Tcf21, which was the next gene to be activated in the series following SRY. We specifically looked at a group of genes, called basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors, which are known to be a group of genes involved in these developmental processes. We used a technique which would allow us to see which genes TCF21 interacted with. By looking at the timing of there activation, we could then determine which genes come next. We discovered that after Tcf21 came a gene called scleraxis (Scx). By forcing the expression of these genes, we were able to get female cells to express male genes, demonstrating the importance of these genes in male development.