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Early-Career Wistar Scientist Says Cancer Biology Program Uniquely Prepared Her in Quest for Researching a Cancer Cure
Ben Leach
Amanpreet Kaur, Ph.D.

Amanpreet Kaur, Ph.D., is on a search to find a cure for cancer and other diseases and believes a unique program between University of the Sciences and The Wistar Institute has helped prepare her for that noble task.

Kaur was working full time as a lab assistant at Wistar, a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center located in Philadelphia dedicated solely to biomedical research with special expertise in cancer research and vaccine development, when she heard about the new Cancer Biology Graduate Degree Program. This curriculum is specifically designed to provide students with an inclusive, broad-based, graduate education that complements and expands existing opportunities for cancer training in the greater Philadelphia area.

Successful candidates receive a Ph.D. in cancer biology from University of the Sciences, and this past May, Kaur was the first to receive the doctorate degree.

“While pursuing my degree, I was fortunate to be able to take many different courses that focused on important topics such as stem cell research, biotechnology, immunology, and drug discovery and design,” said Kaur. “I believe that these courses gave me a unique perspective on the problems faced by each field and the important techniques and models employed by these fields to answer their questions.” 

Students in the program get hands-on training in The Wistar Institute’s Molecular Screening Facility and work with Wistar researchers who are conducting cutting edge research in state-of-the-art laboratories as well as take courses and train at USciences with its faculty and researchers.

Kaur conducted her research in the lab of Ashani Weeraratna, Ph.D., Ira Brind Associate Professor, program leader in the Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis Program and member of the Melanoma Research Center at The Wistar Institute. There, she focused on how melanoma changes the structure of our skin as we age and how that may influence some aggressive characteristics of the cancer cells.

“This program—between Wistar and USciences—is a unique opportunity to educate students in cancer biology, while providing for hands-on training in leading research centers like Wistar’s Melanoma Center,” said Weeraratna. “The goal is to mentor and train the next generation of cancer researchers in a successful academic or industrial career in cancer biology and drug development. We are extremely proud of our first graduate, Amanpreet, and I know she will go on to do great research.

Kaur also credits Dana Pape-Zambito, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences at USciences, with helping her navigate her dissertation and giving invaluable advice on her research. Maureen Murphy, Ph.D., professor and program leader in Wistar’s Molecular and Cellular Oncogenesis Program, and Meenhard Herlyn, D.V.M., D.Sc., Caspar Wistar Professor in Melanoma Research, also offered their guidance on her dissertation committee, according to Kaur.

“I have been able to learn about new and cutting edge research, and I believe this has helped me transition into a better scientist,” said Kaur.

During her time in the program, she was also awarded a $45,076 grant from the National Institutes of Health to transition to a postdoctoral position while continuing to conduct research. It was one of the inaugural grants from the National Cancer Institute’s F99 program to keep talented individuals involved in research after graduation.

Following graduation, Kaur accepted a postdoctoral position in the lab of Arjun Raj, Ph.D., at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering working on single cell techniques such as RNA sequencing. She hopes to eventually lead her own research group in an academic setting in search of cures of cancer and other diseases.