September 11, 2020

Doctoral student selected to present at Society of Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in the Sciences Conference

Julio Pimentel, a third-year doctoral student in the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Cancer Biology Graduate Program, has been selected to present at the 2020 National Diversity in STEM Conference conducted by the Society of Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in the Sciences.

Pimentel, originally from Turlock, Calif., will present “Targeting PP2A inhibits the growth of triple-negative breast cancer cells” during the conference, taking place Oct. 19-24. The conference will be held virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Society of Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in the Sciences is dedicated to fostering the success of Chicano/Hispanics and Native Americans in attaining advanced degrees, careers and positions of leadership in science, technology, engineering and math. The organization’s conference is the largest multidisciplinary and multicultural STEM diversity event in the country.

Pimentel’s research focus in the Cancer Biology Graduate Program is overcoming tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand, or TRAIL, resistance in triple negative breast cancer.

Triple-negative breast cancer, or TNBC, is an aggressive disease that does not respond to widely-used targeted endocrine therapies because of the absence of progesterone, estrogen and HER2 receptors. While previous studies indicate the majority of TNBC cells are highly sensitive to TRAIL-induced apoptosis, the development of TRAIL resistance limits its efficacy. Pimentel’s study evaluated the effects of protein phosphatase 2A, or PP2A, inhibition on TRAIL-induced cell death in TRAIL-resistant TNBC cells. He generated two TRAIL-resistant cell lines from TRAIL-sensitive parental cells (MDA-MB-231 and SUM159), and found that both TRAIL-resistant cell lines are sensitive to the PP2A inhibitor LB-100 compared to their corresponding TRAIL-sensitive counterparts. The findings suggest that the inhibition of PP2A activity could be a novel therapeutic strategy for overcoming TRAIL resistance in triple-negative breast cancer.

In 2019, Pimentel won first place in poster presentations at the Karmanos Cancer Institute Junior Faculty Research/Retreat, and the Cancer Biology Director's Award. He was selected in 2018 for a WSU Dean's Diversity Fellowship, designed to attract new doctoral students and support departmental recruitment of students who demonstrate academic excellence and are underrepresented in their disciplines.

The first-generation Hispanic doctoral student is mentored by Gen Sheng Wu, Ph.D., professor of Oncology and of Pathology.

Pimentel received his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, with a concentration in molecular biology from the California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock, Calif., and his master’s degree in clinical research and translational medicine from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

“I look forward to a long career in cancer research and aspire to one day lead a cancer research program connected to a university, where I hope to play an active role as a mentor to aspiring researchers,” he said. “I am motivated to support students/trainees who have surmounted challenges to get their education, and who may come from disadvantaged backgrounds similar to my own, especially when it is important for students to have mentorship as early as possible – as undergrads or even in high school.”

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