Julio Pimentel, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in Cancer Biology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, was named a member of the inaugural Janssen Scholar of Oncology Diversity Engagement Program by Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical companies.
The program seeks to provide mentorship from senior industry leaders and develop essential skill sets valued in scientific careers both inside and outside of an industry setting to those who self-identify as Hispanic or African American.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the inaugural round of scholars, as well as the support and mentoring I am receiving from Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, because it will allow me to progress toward my long-term career goals of directing a research program and contributing to cancer diversity,” Pimentel said.
Selection as a scholar includes a $10,000 stipend to be used for conference travel, research supplies and training courses, and mentoring.
To be considered for the program, applicants must be full-time doctoral students in their second year or later, first- or second-year medical students, postdoctoral fellows or PharmD students engaged or interested in oncology or other closely related disciplines such as immunology, molecular biology, biochemistry, pharmaceutical sciences, computational biology/data sciences, clinical research and pharmacology.
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.
Last June, Pimentel was selected for a second time to receive the National Latino Leader Award and a scholarship to attend and present at the 2021 Society of Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in the Sciences Conference. He also received the recognition in 2020.
The Society of Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in the Sciences is dedicated to fostering the success of Chicanos/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.
The Wayne State University Board of Governors in 2020 recognized Pimentel for exhibiting “Profiles in Warrior Strong.” The recognition acknowledges positive accomplishments continued throughout the university community despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019, Pimentel won first place in poster presentations at the Barbara Ann 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.
In addition to continuing his research during the pandemic, he gave a virtual presentation to minority high school students interested in STEM in the FocuSSTEM NextGen program and was nominated as a Latino role model shaping the world by the Latino Community Stage, an online platform for aspiring Latina and Latino students to explore academic and career interests in STEM.