Victoria Caruso Silva is a Ph.D. Candidate in the
Molecular Biology program.
|Victoria Caruso Silva
Victoria came to Lehigh after earning a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Seton Hall University and after working for Sanofi-Aventis where she spent two years studying cellular responses to pharmaceuticals being developed. It was during this time that Victoria became fascinated by a single cell’s ability to respond to novel chemicals and came to appreciate how remarkable cells are. The great allure of cells prompted her to enter the graduate program in Fall of 2008 and to join the lab of Lynne Cassimeris.
The Cassimeris lab has been interested in the microtubule cytoskeleton and its role in cell division. Recently it was discovered that the protein stathmin, which negatively regulates microtubule growth and longevity, is also necessary for proper cell cycle progression in certain cancerous cells.
Over half of all cancers lack a functional form of p53, a protein crucial to monitoring and responding to cellular damage. Without this ‘gatekeeper’ protein, cells with DNA mutations can continue to replicate, perpetuating their mistakes and giving rise to drastically altered cells that no longer respond to environmental signals. These cells are able to outgrow their normal tissue environment and metastasize to other regions of the body and destroy normal tissue. Recent research from the Cassimeris lab has demonstrated that cells lacking p53 can be controlled by the level of stathmin they contain. Lowering the level of stathmin in these cells regulates their proliferation rate and induces death.
Victoria’s dissertation research has focused on investigating this novel observation and her work has established that these cells spend more time in interphase. Her work has identified key enzymes that are less active and likely responsible for this unique cell cycle delay. Victoria’s continuing research will investigate the mechanism(s) behind why these enzymes are less active. Understanding why and how loss of a microtubule regulator causes slowed proliferation and increased cell death in many cancer cells could uncover new therapeutic targets to slow and/or eliminate tumor growth in patients.
When not in the lab, Victoria has spent the past two years bringing science and research into the middle school classroom. Through a grant funded by the National Science Foundation and Lehigh Valley S.T.E.M. (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics), Victoria has worked closely with South Mountain Middle School where she co-taught sixth grade science classes one day a week with Alison Houpt, a devoted educator and inspiring mentor. During her time at South Mountain, Victoria helped 12 sixth grade honors students submit research projects to the Lehigh Valley Science and Engineering Fair where her students earned two 1st place, two 2nd place and an honorable mention award. She also designed and taught interactive lessons on topics such as the origin of life on earth, how the tongue relays taste information to the brain and the cellular basis of cancer, all adapted for a middle school audience.
Victoria has been the recipient of the Lehigh University Fellowship as well as the LV S.T.E.M Fellowship (2009-2011) from the National Science Foundation. Her work has been presented at national conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals.