Advancing understanding of, and new treatments for, cancer
Shanaya Shah is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the biochemistry, molecular, cellular and developmental biology program. Her work focuses on DNA repair mechanisms that prevent genomic instability and cancer. Shah uses third-generation sequencing technology, genetics and biochemistry to reveal novel factors affecting genome integrity. Her work has implications for cancer therapy and improvement of CRISPR technology.
Shah has a M.Sc. in molecular medicine (cancer specialization) from the University of Sheffield (UK) and a B.Sc. in biochemistry and biotechnology from St. Xavier’s College (Ahmedabad, India). She spent a year working at the Indian Institute of Science. She was a Leaders for the Future Fellow in spring 2019.
Describe your project or venture.
Over the years as I grasped that the human body comprises millions of cells any one of which could get mutated, I began to wonder why is cancer so rare, instead of why is cancer so common. This led to a deep-set interest in understanding and exploring the network of DNA repair and recombination machinery that the cell uses to maintain the integrity of our genome.
It all started when I looked at the chromosome spread under the microscope while interning at a genetic diagnostic laboratory in high school. I saw how the instability of chromosomes and DNA mutations can lead to human genetic disorders, and a number of these genetic disorders are linked with predisposition to various types of cancers.
As a Ph.D. candidate in Distinguished Professor Wolf-Dietrich Heyer’s laboratory, I focus on mechanisms that prevent such genomic instability by repairing double-stranded DNA damages. I was able to establish a novel technique to help study for the first time transient intermediates formed during the repair by homologous recombination. By studying these intermediates, I am able to show how various proteins interplay and affect the final outcome of repair. Imbalances in this interplay lead to aberrant repair, which may predispose to various diseases including cancer.
What’s important about your research—and where do you hope to take it?
My research helps advance our understanding of cancer, mechanisms by which cancer cells evade our repair systems and even manipulate them for an aggressive growth. I hope that my work will eventually lead to new drug targets and help improve therapy for resistant tumors.
I am passionate about innovating new tools/techniques by using the power of trans-disciplinary collaborations, solving problems and helping improve human healthcare.
What are you most passionate about in your work?
Innovating new tools/techniques by using the power of trans-disciplinary collaborations, solving problems and helping improve human healthcare.
What was the most important thing you learned at the Entrepreneurship Academy?
The importance of network and collaborations. No matter how qualified or deserving one might think oneself, having the “right” kind of network is the most important factor in getting where you want to be. The academy also gave me the opportunity to connect with various supportive mentors via the UC Mentors platform.
What is the most unexpected advice you received from a mentor?
Never to burn any bridges, as you never know what you may need to fall back on. To value and nourish every relationship built along the way.
What is the most important thing you discovered in the Leaders for the Future program?
The importance of clearly and concisely communicating about myself to others. I found that people want to know about me and my work. But scientists often tend to talk with a lot of technical jargon and end up losing their audience.
How will your experiences as a Leader for the Future and at the academy shape your professional future?
Leaders for the Future has enhanced my confidence in networking, communicating my story, negotiating and leadership skills. Putting these skills to use, I was able to get an internship at Genentech in the translational oncology department for the summer.
The Entrepreneurship Academy was an extremely unique and beneficial experience to me as I plan to move my scientific career to industry. Knowing how to build a company will help me become a better leading scientist in industry. It also opened up my thoughts to the possibility of starting a company in the future.