Kekoa Anthony Taparra, PhD
Medical Student, Mayo Medical School
As a Native Hawaiian and aspiring physician-scientist, it has been my objective to one day share innovative biomedical research skills and experiences back in my island community. Like many today, I have seen far too many loved ones in my life taken by cancer. Over 90% of cancer patients die from metastatic disease rather than from their primary localized tumor. Thus, I was personally interested in studying this biological phenomenon during my PhD. My research involved elucidating mechanisms by which Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) transcription factors contribute to cancer. I interrogated the transcription factors TWIST1 and SNAIL1 and their ability to promote early tumorigenesis, circumvent oncogene-induced senescence, reprogram metabolism, and contribute to drug resistance. Through the use of innovative cancer modeling, I was able to investigate in vivo mechanisms of EMT in their relationship to lung and liver cancer. I completed my PhD in the Cellular and Molecular Medicine (CMM) program in the laboratory of Dr. Phuoc Tran at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine as an NIH F31 Dr. Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Predoctoral Fellow. I am currently a Medical Student at the Mayo Clinic. My hope is to translate my PhD training in the clinic as an aspiring physician-scientist.
As a physician-scientist in the early stages of my career, I am particularly aware of the unique obstacles that this our current generation is facing. One thing I learned from both my science and non-science mentors is that developing a strong community of passionate people often yields the most promising results. From my first AACR Annual Meeting in 2012 with Fairfield University, I have seen firsthand that the AACR, and the Associate Member Council (AMC) in particular, are prominent leaders in facilitating such a scientific community. My vision for the AMC is to continue to develop these networks between universities, to foster collaborative science and international scientific fellowship. My ultimate career goal is to practice medicine in Hawaii to better serve the unmet needs of my people by treating cancer patients while contributing to the discoveries of translational research. I am deeply humbled and excited to be welcomed into this community, and I hope to utilize the skills I have developed through a variety of previous leadership positions to contribute to the AMC.