Caroline N. Smith, BS
PhD Student, Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry
Markey Cancer Center, University of Kentucky
I have always had a passion for learning paired with a love for swimming. These two interests were forever connected in 2010 after the passing of my life-long swim coach, Tim Cahill, from pancreatic cancer. After seeing one of the most influential people in my life battle cancer, and the little clinicians could do to help him, I knew that I belonged in the research lab, searching for new ways to improve both patient outcomes and their quality of life. To meet this goal, I completed my undergraduate degree in Biology with a minor in Biochemistry at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY, where I was a 4-year member and team-captain of the Women’s NCAA Division II Swimming team. I also began developing my research skills along with serving in the cancer outreach community. My undergraduate thesis focused on examining the effects of natural compounds in combating kidney disease, and I was selected for the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates program at the University of Kentucky, where I studied how chronic arsenic exposure can promote lung cancer progression. These two research experiences cemented my love of science and helped pave the road to graduate school at the University of Kentucky. Apart from research at the bench, I am passionate about raising money for cancer research organizations. As an undergraduate, I was heavily involved in Colleges Against Cancer, where I served as chair for our campus-wide Relay for Life fundraising events for the American Cancer Society. I now work with Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and am raising research funds and pediatric cancer awareness through their Million Mile program. I am currently in my second year of the Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry PhD program at the University of Kentucky, in the laboratory of Dr. Jessica Blackburn. We are interested in identifying drivers of pediatric cancer progression and relapse so that we can find novel drug targets for these diseases. My current projects focus on using CRISPR screens to systematically identify oncogenic phosphatases across several types of pediatric cancers and developing nanobody-based therapeutics to specifically target these phosphatases. My main goal is to identify druggable targets that may lead to the design of new therapeutics that have minimal off-target effects, so that children with cancer have a better quality of life both short and long term. I became an AACR Associate member and attended my first Annual Meeting in 2018, where I was introduced to the AACR Associate Member Council (AMC) and all that it could offer to early-career researchers. I am truly honored and delighted to have been elected to the council at this early stage in my own career. Graduate school is an exciting and sometimes confusing time in our careers, and I hope to represent the unique perspective of graduate students in the AACR, as well as to develop new resources that will help early-career researchers better understand the potential career paths that are available to us. Additionally, as a student from an underrepresented university at the NIH, I hope to provide guidance to students like myself, who aren’t always exposed to the plethora of opportunities in cancer research that could help us better ourselves and our science. The AMC is the perfect way for me to get started in both influencing and helping the next generation of cancer researchers as we work towards our goal of improving patients’ lives.