Jazmyn Mosqueda

A first-generation college student who lost her grandmother to ovarian cancer, Jazmyn Mosqueda aspires to become a cancer researcher. She took a big step in that direction this summer as one of 37 applicants chosen for the prestigious Cancer Research Summer Fellowship (CRSF) program through the University of Colorado Cancer Center.

Founded in 1987, the CRSF program pairs young scientists with more than 50 faculty preceptors at the CU Anschutz and CU Boulder campuses, as well as National Jewish Health and the Veteran Affairs Medical Center. Fellows are chosen through stringent selection by a panel of 18 faculty members. For 2018, only 37 fellows were chosen out of 221 applications, a success rate of only 17 percent. When it comes to choosing fellows, Jill Penafiel, education manager, cautioned that good grades alone won’t make the cut. She elaborated that work ethic, character references, and passion for cancer research are key for successful applications.

Within the first week, fellows attend orientation and submit written project goals. The remainder of the 10-week fellowship is devoted to research, with weekly events and faculty lectures including different cancer sites and personalized medicine.

For her research project, Mosqueda worked under the mentorship of Matthew Sikora, PhD, in the Department of Pathology. The Sikora lab studies lobular breast cancer, a relatively rare type of the disease. “Lobular breast cancer has good biomarkers but generally poor outcomes — this research may improve treatment options for lobular breast cancer patients,” said Mosqueda, a senior majoring in biology and Spanish at the University of Northern Colorado.

Matthew Sikora and Jazmyn Mosqueda evaluate data
Matthew Sikora, PhD, assistant professor in pathology, looks on as Cancer Research Summer Fellow Jazmyn Mosqueda evaluates her data.

Invigorates project

Sikora said the Cancer Research Summer Fellows infuse additional energy into the research taking place on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. “It has been great having Jazmyn in the lab,” he said. “I love getting young scientists excited about research. It helps us, too, since the energy and new questions that undergraduates bring can really invigorate a project.”

Mosqueda’s summer research has centered on understanding new roles for a protein called int/Wingless 4 (Wnt4) that enables breast cancer cell growth and survival. Although she expressed that research in general is hard, Mosqueda focused instead on the satisfaction that comes the first time an experiment is successful. Having lost her paternal grandmother to ovarian cancer before she was born, Mosqueda said her family history inspired a passion for improving early cancer detection. She hopes to attend graduate school in cancer biology after she graduates in May.

As a first-generation college student, Mosqueda talked about her project with her family, which has improved her science communication skills. “I think it’s important to be able to explain to someone who doesn’t have a scientific background or isn’t educated in the hard sciences, because that’s ideally what physicians should be able to do for their patients,” noted Mosqueda. As the first time away from her native Greeley, Mosqueda continued, “I think my family is proud. But my mom misses me.”

Stepping stone

Mosqueda feels that the summer fellowship makes her a more competitive candidate when applying to grad school. Penafiel echoes this sentiment and said, “The fellowship is a great stepping stone for aspiring medical students or grad students.” Penafiel expressed the gratification that she gets from the success stories, adding, “It’s wonderful to see students go on to do great things.”

Mosqueda added, “I’m grateful and thankful for the opportunity to experience something like this.”

The nationwide fellowship program ended in early August with a public poster session where many fellows’ families were in attendance. The CRSF program is managed by John Tentler, PhD, associate director for education, and Jill Penafiel.

Guest Contributor: Shawna Matthews, a postdoc at CU Anschutz.