Breakthroughs, the newsletter of the Feinberg School of Medicine Research Office

December 2023 Newsletter

Pursuing Translational Cancer Research

Read the Q & A below. 

Student Profile

Jamie Nelly Guillen Magaña is a fourth-year PhD student in the Driskill Graduate Program. After watching a close family member struggle with lung cancer, Guillen developed an interest in research while studying at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. 

Now she works in the laboratory of Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD, director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Guillen seeks to understand how modulation of the gene SLFN12 could serve as a therapeutic approach for acute myeloid leukemia. 

Where is your hometown?  

I was born in San Jose, California but was raised for most of my life in Houston, Texas. 

What sparked your interest in science or medicine?  

During my undergraduate studies, a close family member of mine, who I considered to be another mother, was diagnosed with late-stage non-small cell lung cancer. Seeing how her diagnosis impacted her and everyone close to her was gut-wrenching. I threw myself into research at the Winship Cancer Institute so that I could feel like I was contributing to a greater cause. Unfortunately, her cancer metastasized, and there came a point where she needed to be hospitalized. She passed away in front of us. That painful moment continues to fuel my passion for contributing to the cancer research field. I have also been fortunate enough to work with amazing mentors who play a pivotal role in cultivating my interests, training me, supporting me and encouraging me. It is because of them that I have been able to acquire the skills to explore my own research questions. 

What are your research interests?  

Very broadly, I am passionate about cancer therapeutics. More specifically, I am particularly interested in evaluating and elucidating novel therapeutic targets and strategies for leukemia and glioblastoma. I'm also very excited about a new and emerging field called cancer neuroscience, where they aim to bridge the gap between the fields of neuroscience and cancer to unravel novel therapeutic targets and strategies. 

What are you currently working on?  

I'm currently working on evaluating the modulation of Schlafen 12 (SLFN12) as a therapeutic approach in acute myeloid leukemia. To modulate SLFN12 activity, I'm using a class of small molecules called velcrins. Velcrins target SLFN12 for complex formation with another protein called phosphodiesterase 3A (PDE3A) and ultimately lead to cell death. 

Please tell us about a defining moment in your education at Feinberg thus far.  

In the lab, one of the most exciting moments was realizing that my project was actually coming to fruition after seeing the results from my most recent mouse study. I am hoping that further along the line this project will hold some clinical significance for patients with leukemia. Outside of the lab, I've been fortunate enough to work with amazing student leaders and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in leading several initiatives contributing to the retention and recruitment of diverse NU graduate students. 

What do you hope to do with your degree?  

I hope to build upon the technical skills and knowledge that I've acquired throughout graduate school. I'm considering different paths at the moment, but the one I'm most passionate about is finding a position in industry where I can work on the translational aspect of things.