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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Student Q&A: Kamonwan "Pear" Fish, Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences and Master's of Public Health

Kamonwan Pear Fish

Kamonwan "Pear" Fish, a native of Thailand, graduated from Chulalongkorn University in 2006 with a degree in veterinary sciences. She soon discovered that clinical practice was not what she enjoyed most. Upon immigrating to the U.S., she tried different career paths, including pharmacy, but ultimately decided that research is her passion, and applied to Northwestern University’s dual-degree PhD and MPH program.


Where are you originally from?
I grew up in a small town in the Northeastern part of Thailand.

What is your educational and professional background?
After finishing high school, I went to a veterinary school in Bangkok. (Thailand adopts the British higher education system, whereby high school graduates enroll directly in professional degree programs without going through bachelor’s degree programs). 

After awhile, I learned that clinical practice is just not quite what I wanted to do. After finishing veterinary school, I immigrated to the U.S. and got my first job in a Pharmacy department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Hospital. It was a good first job experience to adapt myself in American culture, but I felt I needed something more challenging. 

Someone I knew back home told me that my alma mater received contract funding from the U.S. to investigate avian influenza outbreaks in Thailand. I did a summer research project back in Thailand, and become convinced that I do really like research. I went to veterinary school when I was 17 and decided to pursue a research career when I was 26. It took me a long time to figure it out.

Why did you choose Northwestern?
The PhD-MPH dual degree program is a very unique opportunity, a good combination of degrees. I chose Northwestern specifically because of it.  

What are your research interests?
The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has been associated with certain cancers, but the mechanisms of how the virus causes tumor growth is not yet understood. I study how a specific viral protein from EBV can disrupt cell function and speed up tumor growth. 

EBV produces several proteins during infection, and the combination of these viral products promotes replication of infected cells. In healthy individuals, the immune system can prevent uncontrolled cell replication caused by EBV. When people have compromised immune systems, such as patients infected with HIV or transplant patients who undergo immunosuppressive therapy, they lose the ability to regulate the expression of EBV products and develop cancers with greater incidence than in healthy people. In certain types of cancers, EBV and the activation of oncogenes together drive cancer development. 

The viral protein I am studying is interesting because the protein by itself doesn’t cause much of a problem to the cells. But when there is an increased activity of oncogene (a gene that causes cancer), they are like partners in crime, together creating very fast tumor growth.

What do you hope to do in the future?
Moving forward, I would like to understand how this protein helps degrade a tumor suppressor. We think that the viral protein causes rapid cell proliferation because it promotes the degradation of this tumor suppressor. I hope to figure out how to target this protein in EBV-associated cancer.

If we could inhibit or intercept how the virus disrupts the cell physiology, then we would be able to find some novel target that could specifically treat EBV-associated malignancies or cancers.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to try out different restaurants in Chicago area. I like few Thai restaurants in Chicago, but the most authentic Thai place (in my opinion) is near Western Brown line station called Rosded.

I also follow European soccer. I hope I can go to see the World Cup final one day.