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Dalal Azzam
Dalal Azzam

Dalal Azzam (UNC ’22, CSS 6), undergraduate researcher in the McGinty lab was highlighted for her summer 2021 research experience on Instagram on the Chancellor’s Science Scholars page. CSS at UNC provides a supportive community of peers and mentors for students from every background as they pursue STEM degrees and careers.

Dalal is a biochemistry/neuroscience double-major from Cary, NC, is tackling brain cancer research at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine this summer. In the Phillips lab in the Department of Neurology, she studies the epigenetic mechanisms that drive the development of brain cancer, working at the intersection of chromatin biology, neuroscience, and cancer biology. Dalal is investigating how we can use antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) as a therapeutic to kill gliomas, specifically an aggressive and fatal pediatric midline glioma called DIPG, which can’t be surgically removed due to its location in a critical region of the brain.

Despite more than 250 clinical trials over the last 30 years, not a single drug has been shown to be effective in treating this disease, so Dalal is working to assess how efficiently ASOs knock down CBX4, a component of the Polycomb Repressive Complex 1 (PRC1) that silences genes and compacts chromatin at essential parts of the cell cycle. In DIPG, CBX4 is used to keep cancer cells alive, so by knocking down the CBX4 gene, scientists hope to validate this protein as a therapeutic target for DIPG.

“This summer, I have been able to gain experience exploring cancers using a more biological lens. The shift from studying biomechanics and structural biology at UNC to studying cellular gene function at UPenn has allowed me to gain a more holistic understanding of not only gliomas, but also the scientific method as a whole. By the end of the summer, I hope to gain more experience using different analytical methods such as qPCR and flow cytometry to better visualize the science that is happening at the molecular level.” -Dalal Azzam, CSS 6