Nearly 130 present their latest research during Cancer Research Day

By Mary Hardin

There was nothing simple about the science unveiled on the detailed and, to the unfamiliar viewer, complex 128 posters on display May 17 at the IUPUI Campus Center. The 3'x4' posters, covered with scientific symbols and charts, were tacked to dozens of display panels in the ballroom-sized multi-purpose room during the 2017 IU  Simon Cancer Center Cancer Research Day.

Each scientific poster – and there were 128 in all – represented first-rate cancer research and summarized the dreams of many young researchers hoping to help solve the mystifying puzzle of cancer. The principal investigator for each poster was present to summarize his or her work to the judges.

Students, fellows, and faculty conducting cancer research at IUPUI, Indiana University-Bloomington, Purdue University, and the Harper Cancer Research Institute, a collaboration between the IU School of Medicine and the University of Notre Dame, participated in the poster competition. See the list of winning posters.

Romero MorenoRomero Moreno

Traveling from the Mike and Josie Harper Cancer Research Institute at the University of Notre Dame was Ricardo Romero Moreno, whose research looks at different cytokines, chemokines and growth factors that have a >possible role in determining how breast cancer bone metastases become dormant. The chemokine CXCL5 is his current focus as a protein that contributes to breast cancer dormancy in metastatic bone disease. His mentor for this project is Laurie Littlepage, Ph.D., the Campbell Family Assistant Professor of Cancer Research at Notre Dame.

Romero Moreno, 26, is completing his doctorate. A native of Mexico City, Romero Moreno completed his undergraduate degree in genomic sciences in Mexico before moving to the United States to work in bioinformatics at UCSF while reviewing graduate school options.

“I applied to several schools and I had cousins who were undergraduates at Notre Dame, but I ended up applying there because I found a program I really liked – integrated biomedical sciences,” he said.

Romero Moreno said he has done research in many other areas of human disease, including malaria and multiple sclerosis, as well as researching signaling pathways in plants and the bioengineering of bacterial plasmids. His current research, he said, is his “most rewarding.”

Community outreach that focuses on sharing information about cancer prevention and treatment to Spanish speakers is one of the things Romero Moreno enjoys. It was at such an event when he became more resolute about his research.

He had finished speaking to a group of Hispanic women about breast cancer awareness when a woman approached to tell him she had heard one of his earlier presentations, which prompted her to get a mammogram. That test revealed a tumor in the early stage of development and the surgery that followed was a success.

“That was that one single moment when I realized the research I do is worth doing,” Romero Moreno said.

Romero Moreno is interested in continuing this research while completing a postdoctoral fellowship. Ultimately, patent law is his target. He is studying independently for the patent bar exam and his long-term aspiration is to be a patent agent.

One of the students representing the Purdue University integrated life sciences graduate program and the Department of Biological Sciences was Arpita Pal, 29, who hopes to complete her doctorate in biological sciences in December 2018. She is working in the lab of Andrea Kasinski, Ph.D.


Co-authors of her research include IU Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics Assistant Professor Jun Wan, Ph.D., director of the Collaborative Core for Cancer Bioinformatics at the IU Simon Cancer Center and Purdue University Center for Cancer Research, and Xi Rao, Ph.D., postdoctoral scholar in computational biology and bioinformatics at IUPUI.  

Pal hopes to continue her research in microRNAs, especially as therapeutics, after she completes a post-doctoral degree.

Pal completed an undergraduate degree in biotechnology in her native India and a master’s degree in molecular medicine in the United Kingdom. It was while studying at the University of Sheffield in England that she first became interested in microRNAs. Her research there profiled microRNA changes in oral cancer cells before and after treatment with cigarette smoke condensate.

Now her research is in lung cancer. Specifically, she is looking at microRNAs that drive the process of development of resistance to therapeutic drugs such as erlotinib.

Pal is the first in her family to work in cancer research. She is intrigued by microRNAs and sees this as a “groundbreaking time” in cancer research. “It has been less than 50 years that microRNAs have been implicated in cancer,” she said.

DingDing (left)

How inflammation induces cancer is the puzzle Ning Ding, 30, is trying to piece together. His National Institute of Environmental Health Services (NIEHS )-funded research in the lab of Heather O’Hagan, Ph.D., assistant professor of medical and molecular genetics at the Medical Sciences Program at IU-Bloomington, focuses on the cytokine protein Jak2.

His research merited publication in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology in 2016.

Ding believes Jak2 has a potentially significant role in the production of abnormal cells or tumors. Conversely, a Jak2 inhibitor may reduce or interrupt that process, he thinks.

“Cancer is a disease people don’t understand very well, and I want to help treat it,” Ding said.

He is the first cancer researcher in his family.

Ding is a native of Wuhan, China. He has been in the United States for six years studying on the Bloomington campus. He completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees in China in kinesiology and exercise physiology, respectively. His target is to complete his doctorate next year and immediately commence additional cancer research as a postdoctoral fellow.

Two IUPUI undergrads with their eyes on medical school also participated in Cancer Research Day. Natalie Pitt, 21, shared her findings of mice and a specific kinesin that may promote tumor growth. Four days before the event, Rachael Redmond, 23, had marched through Lucas Oil Stadium in a gown and mortarboard. Her degree in chemistry is another step toward her ultimate goal of being an Air Force doctor.

Both women were mentored by George E. Sandusky, DVM, Ph.D., a senior research professor in the IU School of Medicine Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.


Pitt is on target to graduate in December after 3½ years at IUPUI with a major in biology and minors in chemistry and medical humanities. She is in the process of applying to medical schools in the Midwest, including IU and Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Preventative care is her primary interest in medicine; however, she has always been fascinated by pathology and jumped at an opportunity to work in Dr. Sandusky’s lab.

A native of Evansville, Ind., Pitt applied for an IUPUI Life-Health Sciences internship her freshman year. Over the course of that internship, she met Dr. Sandusky who asked her to join his lab where she interned 10 hours a week engrossed in a pixel analysis of pancreatic tumors in cancer stages one through four.

In 2015-16, Pitt was hired at the lab and worked part-time on a project involving mitotic kinesin, Kif14, and its potential as an oncogene. That research earned her an opportunity in March to present at the American Association of Cancer Research in Washington, D.C., and was the subject of her poster presentation at Cancer Research Day.


Redmond said working with Dr. Sandusky afforded her many opportunities – observing surgeries and an autopsy, among other things – which increased her resolve to be a physician. Her lab project is to look at the tissue slides from four patients with renal cell cancer and evaluate how effective folate analog combined with an intraoperative fluorescence is in differentiating kidney tumors from normal tissue during laparoscopic surgery.

A native of Greenwood, Ind., Redmond plans to get a master’s degree in physiology before applying to medical school.

“Cancer Research Day is always an inspiring day as it brings together both future and veteran scientists not only from the IU Simon Cancer Center but also from Purdue and the University of Notre,” Hari Nakshatri, B.V.Sc., Ph.D., associate director of education at the IU Simon Cancer Center, said. “The annual event highlights the collaborative nature of cancer research in Indiana.”

What is Cancer Research Day?

Cancer Research Day is an annual event that aims to increase understanding and awareness of IU Simon Cancer Center research endeavors and encourage collaboration with other cancer research institutions in Indiana. Students, fellows, and faculty conducting cancer research at IUPUI, Indiana University-Bloomington, Purdue University, and the Harper Cancer Research Institute, a collaboration between the IU School of Medicine and the University of Notre Dame, are eligible to present. Cash awards are given for best poster(s) in each research category

Abstracts are submitted into the following research categories: 

  • basic science
  • behavioral
  • population science/epidemiology
  • translational/clinical research

Poster abstracts for next year’s Cancer Research Day will be accepted in early 2018.