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Finding a Niche in Cancer Biology Research

Metastatic melanoma cells image provided by the National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Logain Elnimeiry

“It's been quite a journey,” says Master of Biological Sciences student Logain Elnimeiry. “I've taken quite a few gap years, but it has ended up being perfect, because I discovered along the way that I actually have a passion for research.”

Figuring It Out

Logain Elnimeiry

Logain studied health sciences as an undergraduate, then started a biomedical sciences graduate program, but it wasn’t quite what she was looking for.

She was looking for a master’s program that didn’t require out-of-state travel so she could keep her job as a medical scribe and stay close to her family.

The Master of Biological Sciences program was the perfect fit. “It's something I didn't know that I needed at the time,” she says. “I was initially looking for a graduate program that would allow me to take more advanced science courses, so that I could enhance my candidacy for medical school.”

But even after she enrolled in the MBS program, it still wasn’t a clear path. “I don't want to give the idea that I had this figured out from the beginning,” she says. “It was partly my experience in the MBS program and the support from my advisors, Dr. Fruen and Dr. Reinders, that has been really instrumental to how things ended up.”

A Lightbulb Moment

Before coming to the MBS program, Logain had the opportunity to conduct research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She credits that experience for helping her realize that research could complement her work as a future physician.

At Mayo, Logain was recruiting patients for a study that aimed to validate a blood test for the early detection of multiple cancers. She was captivated by the research. She worked with her advisors to shape a degree plan focusing on cancer biology coursework.

"You can make (this program) ultimately what you want it to be and help you become the professional you desire to be. That was something I didn't find anywhere else.”

In her advanced cancer biology course, she learned about how microbes contribute to promoting disease and how they influence the tumor microenvironment. “I got really fascinated with that,” she recalls. “I was like, whoa hold up, bacteria can play a role in this? What is happening? I’d really like to pursue this further.”

Her curiosity led her to a course on gut microbiome systems that fall with Dr. Andres Gomez. “It ended up being exactly what I was looking for.”

Putting Her Skills to Work

Close up of computer code on a screen

At the same time Logain was diving into cancer research, she was also exploring an interest in programming. “The field of biology, without a doubt, now almost requires that you have computational biology and bioinformatics skills,” she says.

She soon declared a minor in bioinformatics and computational biology and started an informal coding group with two fellow students from the program to build coding skills.

Her capstone project combines her knowledge of cancer biology and microbiome systems with her bioinformatics background. “Bless Dr. Reinders,” Logain says. “She gave me the encouragement to reach out to Dr. Gomez and ask if I could do my thesis project with him. It ended up working out wonderfully: he was very accommodating and invested time and resources to help me advance my knowledge and skills.”

Logain’s project is an exploratory study that looks at the oral microbiome signatures of smokers with head and neck cancers (HNC). The goal is to identify potential biomarkers, based on where a sample is collected in the mouth, that can distinguish between smokers who are otherwise healthy and those who have HNC. These biomarkers could be useful for screening and other cancer prevention measures.

She plans to finish her thesis project this spring then start applying to medical schools. “My vision continues to adjust,” she says, “as if you're zooming into the distance and it gets clearer and clearer with each step.”

Memorable Courses

ANSC 5025: Gut Microbiome Systems with Dr. Andres Gomez
“Dr. Gomez has a very creative teaching style. One aspect was his incorporation of artworks in the curriculum and connecting them to the concepts that we were learning. I thought that was a really interesting approach to teaching microbiology by connecting the humanities.”

CSCI 5465: Introduction to Computing for Biologists with Dr. Chad Myers
“Dr. Myers is greatly invested in student learning, and I really appreciate that because when you're learning programming, you really need to have someone who's patient to help you build a foundation.”

MICA 8004: Cellular and Cancer Biology
“The course is taught in a very interesting way, where you have multiple professors and they each teach their own unit. The unit directly correlates with the research that they are contributing to, so I felt that we were being taught by experts who are passionate about the topics they are teaching about.”

Pro Tips for Future Students

Take the time to look through all the available coursework. Having an idea or a vision of what you want is really helpful. 

If you know that you want to do research, make sure that you communicate that to your advisor so they can help you find potential mentors early.

Take your time. If I had graduated earlier, I think I would have missed out on discovering this passion and gaining skills that are applicable to almost any field.