Interviews with Scientists: Rachael Guenter

Interviews with Scientists: Rachael Guenter
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3 months ago

Interviews with Scientists: Rachael Guenter

In the next in our Interviews with Scientists series we spoke to Rachael Guenter of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA. Rachael is a postdoctoral researcher in the Neuroendocrine Cancer Research Lab and she received her PhD in Cancer Biology from the UAB in 2021.

Rachael’s research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms of neuroendocrine cancer and developing novel therapeutic strategies to combat the disease. She has multiple publications in the field of neuroendocrine cancer biology, including strategies to improve imaging techniques and therapies. She is particularly interested in developing new treatments for patients with unresectable, advanced neuroendocrine cancer. She also advocates to bring awareness to neuroendocrine cancer and aims to provide accurate information for patients and the general public. Rachael is dedicated to improving the lives of patients with neuroendocrine cancer by building a platform to facilitate new research discoveries, improving tumor detection, and broadening disease awareness.

We spoke to Rachael about her career so far, her experiences working in both academia and industry, as well as her work as Scientist Liaison for the Young Supporters Board…

 

Thanks for speaking with us, Rachael! Please can you tell us a little bit about your current role at the University of Alabama?

I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). I received my doctorate degree from UAB last year (2021), and I chose to continue working at UAB as a postdoc because I am passionate about the research I do. I study an uncommon cancer called neuroendocrine cancer. There are very few laboratories across the globe that study this type of cancer, making it an understudied disease. UAB is unique because we have a team of physicians and scientists dedicated to researching neuroendocrine cancer and treating patients; therefore, I chose to remain at UAB for my postdoc position so I can further specialise my training in the field of neuroendocrine cancer.

 

Did you always want to work in science when you were younger, and if so why?

Yes, ever since I was young, I wanted to pursue a science-related field. My dad is a mechanical engineer, so I was inspired by him. Growing up I saw how much he loved his job and problem-solving was like a puzzle for him, which made me aspire to find a career that I loved and challenged me to continue learning every day.

 

What was the focus of your PhD research?

My PhD research focused on modulating a receptor called somatostatin receptor 2 (SSTR2) in neuroendocrine cancer with the goal of ultimately improving both diagnostic imaging and treatments. Currently used imaging (e.g. 68Ga-DOTATATE) and therapy (e.g. 177Lu-DOTATATE) strategies for patients with neuroendocrine cancer target SSTR2 on tumor cells. However, if a patient does not have, or has a low level of SSTR2 on their tumor cells, then they do not qualify for beneficial SSTR2-based imaging and/or therapy. Therefore, my PhD research aimed at finding ways to increase SSTR2 on the surface of neuroendocrine tumor cells. I found that a class of drugs called HDAC inhibitors upregulated the expression of SSTR2 in neuroendocrine cancers for improved 68Ga-DOTATATE PET/CT imaging. During my PhD research, I also worked on understanding Notch1 signaling in neuroendocrine cancer.

 

What excites you most about the work that you do?

The most exciting part is knowing that my discoveries could change how we treat patients with cancer and improve the lives of many. Because I study an uncommon and understudied cancer, every discovery we make builds the body of knowledge that could one day cure this type of cancer.

 

You are Scientist Liaison for the Young Supporters Board of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB. What does the YSB do, and what does your role involve?

Yes! The Young Supporters Board (YSB) raises money for young scientists conducting cancer research at UAB. We believe young scientists play an extremely important role in the future of cancer treatment and patient care. Funding for young scientists is particularly scarce, but these bright minds will be the ones to make groundbreaking discoveries that will improve treatment options and save lives. The YSB believes supporting young cancer researchers is an investment in their future and in ours. As Scientist Liaison, I serve to facilitate communication between those on the science side (researchers and physicians) and those not on the science side (board members, donors, patients, and the public).

 

What inspired you to take the role as Scientist Liaison?

I was inspired to become Scientist Liaison for the YSB because I recognize the importance of funding young generations of researchers and because I want to clearly communicate research to anyone who is not in the laboratory.

 

You have worked in both academia and industry - what are the main challenges involved in transitioning between the two settings?

Academia and industry are different working environments, but both are important. The main challenge transitioning between the two is understanding the differences between the respective goals. In academia, goals look more like accomplishing experiments for a grant or paper, submitting grants, and publishing peer-reviewed papers. In industry, goals are dependent on your division and could look more like reaching a degree of quality control, production level, or creating a product within pre-defined margins.

 

What advice would you give to a researcher looking to transition from academia to industry?

My advice would be to network! Talk to as many people as you can in industry. This can be a casual conversation or a formal interview, but by communicating with people working in industry, you'll learn more about what it's like and it will help you build connections.

 

Women remain underrepresented in all fields of STEM. What more do you think could be done to improve the gender balance in science?

Invest in supporting young women and improve current conditions to retain women. Some of the biggest issues I see in other young women in STEM is imposter syndrome and being in an environment that does not build their confidence or empower them. Women in STEM need a supportive environment to think confidently and be taken seriously, to know that their voice matters.

 

Who has been your greatest role model, and why?

My greatest role model has been my dad. He has always been hard-working and a great leader. I look up to him when it comes to science and leadership.

 

What key piece of advice would you give to a young scientist just starting out in their career?

Believe in your own abilities and be confident. Don't let failed experiments, a bad day, or someone else's opinion discourage you. Keep going and know that you are worthy and capable of accomplishing anything you put your mind to!

 

What's the most important lesson you have learned in your career so far?

The most important lesson I've learned is that you cannot get far alone. Science is a team effort, and research success requires the integration of many different minds.

 

How do you see your career developing in the future/where do you see yourself in 10 years?

As time goes on, I hope to build my research portfolio and continue making discoveries in the field of neuroendocrine cancer. I want to continue mentoring younger generations of scientists by inspiring them and building their confidence to pursue science-related careers. I also hope to expand my efforts in bringing awareness to rare cancers and the importance of funding cancer research.

 

Outside of your career, what do you enjoy doing most? (e.g. hobbies, passion projects, etc.)

My life outside of my career is a mix of riding horses and growing tropical plants! I've been a competitive equestrian rider for 21 years (started when I was 5 years old). About 4 years ago I started growing and collecting tropical plants such as monsteras, philodendrons, and anthuriums.

 

What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery or invention of all time?

In the laboratory, I think one of the greatest discoveries was polymerase chain reaction (PCR) by Kary Mullis. Outside of the laboratory, one of the greatest discoveries that has transcended time is Einstein's Theory of General Relativity.

 

Is there anything else you would like to tell us, eg. specific issues or initiatives in science that you are involved with or are passionate about?

I am also involved in a non-profit organization called the NET Cancer Foundation where I serve as the Research Ambassador. This group holds monthly seminars called #NETChatter where we bring together patients, researchers, and physicians. Check us out!

 

And finally… what’s your favourite science quote?

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?" - Albert Einstein

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Thank you so much for chatting with us Rachael! We wish you all the best with your future research.

Connect with Rachael:

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