Davidson Fellows - 2013 Fellow Aashna Mago


Aashna Mago

$25,000 Scholarship Recipient

Age: 17
Newtown, PA
Category: Science
Project Title: “A Novel EZH2 Histone Methyltransferase Inhibitor: Potential Advancement in Epigenetic Cancer Therapy”______ _______ ________ ____ _______


D EZH2 is an enzyme that adds methyl groups to a site (H3K27) on a nuclear protein called histone H3. Overactivity of EZH2 is associated with cancer. Aashna evaluated effects of SQ037, a new synthetic inhibitor, on EZH2 activity. Cells were grown in a medium that labeled old methylation. Nuclei were removed from cells and EZH2 was overstimulated to mimic cancer. SQ037 or a control peptide were then added and new methyls had different labels. Special techniques (RP-HPLC, mass spectrometry) identified that methylation after adding SQ037 was significantly less than after adding the control. Importantly, in contrast to previous molecules, SQ037 didn't interfere with normal methylation and thus could potentially become a new type of cancer treatment.
Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments are not specific to cancer cells and cause major side effects. Epigenetic therapy is a new and increasingly important approach to cancer treatment. Unlike genetic mutations, epigenetic changes can potentially be reversed. Histone deacetylase inhibitors have already been developed and have gone as far as clinical trials and actually being available as drugs. Histone methyltransferases (HMTs) are widely believed to be even better potential targets for drug therapy. EZH2's role in cancer makes it one of the most important HMTs. SQ037 is one of the first specific and direct inhibitors proposed for EZH2
Aashna is a freshman at Stanford University and is considering a major in biology with a focus in molecular and cellular biology while also exploring more unfamiliar areas, like computer science and “Symbolic Systems,” an area of study at Stanford that encompasses artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and the human-computer interface. She enjoys tennis, photography, guitar, piano and choreography.

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Click here to view the full listing of the 2013 Davidson Fellows. 
Click here to view Aashna's press release.

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