Amgen Scholars Global Program: Imaani Easthausen
Host Institution: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Undergraduate Institution: Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson
Imaani Easthausen had her sights set on a career in writing—until she began taking science classes at Bard College. For Imaani, science and, specifically, biology—as it related to the inner workings of the body—represented a new way of thinking about the human experience. For her, science was a way of exploring the question, What does it take to be sitting here, existing in this body, right now?
Imaani’s life journey as a gay woman of color hasn’t been—and still isn’t—easy, but good teachers and caring mentors throughout high school and college have helped her succeed. Her experiences have driven her to excel as a scientist and to want to help create a better society, especially for underserved and overlooked populations.
As a 2014 Amgen Scholar in the lab of Julian Martinez-Agosto at UCLA, Imaani delved into study of the Hippo signaling pathway, a cascade of interacting molecules that collectively control the growth of cells and regulate tissue and organ size. Mutations in the Hippo pathway are linked to a wide range of human cancers. Imaani’s project aimed to screen for drugs that could halt tumor growth caused by problems in Hippo pathway regulation.
Although Imaani had conducted hands-on research before, the field of molecular genetics and its techniques were new to her. The learning curve was steep, but “the mentorship was really incredible,” she says. “Dr. Martinez created a nurturing environment but also expected a high level of rigor from my work. He gave me an incredible amount of responsibility but at the same time gave support and help whenever I needed them.”
By the end of the summer, Imaani’s hard work had paid off. Her screening revealed a compound that could potentially be used to treat some cancers or inform other new therapies. Importantly, her findings were corroborated by previous work done in Martinez-Agosto’s lab. Although only a first step, “the results looked really promising,” she says.
Imaani plans to pursue an MD and a PhD in molecular biology, with her life experiences shaping the questions she asks in the lab and the ways she can improve others’ lives.
Imaani’s summer as an Amgen Scholar has been a big step toward meeting her professional goals by helping her think critically about science and become more independent in the lab. “The Amgen Scholars experience has given me so much confidence as a researcher,” she says.
To learn more, please visit the Amgen Scholars Program 2014 Annual Report.
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