Van Andel Institute Graduate School’s Robert Vaughan receives prestigious career development award from National Cancer Institute

Van Andel Institute Graduate School (VAIGS) Ph.D. student Robert Vaughan has received a prestigious Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institutes of Health. This award, also known as the F99/K00, provides continuous support for outstanding research Ph.D. candidates through the completion of their dissertation research training into mentored, cancer-focused postdoctoral career development research positions. This unique fellowship, the first awarded to a student of the Graduate School, is intended to support students recognized by their institutions for their high potential and strong interest in pursuing careers as independent cancer researchers.

We caught up with Robert, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the lab of Dr. Scott Rothbart, to discuss his research and what the F99/K00 award means for him.

Robert Vaughan
Robert Vaughan

Q: What does the F99/K00 award mean for your future?

RV: It gives me more flexibility to finish my studies as I work toward finishing my Ph.D. and helps me transition to working in a new laboratory. This is all possible thanks to the financial and professional development support provided by the National Cancer Institute, which awards the funds to predoctoral candidates who are working to transition to a professional career in cancer research.

Q: What will the award help you pursue?

RV: The award will help me work toward a better understanding of the relationship between UHRF1 — a protein implicated in cancer development — and an enzyme called DNA ligase 1, whose job it is to repair damage in DNA. We do not yet fully understand either of these protein’s role in  cancer, but revolutionary techniques like CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing may help put us on the right path.

The award will help develop my skills in analyzing genomic and epigenomic data. I will receive hands-on training from the Genomics and Bioinformatics Core at VAI, where I will apply state-of-the-art DNA sequencing techniques to my research under the guidance of the Institute’s scientists. By developing these skills, I will be priming myself for success in future postdoctoral and professional laboratory settings. I hope to one day run a cancer research lab of my own.

Q: Why is it important to study the function of UHRF1 in cancer?

RV: Recent research, from our lab and others, has implicated UHRF1 as a clinical target for cancer therapy. In some cancers, changes in UHRF1 may contribute to alterations in DNA methylation, the chemical tags that are added to DNA to regulate the flow of genetic information. The F99 award will allow me to study the effect of additional players in the DNA methylation process, and whether they can augment UHRF1 function for therapeutic benefit.

Research reported in this publication is supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under award no. 1F99CA245821-01 (Vaughan). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.