Tissues with Issues: A Deeper Look at Breast Cancer

Understanding the mechanisms of cancer progression is incredibly important in discovering a cure. Matthew Messana, a senior Biochemistry major at the University of Notre Dame, is dedicated to investigating the mechanisms that are relevant to breast cancer. Matthew works in Dr. Laurie Littlepage’s lab, a professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Dr. Littlepage’s research focuses specifically on the contributions of the surrounding microenvironment to both cancer


progression and normal tissue development in the mammary gland and prostate.

Matthew has focused on a variety of projects during his years at the lab. First, he helped a graduate student with her project, and by the summer of 2013 had begun working on his own sub-project. Matthew’s research primarily investigates a protein called ZNF217. He hypothesizes that cellular localization of this protein is contributing to the poor prognosis in patients. He has also identified a truncated form of the protein is missing in cancer patients. Ultimately, Matthew hopes that determining the value of ZNF217 will help develop an assay to detect poor prognosis in breast cancer patients.

Not only has Matthew made important scientific contributions, he has become an important leader in his lab. Having joined the Littlepage laboratory in the beginning, Matthew has had ample experience not only researching cancer, but teaching others about their research. Currently, he is the second most senior member of the laboratory. His duties include assisting and mentoring the lab’s newest members. In addition to helping new undergraduate researchers, Matthew also interacts with high school students and graduate students.

Additionally, over the past two summers Matthew has taught high school students who have joined the lab through Project SEED. This program offers students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to explore scientific careers. Reflecting on his experiences, Matthew says, “teaching has been an extremely rewarding experience, and I hope to continue teaching in some capacity beyond my undergraduate studies.”

The enriching experience will also beneficial for Matthew’s future. Research has allowed him to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which he will need when he becomes a physician. It has been exciting for him to not only present his findings at conferences, but see how his efforts may one day translate to medical advances. Summarizing his ambitions, Matthew concludes what is ultimately important is “using my talents and effort to contribute in any way I can to advancing the knowledge we currently have about cancer and how to stop this terrible disease.”