Washington and Jefferson Junior Callie Barber conducting lab research.

Biochemistry Major Takes on Tumors with UPMC Internship

Created: November 9, 2021  |  Last Updated: January 5, 2022  |  Category:   |  Tagged: ,

WASHINGTON, PA (November 9, 2021) W&J Junior Callie Barber thinks saving kids from cancer might be in the genes—literally.

A Biochemistry major, she spent the summer of 2021 studying the correlation between the gene PFKFB3 (a glycolytic gene, associated with the breakdown of glucose, that is overactive in cancer cells) and diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPGs or pediatric brain tumors), as an intern at the John G. Rangos Sr. Research Center—part of the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

In her time at the center, Barber, driven to solve a problem her grandmother once faced, participated in research that attempted to determine whether downregulating (or diminishing) the ERK5 signaling pathway (a cancer-activating route through which cellular information flows) would also downregulate the presence of an overexpressing PFKFB3 gene.

As it turns out, it does.

“Essentially, if you take away ERK5, then you take away PFKPB3, and we could see in our results,” Barber said.

Though getting to those results was no easy task, Barber said W&J made her role in them possible.

Barber found the internship with help from Biology Professor Dr. Candy DeBerry. She also connected with Abigail Locke ‘20, a W&J alumna who previously received the internship at UPMC. Locke shared her experience with Barber and put her in touch with Dr. Sameer Agnihotri, a faulty member in the Department of Neurological Surgery at UPMC Children’s Hospital and the primary investigator of the Brain Tumor Biology and Therapy lab.

Dr. Agnihotri offered Barber a position in his lab, but Barber also credits the Maxwell family, the sponsors of the Maxwell Internship Award at W&J, for making it possible for her to accept the position.

“Without the help of the Maxwell family, I don’t think I could have done this internship,” Barber said, noting that she may not have been selected for the job if it weren’t for the community at W&J.

“I think W&J does a great job with their lab preparation, but they also helped me with resumé building and to just gain the confidence to get out there and get a research internship,” she said.

Though the internship is behind her, she’s taken more than just results away from it.

“I’ve learned that I can become independent and that there are so many helpful people in this world,” Barber said.

She wants to be one of them.

After graduation Barber plans to pursue a career as a research or medical professional.

“Overall, I just want to help hundreds of people,” she said.


About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, proudly located in Washington, Pa., is a historic liberal arts college founded in 1781 that values ethical leadership, professional readiness, and inclusive communities. Our highly customized and intellectually engaging student experience develops professionals of uncommon integrity to lead in an ever-changing world. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu or call 888-W-AND-J.