Tomorrow’s Scientists: Five Minutes with Natalie Ng

Cultivating the scientists of tomorrow is a passion shared by many at Ingenuity Systems.  This past summer, Natalie Ng, a Junior from Monta Vista high school, was an intern at Ingenuity and in this post, Natalie shares her experience, including how this opportunity resulted in her research being accepted to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Personal Genomes & Medical Genomics conference November 14-17, 2012.

Q: How did you get involved in your current research?
A: I’ve been interested in bioinformatics since my freshman year of high school.  Last year, I started working on project to discover prognostic signatures for breast cancer and continued that this summer with the help of the scientists at Ingenuity Systems by looking at microRNAs signatures that can be predictive of breast cancer metastasis using IPA.

Q: How did you learn about IPA?
A: I was first exposed to IPA during my research project last year.  IPA was an integral part of my research and I used IPA to gain insight into the molecular networks and pathways of the gene expression signatures for breast cancer.

Q: Why did you decide to study microRNAs?
A: The reason I chose to study microRNAs is because of the role they play in biology.  Small interfering particles, microRNAs, have the ability to regulate large gene networks and are predicted to regulate as many as 50% of the genes within in the genome. For cancer, microRNAs have also been shown to regulate tumorgenesis and metastasis. In my project, the aim was to develop a prognostic signature based on microRNA signatures.

Q: How did you use IPA in your research?
A: I developed a workflow to identify microRNA signatures using both mRNA and microRNA expression and computation techniques including statistical significance test, upstream regulator prediction, and survival modeling. Through this workflow, I discovered two gene signatures, one for ER+ breast cancer and one for ER- breast cancer that are predictive of breast cancer metatasis. I presented this research at the CSHL Personal Genomes & Medical Genomics conference.

Q: What impact does your research have on understanding cancer?
A: The results from my research are important specifically in the field of Personalized Medicine which aims to allow doctors to make more informed medical decisions.  For example, in breast cancer the development of prognostic tests such as MammaPrint® or OncotypeDX® help doctors in their treatment and reduce the use of adjuvant therapies such as chemotherapy in cases where it is not needed.  Given the integral role of microRNAs in biology, these signatures not only have utility as a predictive tool but also are potential targets for breast cancer therapies.

Watch the Interview with Natalie Ng:

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