For the last several months, Ferris intern Alexandria Casillas has
been performing scientific research into melanoma, a deadly form of
skin cancer, thanks to a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Working with Biology professor James Hoerter, Casillas has been
conducting scientific research on the role of skin stem cells in the
development of the disease.
The purpose of the fellowship is to provide research experience and
career mentoring to a member of a minority group to encourage
a research career in environmental health sciences. Hoerter says
Casillas is a strong addition to his research team on a number of
“A very important benefit of having Alexandria in my lab is that she
helps promote an understanding of the value of diversity in research
environments,” Hoerter explains. “She plays an important part in
enhancing the research community in my lab by serving as a post-
baccalaureate peer mentor to other students.”
Casillas collaborates with students in the lab, while preparing and
presenting seminars and posters at undergraduate conferences on and
off campus. Hoerter says that her developing skills as a peer mentor
are also a valuable asset in preparing for graduate research training in
environmental health sciences.
Casillas has been helping to advance Hoerter’s research, which
involves studying the effects of UV rays on zebrafish. Hoerter’s
hypothesis is that melanocyte stem cells can be damaged and
accumulate UV-induced mutations over time. Later in life, adult
melanocytes regenerated from these damaged stem cells are more
likely to be susceptible to sunlight or radiation from a tanning bed.
NIH Grant Nurtures