Drexel Researcher Wins STAT News Wunderkind Award

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STAT — a Boston-based national publication focused on science and health news — has named a Drexel University College of Medicine postdoc one of the “brightest young minds in life science.”

Halley Oyer, PhD, was chosen from hundreds of nominees to become a 2017 STAT Wunderkind. She received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Drexel, and is now a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Felix Kim, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology.

The award “honors young scientists and doctors who are blazing new trails in research and public health at the start of what promise to be impressive careers,” according to STAT Managing Editor Stephanie Simon.

The publication had this to say about Oyer:

Oyer is now a postdoc at Drexel University studying Sigma1, a so-called “chaperone protein” that influences other proteins and pathways involved in the amount of stress cells endure. Cancer cells tend to be under greater stress than healthy cells, so Oyer and her colleagues are investigating whether manipulating Sigma1 can launch a downstream effect that cripples those cells’ stress response. If the cancer cells can’t alleviate the level of stress they’re under, they’ll die.

Oyer also works as a research scientist for Context Therapeutics, a biotech startup company founded by Kim. The company is developing new drugs to target Sigma1 and treat advanced prostate cancer.

Kim, who nominated Oyer for the Wunderkind Award, recruited the young scientist to join his lab after she earned her PhD at Princeton University. He says Oyer is not only a skilled research scientist with the leadership and interpersonal skills to boot, but she also is an expert at designing assays to better understand Sigma1.

“We want to discover and develop medicines that precisely and selectively eliminate cancer cells. Furthermore, we want to develop technologies that will enable us to identify the patients who are most likely to benefit from our cancer drugs,” Kim said.

To do that, he explained, the research team must better understand the role of Sigma1 in prostate cancer and clearly define how their drugs work in the disease.

“What Halley is good at doing is taking our understanding of the basic biology of Sigma1, creating new assays to test drugs that target Sigma1 in cancer, and then leveraging that discovery for Context’s drug screening campaigns,” he added.

Oyer says she has always been interested in cancer research with a significant translational component, because of a “strong family history of the disease.”

“I think I would die happy if I were able to work on a drug that could help even just one person — that would allow someone to go to their grandchild’s college graduation.”

For media inquiries, contact Lauren Ingeno at lingeno@drexel.edu or 215.895.2614.

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