Cancer research helps a student find her path

Some students come to college with a definitive career plan. Others take time and make changes as they see fit. Third-year Rachel Capinpin was in the latter category until she discovered her affinity for laboratory research this past summer.

Capinpin, who assists with research at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, was a nursing student during her first year at Case Western Reserve University. Then, she switched her focus to engineering. Now Capinpin has found her place studying biochemistry, which exposed her to laboratory research.

The principal investigator (PI) for the laboratory at which Capinpin works is Dr. Shigemi Matsuyama, associate professor of medicine in the department of pharmacology. One of Matsuyama’s research interests involves cancer cell biology and cell death regulation.

Certain types of stressors, such as proteins folding improperly or viral infection, can start programmed cell death pathways. Research into this area holds broader implications for approaches to oncology.

“[Matsuyama] has us conducting most of the experiment, in terms of culturing the cells and preparing the drugs that we use,” said Capinpin. “We look at the different chemicals and add them to the cell line and see how they affect the cells.”

Afterwards Matsuyama will examine the cells to note how they were affected.

“This is my first time doing research, so I was intimidated at first,” said Capinpin. “Luckily, I was able to find a PI who was willing to take me. [Matsuyama] has been very helpful and he explains things thoroughly.”

Capinpin’s acclimation to the laboratory setting involved gaining familiarity with necessary techniques involving cell culturing.

“The problem that we’re looking at is very simple, and the procedure is very simple as well,” said Capinpin. “Many people could replicate [the experiment], but people are always looking for larger problems to solve when you could also go to the very basics.”

According to Capinpin, Matsuyama is trying to find a way to inhibit cell death instead of looking for a cure to cancer, essentially targeting the problem through a different approach.

“[Matsuyama] likes to see it as a treasure hunt because we’re trying to find a certain chemical that can inhibit cell death,” said Capinpin.

Capinpin devotes most of her free time to this treasure hunt.

“I spend a lot of my time in lab,” said Capinpin. “If I need to go in, I go in at any time. I had to work until 11 p.m. last night, so I went after my job and I stayed [at the laboratory] until 1:30 working on my experiment.”

In addition to research, Capinpin balances her classes and multiple jobs. Although she did not actively seek research with high expectations, she feels she has now found her place.

“I just went to look for a lab because I thought that was pretty much what everyone else was doing,” said Capinpin. “But I didn’t think I would enjoy research as much as I do.”

Now she is considering pursuing a career in research.

“My plan right now is to join the military after [graduating] and then do research with the military,” said Capinpin.

“I always thought that I’d be able to help people, but that was mostly [through] interaction with them,” said Capinpin. “It’s not only becoming a nurse or a doctor, those actual physical interactions, but you could do something you enjoy in order to help people.”