Three Students Selected to Spend Summer Working On Cancer Research Across the Country

In Dr. Jamie Fornsaglio’s Cell Biology course, students learn how to be leaders in the lab.

As part of the semester-long, inquiry-based lab, they create their own proposals and hypotheses, use cell culture and study cellular behaviors, and develop the inquiry – and their curiosity.

In addition to small class sizes and one-on-one interactions with their professors, Seton Hill students gain experience using the same equipment used at larger labs at R1 institutions and learn to work in sterile environments and take care of living cells in culture.

“This is big school skill-learning at a small school,” Fornsaglio said. “You can’t just learn about these techniques, you have to do them to be successful and gain competency.”

Gaining confidence and learning independence in a lab setting is one of the factors that led three Seton Hill students to be selected to contribute to cancer research at institutions both near and far last summer.

“Other interns had never done a cell culture or worked in a sterile environment. Seton Hill prepared me well.”

“Cell culture was a vital part of my project; it allowed me to set up the remainder of my project for further analysis and other assays,” said Seton Hill senior Matthew Nguyen, a biochemistry major in the 4+4 Osteopathic Medicine program with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, who worked at the Knight Cancer Institute – part of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon. 

“My cells needed to be successfully maintained in order to develop ways to manipulate them for downstream applications.”

“Other interns had never done a cell culture or worked in a sterile environment,” he added. “They only had to show me the protocol one time, then they left me to do it. Seton Hill prepared me well.”

Matthew worked in a lab studying dendritic cells, an immune cell that surveys the environment for pathogens and cancers and initiates immune responses. His project focused on the factors that can influence how dendritic cells sort and distinguish between "safe" and “dangerous" sources of antigen, working with bone marrow dendritic cells from mice and how they interact with and process keratinocytes (skin cells) and melanoma cancer cells. The project aims to contribute to the potential future use of dendritic vaccines, an anti-tumor immunotherapy.

Working on a research project gave Matthew an appreciation for the amount of time that goes into developing the project and processes and confirmed that after medical school he would one day like to work in a lab.

Justine Shamber with microscopeJustine Shamber, a junior biology major from Elizabeth, Pa., was awarded Seton Hill’s Women in Science scholarship in high school, which led her to visit campus and to choose Seton Hill as the place to pursue her science career. She made sure to take Cell Biology during her sophomore year so she would be prepared to do research in the summers after both her sophomore and junior years as she plans to enter a Ph.D. program, possibly in cancer research, after graduating from Seton Hill.

Justine earned a place at the West Virginia University Cancer Institute Summer Undergraduate Research Program, along with two students from WVU and a student from the University of California Berkeley. She was mentored by program coordinator Dr. Alexey Ivanov and worked on determining the molecular function of a gene, ZNF71, that could be helpful with specialized treatments for non-small cell lung cancer.

“I was nervous at the beginning, especially the first week,” Justine said. “By the middle it was fun. I was learning something new, felt comfortable and confident, and could handle things without the PI (principal investigator) right there.”

“The professors cared about the research and also teaching it, just like at Seton Hill,” she said. “I’m grateful I went to a school like this.”

Although she kept her search for research experiences local this past summer, next summer Justine plans to expand her search for research opportunities nationwide.

“These summer research experiences are often harder to get into than graduate school and our students are routinely earning spots,” Fornsaglio said. “This is so important to me as a professor at Seton Hill because we are delivering on the promises that we make to students, and they are demonstrating that they can perform science at the very highest levels in any research setting.”

Abby Zuder Receives Audrey Fedyszyn Jakubowski Lazarus Scholarship to Support Research Work

Senior Abby Zuder, a biology and chemistry major, has always dreamed of being “Dr. Abby.”

In pursuing her goals, Abby has sought out both on-campus and off-campus research opportunities. For her on-campus research, she received support through the Audrey Fedyszyn Jakubowski Lazarus Basic Science Fund for Women.

Dr. Jakubowski Lazarus, a Seton Hill Distinguished Alumna, earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the State University of New York at Buffalo and spent her career in leadership roles for major pharmaceutical companies, including Bristol Myers Inc., DuPont Merck and SuperGen. While working for SuperGen, she lived in China for three years where she served as a visiting professor at Peking Union Medical College.

Established by Dr. Lazarus and her husband, Gerald S. Lazarus, M.D., the Audrey Fedyszyn Jakubowski Lazarus Basic Science Fund for Women provides financial assistance to female junior and senior students pursuing hands-on collaborative scientific research under the guidance of a Seton Hill faculty member.

“Getting a Ph.D. has always been a dream of mine, and I do everything I can to help prepare me for graduate school,” Abby said. “I cannot express my gratitude enough for receiving the Audrey Fedyszyn Jakubowski Lazarus Basic Science Fund for Women award. I owe so much to Seton Hill for helping me grow into the person I want to be and help me to achieve my goals.”

She has also found success in pursuing off-campus research and was one of three students chosen out of the 80 that applied in microbiology and immunology at the University of Pittsburgh’s Summer Undergraduate Research Program last summer. Abby had the opportunity to be mentored by Dr. Abby Overacre-Delgoffe, assistant professor in the Pitt School of Medicine’s Department of Immunology, who recently earned a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases New Innovator Award.

Abby, who is also a Ruth O’Block Grant Scholar at Seton Hill, was able to contribute to Dr. Overacre-Delgoffe’s researchAbby Zuder with Dr. Overacre-Delgoffe studying cancer and the microbiome. Her project involved looking at the impacts of artificial sweetener on mice who also have colorectal cancer. After an initial orientation to the lab and the project, Abby started doing her own work and research, which involved a lot of microscopy and ultimately will result in her being an author when the research is published.

“The labs at Seton Hill are fantastic,” Abby said. “Lab technique came easily to me during my research experience at Pitt because of the extensive training at Seton Hill.”

Abby is taking courses in immunology and microbiology during her senior year at Seton Hill in preparation for pursuing similar work in graduate school.

“I hadn’t been thinking about cancer research and was almost positive I was not going into it,” Abby said. “Doing this summer research at Pitt validated that I am on the right path. Now I am thinking about cancer research long-term.”


Photo Top: Matthew Nguyen worked at the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health and Science University.

Photo Left: Justine Shamber conducted research in Dr. Alexey Ivanov’s lab at West Virginia University in the summer of 2023.

Photo Right: Abby Zuder had the opportunity to work with Dr. Abby Overacre-Delgoffe in her lab at the University of Pittsburgh.

This article originally appeared in the 2023-2024 Fall/Winter edition of Seton Hill's Forward Alumni Magazine.