Erin Goley

Alumna Catches the Bug for Studying the Cytoskeleton

Erin Goley investigates how the microbial cytoskeleton controls cell growth and division.

As a schoolkid in North Kingstown, RI, Goley’s stepdad helped her build “the coolest cell in the class” with clear, self-hardening resin encapsulating various objects representing parts of the cell within a fish bowl membrane. But this early foray into cytoskeletal research was sidelined as Goley instead enjoyed developing tools to monitor viral and fungal plant pathogens at the USDA laboratories during her time as an undergraduate at Hood College. Visiting the University of California, Berkeley, on a sunny February weekend convinced Goley to join their molecular and cell biology Ph.D. program, where her rotations were mainly in laboratories studying the interactions of intracellular pathogens with host actin. Matt Welch’s purification of Arp2/3 as the host factor that nucleates actin on the surface of Listeria is one of Goley’s all-time favorite experiments.

“I love the concept that intracellular pathogens are the best cell biologists around and that we can learn so much about fundamental cell biology by discovering how they manipulate it to their advantage,” she said.

She spent her postgraduate years in Welch’s laboratory investigating the mechanisms of Arp2/3 activation as well as baculovirus-induced actin rearrangements. As a card-carrying cell biologist, Goley was next drawn to the fledgling field of bacterial cell biology and brought her expertise in eukaryotic cytoskeletal biochemistry to studying the cytoskeleton of Caulobacter crescentus as a postdoctoral researcher with Lucy Shapiro at Stanford University. Caulobacter is famous for its dimorphic life cycle: it has two primary cell types, a motile form called the swarmer and a sessile form called the stalked cell, and it produces one of each through an obligate asymmetric cell division. In Shapiro’s laboratory, Goley used Caulobacter as a model system to investigate the role of the conserved tubulin-like GTPase, FtsZ, in orchestrating bacterial division. Shapiro gave Goley the support and intellectual freedom to pursue whatever questions inspired her “as long as it was in Caulobacter!” and Goley took her new favorite bug to Johns Hopkins University to establish her own research program tackling the question of how bacterial cell growth and division are controlled by FtsZ.

What first drew you to study the bacterial cytoskeleton?

At the time I was considering fields for postdoctoral study, in 2005, the bacterial cytoskeleton was a really new thing. MreB and FtsZ had only been demonstrated to be true homologues of actin and tubulin, respectively, when their structures were solved about five years prior. We knew, and still know, far less than for eukaryotic cytoskeletons about what these bacterial polymers really do, how their structures relate to their functions, or how they are regulated by interacting partners. I thought studying the bacterial cytoskeleton would marry my long-term interest in microbiology with the love for the cytoskeleton I acquired in graduate school, and I felt that the field was replete with fundamental mechanistic, and even phenomenological, questions. The stunning diversity observed in the cell biology of different bacteria, the dangerous rise in antibiotic resistance, and the importance of bacteria to human health both as pathogens and as integral components of our microbiota continue to affirm my original motivation to study fundamental aspects of bacterial cell biology.

What is your laboratory actively working on?

When I started my laboratory at Hopkins, we were pretty focused on FtsZ and its direct regulators. During my postdoc, I had identified two new binding partners of FtsZ, and we continued characterizing the interactions of those partners with FtsZ and their effects on the execution of division. We like to complement genetic and imaging approaches with in vitro biochemistry of purified components to come to a mechanistic understanding of the process, but we’ve been frustrated by a lack of robust in vitro assays for the physiologically relevant, membrane-associated form of FtsZ. To overcome that roadblock, we have recently put a lot of energy into establishing in vitro assays for monitoring FtsZ assembly, activity, and structure on membranes, and I’m really excited about our progress.

Another aspect of our research that’s really taken off recently is investigating the link between FtsZ and cell wall remodeling. A few years ago, we were making variants of FtsZ to test the function of the intrinsically disordered linker between its polymerizing GTPase domain and the C-terminal peptide that binds membrane-anchoring proteins. It came as a complete surprise when we expressed a variant of FtsZ completely lacking the linker and found that it was lethal. The cells looked as if they had been treated with cell wall–targeting antibiotics like penicillin! It turned out that the FtsZ variant was leading to specific changes in cell wall chemistry, but without affecting the ability of FtsZ to recruit downstream proteins to the site of division. We hypothesized that, beyond just serving as a passive scaffold, FtsZ normally regulates specific cell wall enzymes in a linker-dependent manner. The linker mutant has become a really powerful tool that we are using to connect the dots from FtsZ to the cell wall. Coming into the field as a cytoskeletal biologist, I initially tried to focus just on the cytoplasmic side of things with FtsZ, but the bugs are telling us that the most important thing FtsZ is doing is influencing cell wall remodeling. Looking ahead, some of the forward genetics approaches we have used to address the FtsZ-cell wall connection are taking us into unexpected, but super exciting, new areas of global cell shape regulation and adaptations of growth in response to stress.

What kind of approach do you bring to your work?

Our general strategy is to hit a question with all of the experimental techniques available to us. In my laboratory, that means we use imaging, genetics, biochemistry, and some genomics. I’m also a huge fan of collaboration to incorporate new or highly specialized approaches in the most efficient way possible. As we have begun to think more about the links between the cytoskeleton and cell wall, I’m also finding a lot of inspiration from work on cytoskeletal function in eukaryotic organisms with cell walls (i.e., plants and fungi). My favorite Gordon Research Conference of late is the plant and microbial cytoskeleton meeting, where you see these conceptual similarities echoed in the ways bacterial and eukaryotic walled organisms use their cytoskeletons to direct growth and division.

What did you learn during your doctorate and postdoc that helped prepare you for being a group leader?

I think I was well trained to do science, to be a mentor, to write, speak, and teach. Being a “boss” is something that didn’t come naturally for me, though. It has been on-the-job training to learn how to motivate different trainees, some of whom really need and even want a PI who gives them strict deadlines and leans on them hard when they need to get things done.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far?

Learning to be resilient and not take rejections personally.

What is the best advice you have been given?

“There are two types of people, doers and people who aren’t doers. You’re a doer, so you just have to accept that you’re going to be the one getting stuff done.” This came from Matt [Welch] when I was in grad school. To me, the broader message is that you can only control your own actions, not other people, so focus on what you can control and use that to make things happen.

What hobbies do you have?

My wife accuses me of being a serial hobbyist (the dusty ukulele and hula hoop in my basement are evidence in her favor), but one that I picked up in graduate school and still love is knitting. I’ve even knitted stuffed Caulobacters. Lately my biggest hobbies are my kids, though. My son, Beck, is 7 and daughter Remy is 2, and they keep us busy and laughing and grounded.

Any tips for a successful research career?

I think most important is choosing research advisors with whom you can have a productive and healthy working relationship. Ignoring red flags thinking your love of the scientific topic will overcome an iffy relationship with the mentor is a risky strategy. Your Ph.D. and postdoc advisors will be some of your most important advocates for the duration of your career, and you need them on your side. Matt [Welch] and Lucy [Shapiro] were both incredibly supportive advisors and continue to be the people I turn to first for advice.

Also incredibly important: Enjoy the journey. If you’re only focused on the endpoints of getting the Ph.D., getting the job, etc., you’ll be miserable. I loved graduate school, I loved my postdoc, and I love being a PI. They each have their high and low points, but how lucky am I to be able to make a living playing in the laboratory, asking the questions I find most interesting?

This article was written by Marie Anne O’Donnell of The Journal of Cell Biology and published by the Rockefeller University Press. Follow the Journal of Cell Biology on Twitter @JCellBiol and on Facebook @JCellBiol or Journal of Cell Biology.

Alex Jarnot

Chemistry Major Presents at National Conference

Alex Jarnot, a senior chemistry major who participated in NASA’s Student Airborne Research Program (SARP) in California during the summer, recently presented his research at the American Geophysical Union fall conference in San Francisco, California.

During his eight-week internship, Jarnot was involved in hands-on research looking at the different types of gases in the air in San Joaquin Valley. He studied how the gas concentrations are affected by a cave’s environment.

The AGU fall conference is the largest Earth and space science meeting in the world. It is a weeklong conference where scientists meet to present research and where major organizations, such as NASA, display their achievements and projects from the year and discuss future projects.

“I presented my research at a poster session for about three hours,” Jarnot said. “I talked to several professors and researchers about my findings and answered some of their questions.”

While in San Francisco, Jarnot was able to explore the city, see friends from his internship, swap business cards and network with some professors from graduate schools he applied to.

“I got a lot out of the trip,” Jarnot said, “It was my first time being in San Francisco, so I had a great time seeing a bit of the city. The conference itself was incredible; it was very well organized and there was so much to see and do that it was like drinking from a firehose.”

One of his favorite talks from the conference dealt with an OCO-2 satellite that was being prepped for launch. It was the same one he saw being constructed during his internship.

For more information about Jarnot’s internship at NASA, visit


Enactus Awarded Volpe Scholarship for Backet Project

Hood College Enactus has been awarded a prestigious Volpe Scholar award to continue its work with the Backet, a cross-functional piece of apparel for homeless people that combines a backpack and a winter jacket. The Volpe Scholarship provides funds for exceptional students to take part in unique, experiential learning opportunities.

The group earned regional and national recognition in 2016 for creating the Backet, and the students have now developed a business model that includes hiring and paying the homeless to manufacture the product. Enactus president Joe Hutchins ’18 applied for a Volpe Scholarship on behalf of the group and was awarded $5,000 to purchase the materials needed to produce the Backet.

“Without the scholarship, we would not have been able to purchase all of the materials necessary to actually produce the Backet and pay the homeless individuals at the same time,” Hutchins said.

The scholarship money has greatly reduced the need for fundraising, and it covered the costs of Backet production. It has allowed Enactus to focus on developing the product and production process to ensure the homeless individuals are helped to the fullest extent.

The next steps for the project include further production of the current model, developing a prototype of a higher-end model and creating a marketing campaign for the product.

“The development of the higher-end model will allow for sustainability to be achieved if we can get sales under way in local boutiques and through e-commerce,” Hutchins said.

For more information on the Backet and the awards Enactus has earned during its development, visit and

Pictured: Joe Hutchins at the National Exposition in St. Louis, Mo.

Vivi Tolani

Alumna Working on Anti-Cancer Therapies

Lung cancer is the deadliest form of the disease, claiming approximately 158,000 American lives and accounting for around 27 percent of all cancer deaths. One Hood College alumna is researching drug therapies to fight it.

Bhairavi (Vivi) Tolani is working with a three-person group studying anti-cancer targeted therapies for lung cancer. They are trying to find ways to shut down the rapid growth of the cancerous cells through a variety of drug combinations.

Tolani graduated from Hood in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. During the next three years, she worked at Invitrogen Life Technologies, Lonza Corp. and Digene (now Qiagen), all Frederick biotechnology companies. During that time, she also took graduate classes at Hood, completing her master’s degree in biomedical science in 2007. She worked four 10-hour days, Monday through Thursday, and took evening classes for her master’s degree. Friday through Sunday, she worked on her thesis research project on breast cancer at the National Cancer Institute.

“I got to experience all aspects—biotech, academia and government research— simultaneously,” Tolani said.

Following her master’s degree, Tolani was accepted to the doctoral program in molecular biology at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. She researched hematological malignancies (cancers that begin in the cells of blood-forming tissues) for six years there. She then completed six months of postdoctoral training at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park studying ovarian cancer, and conducted postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) studying lung cancer.

After a year at UCSF, she was promoted to assistant adjunct professor in a lab studying lung cancer. She works in the lab, mentoring students and technicians of all levels, and she researches lung cancer with her team.

“In particular, we study cellular growth signaling pathways, which, when overactive, prompt cells to grow, divide uncontrollably and become cancerous,” Tolani said. “In an effort to shut down these growth signals, we work on both biologics and small molecule chemical inhibitors as anti-cancer therapies. We also investigate combination therapies—employing lower doses of two or more drugs whose combined effect is greater than either drug alone. This allows the use of lower doses of the drugs, fewer side effects for patients and less drug resistance over longer periods.”

Tolani credits Hood’s excellent science faculty, high academic standards and small class sizes as being instrumental for her successes in academia and cancer research.

“Not only was the quality of teaching excellent, but also, the investment and concern of the faculty in ensuring student success is magnified when class size is small,” she said. “Further, with smaller lab sections, students had a chance for hands-on experience with scientific techniques that my peers in graduate school who went to larger universities never had.”

In addition to the learning environment, Tolani chose Hood because she wanted a well-rounded, liberal arts education and because the College’s proximity to the National Cancer Institute at Fort Detrick was beneficial to her desire to work with cancer therapies.

For more information, visit

End of the Trail in Maine
16_Jena Stone 4
New Hampshire
16_Jena Stone 2
16_Jena Stone 3
16_Jena Stone 1

Thousands of hikers attempt to complete the entire 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail each year. Only about a quarter of those who start complete it, and only about a quarter of those who complete it are women.

Jena Stone, a 2015 Hood graduate, took on the challenge and finished in five months. She began on Springer Mountain in Georgia on April 16, 2016, and summited Mount Katahdin in Maine on Sept. 17, 2016.

After graduating from Hood, she wasn’t ready to jump into a career as a teacher and wanted to go on an adventure. She had no previous backpacking experience, but after talking to some “thru-hikers” (people who have hiked the entire trail), she decided to jump out of her comfort zone and go for it.

Each section of the trail had a personality of its own, created by the weather, terrain and the people. Her favorite part of the experience was the people. Everyone she met challenged or engaged her in a different way. She also met a lot of Trail Angels throughout the trek. These are people who help hikers by handing out snacks along and trail or offering beds and showers.

“I made some friendships that I know will last for a very long time,” Stone said. “Everyone challenged or engaged me in a different way. From religion to politics to the way I interact with others, I learned so much from every person I hiked with.”

Early on in her journey, she received the trail name Skittles due to the fact that she had rainbow-colored hair when she began. Thru-hikers know each other by their trail names, which are generally given to them by other hikers based on something specific about the person.

Among the most enjoyable sections of the trek for Stone were the White Mountains in New Hampshire, which included some of the most difficult trails and some of the best views.

“I was lucky enough to have good weather through that stretch,” she said. “I was also hiking with [trail friends] Giggles and Sage at that point, and I think we spent more time laughing than hiking. Some days we did only a few miles, and others we did more than 20.”

However, at some point, the AT tests every hiker physically and mentally. The Great Smoky Mountains along the Tennessee-North Carolina border and the Shenandoah Mountains in Virginia were the most difficult parts for Stone. She began her hike later in the season to avoid snow, but she ended up in an early May snowstorm in the Smokies, a tough stretch of the trail that lasts about a week. It was the first time she was alone on the trail, and she hiked through the cold snow to the highest point on the AT.

In the Shenandoahs, she was hiking by herself again, between 23 and 28 miles per day through “boring” terrain. While in that stretch, she experienced what thru-hikers call the Virginia Blues—after the thrill of the trip subsided and it sunk in that she would be hiking for several months, the mental challenge of walking monotonous terrain tempted her to leave the trail.

She pushed through the trying times with perseverance and a “roll with the punches attitude” that she developed during her journey.

“The only thing I have control over is how I react,” she said. “The trail taught me that it is okay to take a moment and get upset and frustrated. It’s okay to feel defeated, but those feelings won’t last forever. It’s important to take time to acknowledge those feelings and then figure out what you are going to do to deal with the situation. Perseverance and a little spite are what enabled me to finish the trail.”

Stone summited Katahdin Sept. 17, but her accomplishment didn’t start to sink in until she started back down to the base of the mountain.

“Once I started to head back down the mountain, I got really excited and basically skipped my way down, smiling like an idiot,” she said. “Getting back down to the base of Katahdin is when I got really overwhelmed with what I had just accomplished.”

Stone majored in elementary special education with a concentration in mathematics education. She is currently living in Gaithersburg, substitute teaching in Frederick County and at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville. Her goal is to become a middle school math teacher.

Serving Dishes
Group Meal
Cake Plate
Berry Bowls
York, Berry bowls
Chocolate Dishes
York, Chocolate dishes
Cookie Jar
York, cookie jar
Cupcake Stands
Hood College Ceramics

Lisa York, an adjunct instructor and kiln technician at Hood College, completed a ceramic arts residency in Berlin, Germany at Zentrum für Keramik during the summer.

The residency culminated in the “Küchen” exhibit, which included works by all of the artists in the residency. They displayed their functional ceramic works, which served as vessels to serve food.

York completed her residency with studio mates Helen Otterson and Eric Thornton, with whom she had worked at the International Ceramics Studio in Kecskemét, Hungary.

“As artists working at different colleges, facing similar challenges associated with teaching, maintaining studios and collegiate service, our residency in Germany allowed us the time and space to explore new materials and building techniques,” York said. “Surrounded by inspiration visually and culturally enabled us to connect our mutual love of art, desserts and travel.”

While in Berlin, York and the other artists visited several art museums, bakeries, chocolatiers and open-air food markets. They had an open dialogue about how to make stronger artistic connections between food and the vessels on which they were being served.

York earned her master’s certificate in ceramic arts at Hood. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally in Canada, Russia, Hungary and China. Her ceramic pieces are currently included in the Plain Arts Museum collection in Fargo, North Dakota. She has completed residencies at the Sanbao Ceramic Art Institute in Jingdezhen, China, and the International Ceramics Studio in Kecskemet, Hungary. Additionally, she has worked with international ceramic co-ops in Tanzania and Guatemala.

Works from the “Küchen” will be traveling to Hood for the “Decadence of Display: Ceramics for Dessert” exhibit, which will also include works from invited artists. The exhibit opens Jan. 26 and will run until Feb. 20 in the Whitaker Gallery.

ABET Accreditation

Hood College Receives ABET Accreditation for Computer Science

Hood College’s Bachelor of Science program in computer science has received ABET accreditation, demonstrating its commitment to providing students quality education.

ABET accreditation is a voluntary peer-review process requiring programs to undergo comprehensive, periodic evaluations. The evaluations focus on program curriculum, faculty, facilities and institutional support and are conducted by teams of professionals from industry, academia and government with expertise in the ABET disciplines.

“The faculty in the department feel that the accreditation reaffirmed our belief that the programs we deliver are high-quality programs,” said Xinlian Liu, Ph.D., co-chair of the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology. “The accreditation also serves to position our students well in the job market and for acceptance into graduate programs in computer science.”

One of the key elements of ABET accreditation is the requirement that programs continuously assess and improve program quality. As part of this continuous improvement process, programs set specific, measurable goals for their students and graduates, assess their success at reaching those goals and improve their programs based on the results of their assessments.

“For more than two decades, our undergraduate computer science program has produced outstanding technical professionals and leaders in the field of computing,” said John Boon, co-chair of the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology. “Accreditation of our computer science degree by ABET is a substantial achievement for the department. Accreditation assures students that our degree meets internationally recognized quality standards for computer science education. The accreditation also assures employers that Hood’s computer science graduates have the educational background they need to enter the computing profession.”

This is the College’s initial accreditation by the Computing Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (CAC ABET), the global accreditor of college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering and engineering technology. Hood’s next comprehensive review will be during the 2021-22 academic year.

Hood’s computer science department offers a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science; minors in computer science and web development; master’s degrees in computer science, information technology and management of information technology; and a certificate in cybersecurity. For more information on Hood’s computer science program, visit

Rachel Mankowitz
Rachel M in lab
Ian Sellers
Ian S. in lab
Jose Sanchez
Jose S in lab

Hood College students and faculty have been assisting in a process to create renewable biofuels by converting energy beet polymers into ethanol for jet fuel.

The energy beet to bio-jet fuel project aims to create a new industry of advanced renewable transportation fuels. The manufacturing of biofuels will lower the dependence on oil and lower the carbon footprint of the transportation industry.

This is a multi-college and multi-company project. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), Purdue University, Atlantic Biomass, Advanced Biofuels USA, Plant Sensory Systems and Vertimass all have critical parts.

The project involves growing energy beets and converting the cell wall structural biomass into simple sugars that can then be converted into ethanol, and in turn, jet fuel.

In order to efficiently create biofuels through this process, Plant Sensory Systems—a company in Baltimore that engineers plants to meet market needs—is developing non-food, low-nutrient input energy beets. These energy beets will grow in a wider range of climates than is traditional for sugar beets and will grow with more biomass than sugar beets. UMES is growing the energy beets in test plots. Beets were chosen largely because of their significantly higher yield compared to other crops.

“The ultimate goal is to have a crop that is low-maintenance, low-cost to produce, and high in biofuel/bioproduct sugars,” said Bob Kozak, president of Atlantic Biomass, a Frederick company that works to create a sustainable source of sugars for biofuels.

After the energy beets are grown, Hood College professor Craig Laufer leads a team to assist Atlantic Biomass with converting the beets into usable simple sugars. They have created enzymes and a unique process that breaks down the entire biomass of the energy beets, including biomass ignored during conventional sugar production, without costly pretreatments.

Purdue University, in conjunction with a U.S. Department of Agriculture lab in Illionis, is developing and testing bacteria that convert all the sugars into ethanol. Finally, Vertimass, a biofuels company in Massachusetts, converts the ethanol into jet fuel.

The USDA recently awarded a $16,893 grant to Advanced Biofuels USA to complete a feasibility study for the commercialization of the whole project. Advanced Biofuels is a nonprofit located in Frederick that was established to promote the understanding, development and use of advanced biofuels in the U.S. and around the world. The feasibility study will strive to determine if the UMES pilot crop of energy beets and commercial simulation processing show a high enough yield for commercialization.

“We are pleased that the Maryland USDA Rural Development Office sees the value of a feasibility study,” said Joanne Ivancic, executive director of Advanced Biofuels. “We expect this will be useful to everyone along the value chain from landowners and farmers to banks and financers, from experts in the sciences to experts in transportation and distribution. We are pleased to put to work Advanced Biofuels USA’s years of experience in this unique field.”

A number of Laufer’s graduate and undergraduate students have also been involved with work related to this project.

“Our long-standing collaboration with Atlantic Biomass has provided opportunities for dozens of undergraduate and graduate students to apply what they learned in classes such as microbiology, genetics, cell biology and biochemistry to the real-world problem of making biofuels,” Laufer said. “It has brought external funding for equipment and supplies as well as stipends for Hood students. Working on these projects has provided the experience and training to help propel many Hood graduates into exciting careers in research and onto post-graduate training in medical and doctoral programs.”

Hood became involved because of Laufer’s expertise and the availability of the College’s modern instrumentation for molecular genetics and biochemistry research. Hood also uses its high-pressure liquid chromatography equipment to analyze how the enzymes perform. All of this gives students real-world experience in a classroom setting.

Currently, Rachel Mankowitz and Ian Sellers are working on the project for their Departmental Honors papers. Mankowitz is using a technique to engineer more active enzymes, which is the first step in the process of biomass digestion. The more active the enzymes, the fewer of them are necessary, and the lower the cost. Sellers is investigating the community structure of soil bacteria growing on pectin as a sole carbon source. His research may help to find synergies between the various enzymes that break down this polymer and aid in putting together cocktails of enzymes for the energy beet digestion.

Over the summer, Elizabeth Slick worked on cloning novel pectin methylesterase genes, which are being used by Mankowitz.

Kendra Laster is using the research as an independent study for her capstone experience. She is characterizing the activities of strains that students in microbiology isolated and identified in class. This could help to find novel enzymes to add to those that can digest the energy beet pulp.

Jose Sanchez, a graduate student, is developing a temperature tunable carbohydrate binding domain that would aid the recycling of the enzymes used in the energy beet’s pulp digestion as a part of his thesis research. Through the recycling of the enzymes, the cost of the process could be significantly reduced.

Other recent graduates who participated in this research include Mariam Ashraf, Lauren Brand, Jonathan Bullard-Sisken, Alessandra Emini, Ian McDonald, Ammarah Spall and Britni Uhlig.

MJ Swicegood

Alumna Helped Manufacture Cancer-Fighting Drug

MJ Swicegood, a 2013 Hood graduate and current Hood MBA student, is working at Leidos BioMedical in a pilot vaccine facility where she works with topical vaccines including Zika, HIV and the flu.

She previously worked at MedImmune where she helped develop the cancer-fighting drug, Keytruda, which is credited with helping former President Jimmy Carter.

Swicegood graduated with a biology degree and a minor in business administration. After graduation, she worked at MedImmune in the buffer and media department before transitioning to the cell culture department in biologics manufacturing where she stayed for two years and during which time she worked on Keytruda. Her current focus is in cell culture and fermentation with Leidos BioMedical.

“What I do is basically like zoology on a very small scale,” Swicegood said. “I care for cultured and mutated mammalian and bacterial cells that are programmed to act like factories; they create medicines, plasmids or therapies.”

During the manufacturing of Keytruda, Swicegood was a trained cell culturist who worked the night shift, as the drug required 24/7 cell maintenance, running multiple batches at a time. Keytruda, also known as Pembrolizumab, helps remove from T cells the blinders that prevent them from locating and destroying the cancer cells. It allows the T cells to locate and attack the cancer cells.

“It was a huge undertaking and awesome team effort, and I am so proud to have been part of it,” she said. “We began working on large-scale manufacturing of Keytruda in 2014, and it was a huge part of our team’s effort for over a year.”

Swicegood worked with her team to culture and grow the cells that are immortal, meaning they will grow until they are the size of their containers. The cells start in very small containers and grow into larger ones, eventually ending up in bioreactors. They are fed media (liquid cell food) as well as sugars and salts accordingly.

After Swicegood and her team grew the cells, another team purified the medicine through various stages of chromatography. The drug was introduced publically last year with President Jimmy Carter’s cancer therapy, and Swicegood’s team is thrilled to see what it will do for immunotherapy in the future.

In June, Merck, the company that makes Keytruda commercially, reported that clinical trials of the drug have shown a 56 percent positive rate, which is outstanding according to Swicegood. They are looking to reach it into use for a variety of cancers.

While at Hood, Swicegood focused primarily on ecology, and she credits the cell biology class with Professor Ricky Hirschhorn as an essential piece of her work today. She has used her skills from that class to monitor cells using devices that count the cells daily, sometimes even hourly, to look for various chemicals present to determine their health.

“It’s challenging to monitor such a large volume of such small creatures,” she said. “Because it is impossible to watch all of them at once, you have to use your knowledge of their biology to see what they are producing.”


Computer Science Internship Involves Work With Supercomputer

Thomas Corcoran, a senior computer science major at Hood College, is completing a yearlong internship with the Blue Waters Student Internship Program (BWSIP) as well as the National Cancer Institute at Fort Detrick.

Corcoran, along with approximately 30 other student interns, traveled to the University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign (UIUC) in June, where they spent two weeks training at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). There, Corcoran learned the principles of parallel programming, scientific computing and management of big data.

“UIUC is also home to the Blue Waters supercomputer, for which the internship is named,” Corcoran explained. “We toured the supercomputer, which was astonishingly cool.”

The interns were allotted time on the machine to conduct their private research. The nature of Corcoran’s research was to apply machine-learning techniques to the detection of important features like cancer in biomedical images.

His work caught the interest of the National Cancer Institute at Fort Detrick, where he worked full time over the summer and continues to work part time along with his continued internship at UIUC.

In addition to learning and being able to apply his studies at Fort Detrick, Corcoran was able to work with Yanling Liu, Ph.D., of NCI, tackling the scourge of cancer, which Corcoran said was an “illuminating and rewarding experience.”

Corcoran credits his mentor, Xinlian Liu, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science at Hood and chair of the computer science department, and George Dimitoglou, associate professor of computer science at Hood, with helping him obtain the internship. Both professors played a role in Corcoran’s application process and taught him about conducting independent research.

“My experience with [the NCI and UIUC] has been fantastic,” Corcoran said. “The instruction I was given [at UIUC] was in-depth, challenging and has been proven to be highly useful. I am incredibly grateful to them and their support, trust and encouragement.”

In June 2017, at the end of his studies, Corcoran will be publishing a paper, which will be a culmination of his work at the Blue Waters internship program.

To learn more about the Blue Waters internship program visit

Pictured above: the Blue Waters supercomputer