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A Ph.D. student in a lab setting, working in a lab on research

April 8, 2021

By Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science staff

The 'Meet My Research' series aims to showcase the research our students are involved with and the labs where they work. Join us as we go into the lab, introduce you to some of our learners, and interview them about what they're up to with their research and experience at Mayo Clinic!

Meet Joana Efua Aggrey Fynn, a Ph.D. student in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Track within the Ph.D. Program of Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences on the Minnesota campus.

What draws you to research?

I have always been drawn to the unknown, the unsolved mysteries. Biomedical research is all about solving those mysteries, turning the most complex ideas into the simplest forms in order to save lives. I wanted to be part of that. I enjoy applying scientific methods and relaying the information to the public.

What does your research entail?

My research is focused on the molecular and epigenetic mechanisms of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Specifically, I work on understanding the KRAS oncogenic signaling pathway which is the driving force behind PDAC development. My lab uses modern molecular biological techniques and bioinformatics to investigate the molecular basis for the development of pancreatic cancer in order to decipher the most efficient method for treatment.

How would you describe your research to a 10-year-old?

I study the major process that drives the growth of pancreatic cancer in order to figure out how to stop it. I use various treatments and computer analytical techniques to study the changes induced by that process and investigate their effects in survival.

Tell us about your lab or where you do your research. What lab are you in and what is your role? 

I am a Ph.D. student working in the tumor epigenetics laboratory headed by my principal investigator Dr. Steven A. Johnsen, Ph.D. My lab is under the division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

I study and perform various cancer biological, molecular, and bioinformatical techniques in order to analyze, interpret, and understand my research project. In addition, I am being trained by Dr. Steve Johnsen and our post-docs to think like a scientist and develop skills I need to ask scientific questions and design experiments that answer those questions. I also attend lab meetings, seminars, take classes, and workshops, which help in developing skills as a scientist.

What are your future career goals?

My drive and motivation come from my life and my parents. As a child, I was often very sick, and I watched as my parents gave all they had to figure out and understand the diagnosis in a place with very limited resources and health professionals. Today, I watch my parents struggle with their own illnesses in that very same place. I want to help change that and becoming a research scientist is the steppingstone that will provide the foundation I need to help change the healthcare system in my home country.