By Charlotte Kugler ’14
When her father was diagnosed with leukemia while she was in high school, Alysia Bryll ’13 developed a long-lasting interest in the growth and treatment of cancer. With his encouragement, Bryll began to study his disease so that she might better understand it. Her increasing knowledge helped her to be less afraid during his illness, and it left her with an enduring sense of empowerment after he passed away.
A few years later, here at Mount Holyoke, Bryll stumbled upon the Fuller Fellowship, a program that awards grants for students to intern for the American Cancer Society. She found herself eager to apply for a position for this past summer.
“After reading about the fellowship, I knew this was the summer research opportunity I was looking for,” she says. “It allowed for complete freedom in the lab and placed me in a lab that is highly respected in the cancer field.”
The lab was that of Nicholas Dyson, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, where Bryll worked as a research fellow under the supervision of Amity Manning. The program let her conduct her project almost entirely independently, which was an appealing aspect of the internship to her.
Bryll’s work focused on the tumor suppressor protein retinoblastoma, or RB. RB regulates the genes that control the cell cycle, but recently researchers in Dyson’s lab discovered that it also plays a role in chromosome missegregation during mitosis (cell division), which results in an incorrect number of chromosomes in daughter cells. This abnormal cell growth, along with the inactivation of RB, can lead to the growth of cancerous tumors.
In the lab, Bryll conducted protein analysis of lung cancer cells and immunofluorescent cell imaging during mitosis. She also discovered a possible independent research opportunity for the future: studying an increase in chromosomal instability in knockdown cells.
“I am very interested in cancer,” she explains. “I hope to become a pathologist because it would allow me to continue with research—and to help diagnose patients.”
Bryll plans to take a year off between graduating from Mount Holyoke and going to medical school. As of now, she’s undecided about whether she wants to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. or just an M.D.
“I know that I would really like to continue with research. There’s so much to discover and so much freedom in researching what you truly find interesting,” she says.