Ann Lin is STEM superstar. She found that removing a gene called MELK actually does not affect the growth of breast cancer cells, even though drugs were trying to target the gene. The process of working on the paper made Ann realize, alongside her passion for cancer research, the importance of engaging young minds in science, so she founded the Synthetic Biology Society to introduce students to research.
A first generation Asian American, Ann came to the U.S. at age 10 not knowing any English. She worked hard, taking the bus to the library after school and later teaching herself to code. This inspiring collegiette plans to pursue a Ph.D. in genetics, and we can’t wait to watch her accomplish everything she sets her mind to.
College: Stony Brook University
Majors: Biochemistry and Economics
Expected Graduation: Spring 2018
Why are you passionate about cancer research?
I am not only passionate about cancer research, but the whole field of scientific research in general. The idea of discovering something that no one else has knowledge of excites me.
What did you discover based on your research and why is it so impactful?
My lab and I use CRISPR/Cas9, a new gene-editing tool, to study the molecular mechanisms that drive cancer cells to proliferate. Unexpectedly, we discovered that a cancer drug target, MELK, is in fact not a true therapeutic target. The removal of the activity of MELK using CRISPR/Cas9 does not stop cancer cells from dividing.
Additionally, we discovered that the drug that is said to target MELK has off target effects, which is why it can kill the cancer cells. Our results prompt the question of whether or not more drugs that are currently in clinical trials have off-target effects and if their selected targets are true therapeutic targets. Furthermore, they emphasize the power of this new gene-editing technology to more accurately inform drug discovery, which will likely lead to improved therapeutics.
Why do you believe it is important to engage young minds in science? How are you doing so?
Young people are the next generation of scientists. I believe that only by engaging them in scientific discussion and cultivating their interest in science can the field of science thrive.
As a result of this belief, I cofounded the Synthetic Biology Society in my sophomore year of college. The goal of the society is to expose college students to research done around the world. I have also mentored multiple high school students in my lab in order to cultivate interest in science research at a young age.
What were some obstacles you faced as a first generation Asian American and how did you overcome them?
My experience growing up as a first generation Asian American has molded me into who I am today. I came to America at the age of ten without a hint of English. Due to the language barrier, going to school was terrifying to me. English lessons were the hardest. I could not write a full sentence without asking for spelling help from a classmate. The teachers saw how much I was struggling and suggested that I repeat the grade. That was the first time I felt like I failed at something. However, I did not give up.
Every day, after the bus dropped me off, I would walk to the library and spend hours reading and copying words down from different books. Within a few months, my English began to improve dramatically. Gaining confidence in my ability, I began to speak more in class and the teachers took notice. At the end of fifth grade, I was no longer an “at risk” student and was recommended into the gifted program offered by New York State.
What has been your greatest moment of personal growth or achievement?
My experience in fifth grade would definitely take first place in terms of personal growth. I went from at risk of repeating a grade to becoming one of the top students in the class. I believe that if we constantly talk and remind ourselves of our past achievements, then we will never achieve our future goals. As a result I often do not dwell in the satisfaction of my past achievements and constantly strive to improve myself.
Who in your life inspires you the most?
All the people I have met in my life so far equally inspire me in different ways. Interacting with the cancer survivors at conferences and listening to their stories about overcoming their diseases has inspired me to become a stronger person. Observing the long work hours my mentors and colleagues spent in lab to answer scientific questions has inspired me to be hard working. Being welcomed at home by a warm dinner made by my mom at 2 a.m. after a long day of work has inspired me to become a more caring and compassionate person. So, I cannot single out one person who has inspired me the most. Everyone impacted me equally in different ways.
What is your life motto and why?
My motto in life is: By working hard, one can overcome any challenge. My belief that hard work is the most important ingredient in achieving a goal has never failed me. Although most of my peers know me as a hardcore researcher, some of them also call me a part-time software engineer. I became interested in computer programing after realizing the potential it has in accelerating research and solving problems faced by people in developing countries. However, as a freshman in college with a double major in biochemistry and economics already, adding a third major was not possible. In the end, I decided to teach myself programing during my free time. I would spend hours in the middle of the night after studying for my classes watching online videos on programing and writing algorithms. In a year, I picked up four different programing languages and won multiple coding competitions.
What are your goals after college?
I wish to pursue a Ph.D. in genetics with a focus on cancer biology. In the future, I hope to have my own lab where I will continue my research on cancer as well as performing basic research to advance foundational knowledge.