Sisi He, PhD Candidate, Molecular and Integrative Physiology
TiMe 2016 Cohort
C*STAR 2017 Cohort 

What first led to your interest in cancer research?

I studied Chemistry and Biochemistry at UW-Madison for my Bachelor’s degree. Afterward, I came here to pursue doctoral training in biomedical research. I started doing cancer research at UW-Madison, where participating in undergraduate research was a major part of the chemistry program. I met Dr. Robert West at a department event, and we had a conversation in which he told me his lab had synthesized novel small molecule drugs that had recently been discovered to have anti-cancer properties. I thought it was really exciting and joined his lab.

How did you learn about the C*STAR Program? How has it helped you?

I learned about TiMe and C*STAR through my advisor. C*STAR allowed me to pursue translational research and investigate the validity of my preclinical findings on patients with ovarian cancer. Through TiMe, I learned a lot from the experts in the tissue microenvironment, especially the research approaches and perspectives of bioengineers.

What kind of research are you working on?

I study how cholesterol affects ovarian cancer survival. Eating healthy and exercise is quite important for cancer survival. 

What is your favorite part of working with your lab?

We share scientific memes and jokes with each other, and we are very dedicated when it comes to our department’s annual Halloween competition. We always do a group costume, and we’ve been the winning group ever since I joined the lab. 

Have you had any unexpected discoveries or breakthroughs?

At the start of my project, I did a year of experiments on cancer cells without significant results. My PI said, “Well, maybe we’ll see something on mice,” and because my lab has a colony of transgenic mice that do not have CYP27A1, a cholesterol metabolizing enzyme, we decided to grow tumors in these mice. To our surprise, compared to wild-type normal mice, tumors did not grow in the CYP27A1-/- mice. I realized that this enzyme probably plays an important part in ovarian cancer progression.

What activities do you take part in outside of the lab?

I was on the 2019 Illini 4000 Bike America Team and biked across the United States with my team to raise money and awareness for cancer research.