In 2018 Qianying Zuo won the Kathryn Van Akken Burns Memorial Fund Merit Award while working in the lab of the CCIL’s Associate Director of Education and Sylvia D. Stroup Scholar of Nutrition and Cancer, Zeynep Madak Erdogan. As a graduate student in Madak Erdogan’s lab, Qianying was the first author on a paper recognized in 2024 by the AACR for its scientific significance in the field of molecular cancer research. In reflecting on her experience with that project, Qianying said:

“Our research project looking at endocrine drug resistance in liver metastasis excited me for several reasons. First, estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) metastatic tumors represent a significant clinical challenge, resulting in many deaths. Addressing this challenge is critical in improving patient outcomes and quality of life. The emergence of liver metastasis adds another layer of complexity to the management of ER+ breast cancer, as effective treatments for liver metastasis are currently limited. Therefore, the potential to discover novel therapeutic strategies for liver metastasis was highly compelling. The findings of our study regarding the synergistic effects of a ketogenic diet with endocrine therapy in reducing breast cancer liver metastasis was very promising. Overall, the opportunity to contribute to cancer research that addresses a pressing clinical need and offers novel insights into therapeutic strategies for breast cancer liver metastasis is what truly excited me about this project.”

Left to right: Qianying Zuo and CCIL Associate Director for Education Zeynep Madak Erdogan

Today, Qianying is a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University where she works under the mentorship of Yibin Kang. Her research centers on investigating how nutrients shape the tumor microenvironment, uncovering metabolic vulnerabilities, and devising food-based interventions that complement existing cancer therapies to impede or treat cancer progression. She describes her research goals this way:

“As a researcher, I firmly believe in conducting work that is not only rigorous and pioneering but also holds significant societal relevance. My aim is to make substantive contributions to academia and society alike, by conducting research that ultimately enhances the well-being of individuals worldwide.”

Looking back, Qianying is filled with gratitude for the foundational experience of working under the cancer research mentorship of Madak Erdogan. She reflects:

“Working under Zeynep’s scientific leadership was invaluable. Weekly one-on-one meetings involved close discussions on experimental results and planning future work, fostering my independent and critical thinking. Her guidance not only facilitated my understanding of the research process but also empowered me to take ownership of my work. Moreover, her mentorship extended seamlessly into the paper writing process, where she provided invaluable insights and guidance, ensuring that our findings were effectively communicated and disseminated within the scientific community. Overall, it has been an enriching experience that significantly contributed to my growth as a researcher.”

This story was written by Jonathan King, CCIL Communications Specialist