A multitude of opportunities.
That is what first caught the eye of Luke Andrew Graser when he looked at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
While the native of Syracuse, New York, was an undergraduate, he worked in a lab under a student who was in the BS/MS dual degree program in pharmacology and toxicology, who informed him of the program’s benefits.
“Being able to shave a year off my total time and still obtain both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree was a major plus,” he says. “The major draw for me was the incredible variety of research performed here, and the opportunities to explore and learn about different but similar fields such as bioinformatics.”
Graser’s research focus is on investigating a class of cancer drugs known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors and identifying which ones have side effects that can cause serious heart problems.
“Some of these drugs are known to cause these negative heart effects, others are known not to, but the majority are unknown,” he says. “For the drugs that are known to cause heart problems, we are investigating what proteins these drugs act upon (different from non-toxic) to cause these heart problems.”
“We then use this information for the unknown drugs. If they are likely to interact with the known proteins to cause these heart problems, we can predict that they can cause these heart problems,” he adds.
Although Graser is pursuing a master’s in pharmacology and toxicology, his mentor is actually from a different discipline. He is a member of the computational biology research group of Ram Samudrala, PhD, professor of biomedical informatics and chief of the Division of Bioinformatics.
“When I began the master’s portion of my program, there was a lot of emphasis on exploring different labs to see what you enjoy or have the most interest in,” Graser says. “There was a large list of labs looking for new master’s students. Among them were closely related labs from other departments, including Ram’s.”
“I had never performed any form of computer research, but I have always admired it as it can provide valuable information when moving experiments into physical and wet lab settings,” he adds.
Graser also had additional incentive for selecting to work in Samudrala’s lab.
“This all took place during the COVID-19 shutdown, and being immunocompromised and having a serious lung condition that requires me to do treatments multiple times a day, I wanted to be as safe as possible,” he says. “Joining a computational-based lab allowed me to work from home. So there was a lot that went into me joining this lab.”
Graser says Samudrala is adept at getting his students to become passionate about their work.
“Ram is most concerned with giving his students the freedom to investigate their own project ideas,” he says. “He always listens to his students before anything else, and he tries to make their project ideas a reality.”
“Ram forces you to push yourself, and his biggest help to me has been giving me information on how to self-teach,” Graser adds. “He has enabled me to perform proper literature reading and research to learn new techniques and understand an entire new field in bioinformatics.”
“Ram ensures that I am always thinking of what the end goal of my research is, and thinking of what the next step, or next experiment is to get to that goal.”
Graser says he is aiming to complete his studies one semester ahead of schedule.
“This program made me realize that I want to continue my education and pursue a doctoral degree,” he says.
“My time at the Jacobs School has taught me an incredible amount: from how to approach and balance graduate school classes with real life, how to find passion in what I do, and most importantly, how to perform scientific research from the start of an idea, learning and performing new techniques, to writing and publishing a paper.”