Shirley Xu

Shirley Xu.

Shirley Xu, a doctoral student in pharmacology and toxicology, studies cancer treatments that can have negative effects on the heart.

Idaho Native Finds Home at Jacobs School

Shirley Xu moved across the country to find her research home at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Xu, a native of Pocatello, Idaho, came to Buffalo to study in the PhD program in biomedical sciences

“When I applied, there weren’t a lot of umbrella programs like the one available here,” says Xu, a trainee in the doctoral program in pharmacology and toxicology. “Even though it was across the country, I was excited for the opportunity to experience new labs and a new area.”

Research Focuses on Immunotherapy

She works jointly between the labs of Umesh Sharma, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, and Saraswati Pokharel, MD, PhD, chief of pathology and director of thoracic pathology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“We broadly work on studying cancer treatments that can have negative effects on the heart, such as radiation and chemotherapy,” Xu says. “Right now, I’m mostly focused on immunotherapy — utilizing your own immune system to fight cancer cells.”

She has found the right fit for her talents.

“I really enjoy the collaborative atmosphere, especially when you’re trying to solve a problem. Here, with open lab spaces and connections with other labs, if you ever have a problem, you can always ask someone and they will help you in so many ways,” Xu says.

Comprehensive Training Fuels Success

Xu, who earned her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Idaho State University, worked for a bioanalytical company for a couple of years before heading to Buffalo.

“We would receive preclinical and clinical samples from pharmaceutical companies. They would ask us to analyze them to see how much of a certain drug is in each sample,” Xu says. “That environment motivated me to go to graduate school, and it also pushed me into translational research — looking for treatments for patients and how it affects them.”

Xu plans to go into industry after getting her doctoral degree, and she believes the training she has received from her mentors and the Jacobs School has set her up for success.

“With my department and program, it also sets students up to work at pharmaceutical companies or biotech companies,” Xu says. “Many of the students I knew who recently graduated have gone to work for those types of companies.”

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