Congratulations to Janet Arras, recipient of a P.E.O. Scholarship

Janet Arras, PhD was awarded a P.E.O. Scholar Award in June of 2021. These competitive, merit-based awards recognize and encourage “academic excellence and achievement by women in doctoral-level programs.” Janet is currently an 8th year M.D./Ph.D. student. She pursued her graduate studies with Dr. Amy Bouton in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology, completing her PhD in Microbiology in December of 2021. Her research focused on triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), specifically investigating the contributions of the molecule Breast Cancer Antiestrogen Resistance 3 (BCAR3). BCAR3 is a cytoplasmic adaptor protein with an N-terminal Src homology 2 (SH2) domain and a C-terminal guanine nucleotide exchange factor (GEF)-like domain. Previous work from the Bouton lab and others showed that the adaptor molecule Breast Cancer Antiestrogen Resistance 3 (BCAR3) together with Cas and Src, promotes breast cancer cell migration and invasion. Janet’s graduate thesis explored the role of BCAR3 in TNBC growth and progression. Using in vivo and in vitro approaches, the data presented in her thesis demonstrated that BCAR3 promotes TNBC tumor growth, proliferation, and migration. The group found that BCAR3 protein expression is elevated in patient-derived breast cancer tumor samples and in TNBC cell lines, and elevated BCAR3 mRNA levels are associated with poor outcomes in patients with TNBC. This work was the first to report that 1) BCAR3 regulates TNBC tumor growth in mouse orthotopic xenograft models, 2) BCAR3 is a regulator of MET signaling, and 3) BCAR3-MET coupling has a functional role in TNBC. When asked what motivates her scientific pursuits, Janet responded that her passion is advancing knowledge in the field of cancer biology. Her ultimate goal is to continue being involved in research that improves therapeutic options for patients. She notes that cancer continues to be one of the most feared diseases. Her interest in pursuing an M.D./Ph.D. career with a Ph.D. focused on the field of cancer biology stems from a desire to push the boundaries of our scientific understanding of the mechanisms that drive cancer growth and progression. Her goal is to generate novel therapeutic strategies and improve the clinical management of patients. To achieve this, Janet looks ahead to completing her core hospital clerkship training and transitioning to advanced clinical electives. Her ultimate goal is to pursue a career in gynecologic oncology, where she can help women facing the challenges of a cancer diagnoses. As a student, Janet has been involved with the UVA Latino Health Initiative, an organization that strives to promote healthcare equity and provide healthcare resources to the Latinx community. Overall, with the scientific background she gained during graduate school along with her passion for community outreach, she aims to increase knowledge and understanding of cancer within the scientific community as well as within the general population.