EITS Student Jessica Moerland Awarded the Barnett Rosenberg Endowment Research Assistantship

August 5, 2021

EITS graduate student, Jessica Moerland, received the Barnett Rosenberg Endowment Research Assistantship for the academic year 2021 – 2022. Moerland is training with IIT-affiliated faculty member Karen Liby in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. Moerland will receive a stipend of $34,000 for the upcoming academic year,  which includes a standard graduate assistantship to cover health insurance and tuition waiver.

The recipients of this distinctive and prestigious award are generally advanced students with a distinguished record of accomplishment at MSU. Barnett Rosenberg was a chemistry professor at MSU who recognized the anti-cancer potential of the platinum-based compounds cisplatin and carboplatin. These drugs produced over $325 million in royalties for MSU, providing funding for Barnett Rosenberg Endowments.

Moerland’s research focuses on the immunomodulatory effects of Nrf2 pathway activation in the lung tumor microenvironment (TME). Nrf2 is a cytoprotective pathway which protects healthy cells from malignant transformation, but when upregulated in cancer cells can promote drug resistance and tumor progression. Tumor cells in up to 30% of human NSCLC patients have an activating mutation in the Nrf2 pathway. However, pharmacological Nrf2 activation has anti-tumor effects in preclinical mouse models and whole-body Nrf2 knockout results in increased lung tumor burden and an unfavorable immune signature in the lung. The role Nrf2 plays in activation or polarization of immune cells within the TME is underexplored, and how activation of this pathway affects tumor cell/microenvironment crosstalk is unknown. Nrf2 activators are in clinical trials for multiple diseases, so it is important to study how these drugs affect immune cell populations and the potential implications this has in lung carcinogenesis.

Moerland was honored to receive the Rosenberg award, since Dr. Rosenberg's work is very relevant to her current research and personal interests. “As the discoverer of cisplatin, a powerful and commonly used chemotherapeutic,” commented Moerland, “his contributions to drug discovery and cancer pharmacology have motivated me to be more creative in my research, as well as to not be afraid to take on difficult projects.”