Geisel PostDoc Lilian Kabeche Wins Award for Cancer Research

Lilian Kabeche, a postdoctoral researcher in genetics at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center and a recent Geisel PhD graduate, received the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) Beckman Coulter Distinguished Graduate Student Achievement Prize. Kabeche completed her PhD in biochemistry at Geisel in 2013, studying mechanisms of mitosis and the differences between cancer cells and normal diploid cells in the lab of Duane Compton, PhD, interim dean at Geisel and professor of biochemistry. She is continuing her research on cancer cells as a postdoc with Scott Gerber, PhD, associate professor of genetics at Geisel.

The ASCB Beckman Coulter Prize is part of a partnership between ASCB and Beckman Coulter Life Sciences, a worldwide company that develops clinical diagnostic products to help advance clinical and biomedical research. Both companies are committed to training the next generation of scientists.

Kabeche’s research focuses on mitosis in cancer cells. In normal mitosis, a spindle of fibers, called microtubules, attach to two sides of an area of the chromosome called the kinetochore. They attach in a fast, coordinated way, where the attachments are very dynamic in early mitosis (prometaphase) and then become more stable (in metaphase), much like “a flash mob where everybody’s doing a synchronized thing,” says Kabeche. The microtubules then help to pull the chromosome apart to create two daughter cells, each with the same DNA content. In cancer cells, microtubules from opposite sides play a tug-of-war which causes chromosomes to missegregate; one daughter cell may end up having too many chromosomes while the other has too few.

In Compton’s lab, Kabeche studied how microtubules, which attach to the kinetochore, are regulated. She discovered that the protein cyclin A is a main regulator for microtubules and chromosome segregation in mitosis. Her work also showed how the protein Mad2 becomes more active in cancer cells and helps to cause increased missegregation.

Now as a postdoc in Gerber’s lab, Kabeche is studying how chromosomal instability (missegregation of chromosomes) contributes to drug resistance in human tumors. She uses proteomics to understand the differences in protein content of drug resistant compared to non-drug resistant cells to create more specific chemotherapy regimens.

“After being in my lab for less than a year, Lily has already made exciting discoveries that have the potential to impact lung cancer therapy in the future,” says Gerber.

Kabeche has been knee-deep in science since high school. After majoring in microbiology at the University of Miami, she came to Dartmouth knowing she wanted to continue in the field and work with pathogens. While visiting different laboratories in order to choose where she would do her PhD work, she felt drawn to Compton’s lab and the research he was doing on cancerous cells. “Duane gave a talk at a Molecular and Cellular Biology retreat and I remember seeing these beautiful spindles and looking at cell segregating chromosomes and something clicked,” says Kabeche. “I fell in love. I felt that’s what I want to do, right there.”