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The Levinson Emerging Scholars Program

Michael Choi - Biochemistry and Chemistry

Michael Choi photoMichael Choi is very interested in biological and biochemical research especially with applications towards helping patients. Since his freshman year, he has been investigating embryonic stem cells and stem cell maintenance in the Ruohola-Baker laboratory, particularly focusing on metabolism. Stem cells play a critical role in development and disease; by better understanding how these cells function in both normal and pathological conditions, scientists can learn how to control, treat, and cure disorders that arise. His undergraduate research experience and his majors in biochemistry and chemistry with a minor in mathematics have convinced him to pursue a career in science. In the future, he is interested in attending graduate school and plans to further investigate the biology of disease and research cures from a biochemical, chemical, and mathematical perspective.

Mentor: Hannele Ruohola-Baker, Biochemistry

Project Title: Characterizing the Metabolic State of Cancer and Embryonic Stem Cells

Abstract: Cancer cells grow rapidly and uncontrollably, invading normal tissue and metastasizing throughout the entire body. The proliferative ability of cancer cells is reminiscent of the properties of earlier stages of development, such as embryonic stem cells. Some of the most aggressive tumors have a similar gene expression signature to embryonic stem cells. Furthermore, low oxygen concentration and hypoxic environments are common among aggressive tumors. I have shown that a link between hypoxia and the activation of stem cell markers such as miR-302 exist. Hypoxia inducible factor, HIF, a transcription factor that is stabilized in hypoxia, can change a cell's metabolic state and induce the expression of key stem cell markers. I am now testing whether human embryonic stem cells and cancer stem cells share a characteristic metabolic signature and whether this signature is acquired by HIF activation. For this analysis, I established a quantitative real time polymerase chain reaction based assay to determine the number of mitochondria in a cell. Furthermore, I show, in both human and mouse cells, that cells earliest in development have fewest mitochondria and as development progresses, mitochondria increase. However, these mitochondria do not seem to be active. We will proceed in testing the specific stage mitochondria are activated, and the specific role of HIF in creating this unique stem-cell-like metabolic state in pathological and normal conditions.