Alumni Profile: Brittany Salazar '12

From the early days of high school through graduation at Carleton College ('16), Brittany Salazar was passionate about biology coursework and competitive swimming. She is now immersed in oncology research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Her first research paper was published in 2016 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences and her second appears in this issue of Cancer Cell.

Tell us about your research.

I am part of the Mayo's Graduate Research Employment Program, studying neuroblastoma in the research lab of Dr. Jane Zhu. Neuroblastoma is a childhood cancer and we explore the intricate genetic pathways that lead to the development of the disease. We use zebrafish as a model, as their genome can be easily modified. This has allowed Dr. Zhu to develop a line of zebrafish which develop tumors comparable to the neuroblastoma tumors seen in humans. My personal project focuses in on one small piece of a larger signaling pathway, which appears to play a role in neuroblastoma progression.

Can you tell us about your published work?

My roommate and I co-wrote a review paper on the implementation of computational methods in understanding pediatric cancers. Computational biology is the use of big data analysis, mathematical models, and computational simulation to further our understanding of biology. The models generated from this information can be useful for understanding the patterns of gene expression that occur in certain diseases, which can lead to the investigation of new therapies.

When did your interest in biology begin?

I really enjoyed the high school biology Main Lessons and Honors Biology with Dr. Burket. A hugely important experience was the Embryology Main Lesson. Dr. Burket allowed me to conduct my own observation of zebrafish development. My friends can attest to my obsession with my "babies" in the biology lab – I would check on them every chance I got. Dr. Burket also let me take home supplies for raising fruit flies so that I could try my hand at genetics one summer.

I came to college with my mind pretty set on majoring in Biology, and my experiences in college further solidified that goal. I graduated with a BA in Biology and a "Certificate of Advanced Studies" (basically a minor) in German. While interviewing for my current job, my previous experience working with zebrafish – although admittedly not very extensive – was very important to Dr. Zhu, and I attribute a lot of that to Dr. Burket nourishing my enthusiasm for biology.

You competed successfully in swimming through high school and college.

I was a member of the women's varsity swim team all four years at Carleton, rounding out my 10 years of competitive swimming. In addition to my club team, I was able to compete for SF Waldorf High School and join with other area high school teams at their meets. At my last meet, I qualified for the North Coast Section championships.

Any other reflections about SFWS?

I really enjoyed the hands-on components of the science courses. I particularly enjoyed synthesizing aspirin and extracting essential oils in chemistry with Mrs. Alba and building various motors, trebuchets, and other fun things in physics with Dr. Carini. I cannot overstate how important those experiences were for inspiring me to pursue the sciences in college and beyond. I also really enjoyed Mr. Farey's Calculus Main Lesson block, and I sometimes think of the poem he wrote to remember the fundamental theorem. His teaching style was just really fun and it helped me a lot. I also enjoyed my Humanities coursework, in particular Mr. Wong's course on the Greek Classics and Dr. Calderera's writing and poetry courses.

Brittany attended San Francisco Waldorf School from kindergarten through Grade 12. Her research was recently published in two scientific journals.