McArdle 'Blog' photoMcArdle Blog L7 ~ 10/08/2013

Personal Profile: Dr. Erin Shanle

It can often be quite challenging to successfully intertwine a productive graduate career with a rich and fulfilling personal life. Many of you know Dr. Erin Shanle, who graduated from Dr. Wei Xu’s lab this past August (and is now a SPIRE post-doctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill). Dr. Shanle managed to combine seamlessly doing great research, participating in many extracurricular activities and having a rich circle of friends and family. Therefore, even though she has moved on from working in McArdle, we wanted to find out how she did it all, and if it was actually as easy as she made it look!

Dr. Shanle, who prefers to go by Erin, grew up in the small town of Rochester, Illinois. As a child she would often accompany her mother to her work as a medical technologist, and a connection was forged. “I loved it!” Dr. Shanle says,“By the time I was in high school, I knew I wanted to work in a lab.” She proceeded to do just that and joined Dr. Wei Xu’s lab here in McArdle as a graduate student in 2008.

Wei Xu lab

I asked her what made her decide to join Dr. Xu’s lab. Erin thinks for a while and replies, “I initially planned to perform research that aimed at better understanding how chemicals perturbed our natural environment. I did two rotations that were more focused on environmental toxicology and decided to try something totally new for my third rotation. So, I rotated in Wei’s lab and it was an entirely new experience in the lab.” She worked with human breast cancer cell lines for the first time in her life, and was fascinated and enticed by an opportunity to contribute to solving a problem that was as pervasive as breast cancer. “My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 3 years old, and luckily she survived,” Erin continues, “But many mothers, sisters, and daughters do not survive this disease, and I knew that this was a field that I was passionate about.”

Erin studied the role of estrogen-receptor beta in triple-negative breast cancers, which are a highly-aggressive subset of breast cancers. She explains to me that “in the clinic, three molecular markers are used to determine the prognosis and treatment options for patients diagnosed with breast cancer: estrogen receptor alpha, progesterone receptor, and HER2. Triple negative breast cancers lack expression of these three receptors, and there is a need to identify new therapeutic targets in this highly aggressive breast cancer subtype.”

There is another estrogen receptor – estrogen receptor beta – and there are indications that this receptor could slow the growth of breast cancer cell lines. Erin’s research focused “on determining if estrogen receptor beta was present in triple negative breast cancer samples, identifying estrogen receptor beta target genes in triple negative breast cancer cells, and developing tools to identify compounds that selectively bind estrogen receptor beta. ”Her graduate work established that estrogen receptor beta was expressed in a large subset of triple-negative breast cancers.

Erin and son photoWas it difficult at times? “Oh yes!” she replies, “I am particularly proud of having a baby and writing/defending my thesis in the same summer! My family, especially my husband, was the greatest source of encouragement and support throughout graduate school. If I doubted I could do it (like most grad students do), they would give me all the reasons why I could do this successfully. Also, my friends – both in the lab and in my program – were a great source of support. It is an absolute necessity to have peers that can relate to the struggles of research. I have to say the Wei was a great help too – I have never met anyone more optimistic! When I was sure that things weren’t going to work, she always saw the bright side of the situation.

While working on her graduate research, Erin also participated in the Delta Program and gained as much teaching experience as possible. She successfully applied for the SPIRE postdoctoral fellowship program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is a program that supports both research and teaching. Erin explains that she decided to do a more non-traditional post-doc “because I wanted to gain experience teaching while developing my skills in research. I believe that the future of science depends on subsequent generations seeing the value and importance of research. In five years, I hope to be teaching the next generations about science – from organisms to molecules to the environment around us – because that is what I am really passionate about.

And does she miss Madison? “A lot!” she exclaims. “The things I miss the most are my friends, the dog parks, and the cheese. I miss the lakes and the Capitol square with the awesome farmer’s market. I really miss McArdle, too. I miss the grad student/postdoc seminar in the Temin Room – the view was beautiful and it was so helpful to see what everyone was working on. I also miss the random emails requesting reagents because it was nice to know that there was such a tight network to help you in case you didn’t have exactly what you needed.

~Adityarup Chakravorty