Inspiring Careers: Howell Foundation Announces 2022 CSUPERB Awards

Inspiring Careers: Howell Foundation Announces 2022 CSUPERB Awards

  • Inspiring careers for the next scientific breakthrough as the cornerstone of women’s health.
  • Topics of research include depression, monoclonal antibody treatments, cancer, scoliosis, and artificial sweeteners’ effect on women’s health, among others.

Dr. Howell’s vision, and one of the Howell Foundation’s guiding principles, is to inspire the next scientific breakthrough by funding undergraduate research projects that address women-specific issues. The Howell Scholarship is meant to encourage undergraduate students to pursue a career in research impacting women’s health. 

The partnership between the California State University Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB) and the Howell Foundation started in 2001, and since then, has awarded 240 undergraduate scholarships that total close to $400,000.  The efforts continue to launch careers with past scholars creating an impact in women’s health TODAY.

“Many of our scholars are first-generation college students from underserved backgrounds, so supporting these emerging scientists and their educational experiences also supports their upward social mobility as they progress toward their careers,” says Bianca Romina Mothé, Ph.D., interim Executive Director of CSUPERB. “In fact, the great majority (>87%) of Howell-CSUPERB scholars go on to apply successfully for graduate degree programs and industry jobs.”

The uniqueness of the undergraduate Howell Research Scholarship is that the application process is meant to mirror real-life lab experiences: future grant applications, results presentation and publication, and professional research development, including skills such as problem solving, communication and teamwork.

Each project, from concept to research results, has the supervision of a mentor scientist who specifically guides the student.  This guarantees research quality, while driving students to clarify their career goals and prepare them for success in their graduate school environments. The objective is to propel the student’s knowledge and skills in ways that couldn’t be done in a classroom setting. It is the lifeline to the program’s success. Each scholar will conduct faculty-mentored research projects during the spring and summer of 2022.

The topics of research from our 2022 Howell-CSUPERB Scholars are varied and will have a direct impact on women’s health in the future. They include depression and traumatic brain injury, monoclonal antibody therapies, proteins that lead to metastasis of cancer cells, idiopathic scoliosis, natural products for metabolites that kill breast cancer cells, non‐nutritive sweeteners and its effect on the placenta, pH cells and their impact in cancer, how antibodies bind and may block tumor growth, molecular mechanisms of pancreatic cancer progression, and cell proliferation in metastatic breast cancer.  Details about the objectives of the scholars’ research are below.

We congratulate the 2022 Howell-CSUPERB Scholars, and look forward to hearing about the results of their research in the future.


Andrea Abelian (Electrical Engineering, California State University, Los Angeles)
“Characterizing Spreading Depolarizations for Electrophysiology-Based Stroke Therapy”
Mentor: Deborah Won, Electrical Engineering

Spreading depolarization and the following spreading depression are phenomena that are observed in the brain tissue of patients who have suffered a traumatic brain injury or stoke. The main goal of Andrea’s project is to better understand the development and progression of spreading depressions and depolarizations in a rodent model of stroke through analysis of chronic electrocorticographic (ECoG) activity recorded from the surface of the brain. Understanding this phenomenon and the way it propagates across the brain tissue will hopefully lead to development of a stroke therapy that will improve life expectancy and clinical outcome.

Yazmine Bedolla (Biology, California State University, Fresno)
“Influence of a VHH Crystallization Chaperone on the Structure Determination of MUC1 and MUC16 Specific Antibodies by X-ray Crystallography”
Mentor: Cory Brooks, Chemistry and Biochemistry
Monoclonal antibodies have become important therapeutics for a variety of diseases including cancer. Mucins are glycoproteins that serve as a physical barrier against invading pathogens while shielding epithelial cells against moisture loss and pH change. In cancer cells, mutated forms of mucins are susceptible to monoclonal antibody therapies that do not attack normal cells. Yazmine will use a novel technique to gain a better understanding of the crystal structure of potential therapeutic antibodies and their role in the treatment of ovarian cancer.

Jane Cox (Biology, California State University, Northridge)
“Role of LCN2 In Mediating Premetastatic Breast Cancer Progression”
Mentor: Jonathan Kelber, Biology
The goal of Jane’s project is to identify the factors or proteins that lead to metastasis of cancer cells. Metastatic sites, referred to as the premetastatic niche (PMN), need to be primed before cancer can spread to other tissues. LCN2 is a gene that has been determined to be highly expressed in premetastatic breast cancer cells. She will investigate the how LCN2 is involved in the priming of these sites and their connection order to prevent cancer progression by identifying possible targets for treatments.

Stephanie Duarte-Amezcua (Biological Sciences, Cellular and Molecular option, California State University, Chico)
“Predicting Scoliosis based on Neurological Differences during Development”
Mentor: Kristen Gorman, Biological Sciences
Idiopathic scoliosis (IS) is a spinal deformity that manifests during pediatric growth. Severe IS affects females seven times more than males, and females with this disorder are more likely to develop severe curves than males. The biological basis of the syndrome is unknown. Using a transgenic medaka fish model of scoliosis, Stephanie will investigate if an underlying neurological dysfunction is associated with IS, and specifically, if there are differences in the developing brain is of normal versus curved fish.

Jason Guerrero (Biochemistry, California State University, Dominguez Hills)
“Identification of Novel Natural Products with Selective Cytotoxicity against a Breast Cancer Cell Line” Mentor: Erin McCauley, Chemistry & Biochemistry
Natural products are secondary metabolites produced by living organisms. They have played an important role in traditional medicine for millennia and continue to be an essential part of the current healthcare system. Jason will screen a large library of natural products for metabolites that kill breast cancer cells and will also use an innovative tandem mass spectrometry technique to rapidly identify natural products with novel chemical structures. The overall goal of this project will be to identify novel natural products that can be used as drugs to treat breast cancer

Lily Harrison (Biology, San Diego State University)
“Does non-nutritive sweetener consumption affect embryonic and pancreas development?”
Mentor: Kari Sant, Public Health
Sucralose and acesulfame potassium (AceK) are non‐nutritive sweeteners found in many foods. They are considered non‐ caloric since the human body does not recognize and metabolize them as sugars. Receptors for these compounds are most common in the mouth, but they are also found on pancreatic cells. Although sucralose is poorly absorbed via the gut, AceK is readily absorbed and crosses the placenta. Lily will investigate the potential hazards these non‐nutritive sweeteners pose on pancreatic development using a Zebrafish model.

Joanne Mendez (Biological Sciences Conc. Systems Physiology, San José State University)
“Probing pH sensitive regulation of the oncogene Myc”
Mentor: Bree Grillo-Hill, Biological Sciences
Joanne’s project focuses on the how intracellular pH can alter the shape and function of cells during cancer development. An understudied characteristic of cancer cells is that they have an increased intracellular pH. The oncogene Myc is aberrantly expressed in several aggressive cancers, including triple‐negative breast cancer. Joanne’s goal is to investigate how the oncogene Myc responds to increased intracellular pH, and to determine how other genes affect Myc activity. These findings could uncover possible pH sensitive proteins that induce cell death and be used to identify therapeutic targets.

Guadalupe Romero Viramontez (Biology, California State University, Fresno) Award: $3,500 for the proposal titled “Binding Mechanism of Antibodies to SeaUrchin-Argin (SEA) Domains in MUC16 for the Study of Pancreatic Cancer Immunotherapy” Mentor: Cory Brooks, Chemistry and Biochemistry
The expression of abnormal forms of the protein MUC16 is linked to the progression of pancreatic cancer, metastasis and low survival rate in patients. An antibody AR9.6 has been shown to bind to the MUC16 protein on pancreatic cancer cells and inhibit their growth. However, the molecular level structure of the antibody‐protein interaction is not well understood, so Guadalupe’s work will focus on better characterizing this interaction in an attempt further the understanding how antibodies bind and block tumor growth.

Luke Tomaneng (Biology, California State University, Northridge)
“Determining the role of RAI14 in pancreatic cancer using live-cell imaging”
Mentor: Jonathan Kelber, Biology
Pancreatic cancer is resistant to available therapies, including the drugs gemcitabine and erlotinib. In order to facilitate the development of more effective diagnostic tools and therapies, it is essential to characterize the molecular mechanisms of pancreatic cancer progression. It is also important to determine which of these mechanisms differ substantially between varieties of pancreatic cancer cells. Previous work has suggested that the protein RAI14 is necessary for pancreatic cancer cell migration and proliferation. Therefore Luke will study the expression of this protein in different cancer cells lines, and how silencing of the RAI14 gene affects cancer cell proliferation.

Ranel Tuplano (Biology, California State University, Northridge)
“Differentiating CD98hc and LAT1/2 functions in eIF5A1/2-dependent migration of triple negative breast cancer cells”
Mentor: Jonathan Kelber, Biology
Triple‐Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) is one of the most aggressive types of cancer known due to its difficulty to detect, leading to increased metastatic rates causing a delay in detection and treatments. Several proteins have been identified as biomarkers of TNBC metastasis and intertumoral heterogeneity. Ranel’s work will focus on the some of these proteins, in particular the protein LAT1 which promotes cell proliferation and viability through mediating amino acid uptake. Ranel will determine how inhibition of these proteins affects proliferation, which in turn may allow identification of possible targets for drug therapies.


The Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research accelerates research for the benefit of women’s health.

By offering first hand knowledge to cutting-edge researchinspiring careers and funding research for the next scientific breakthrough in women’s health and partnering with community researchers to conduct research that benefits underserved community, the Howell Foundation strives to make a long-term positive impact on women’s health for the sake of women, their families and the communities in which they live.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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