As a fourth-year graduate student, Bailey Martin-Giacalone has already checked off an impressive achievement in her career. Last October, she presented her research during a plenary session at the American Society of Human Genetics Annual Meeting in front of a virtual audience of more than 1,000 experts in her field.
Martin-Giacalone is working toward a Ph.D. in translational biology and molecular medicine in the genetic epidemiology lab of Dr. Philip Lupo, professor of pediatrics – hematology and oncology. She says his lab was a perfect fit to match her research interests.
“I have been interested in pediatric cancer for a long time, as I had a friend who passed away from cancer when we were in grade school. Since then, I’ve felt a pull toward studying the biology of cancer and more specifically, the factors that lead to cancer or poor survival,” Martin-Giacalone said. “Dr. Lupo’s approach was something I hadn’t experienced before in my undergraduate research experiences—using epidemiologic methods and computational tools to understand genes that play a role in cancer. I was drawn to those methods to study and answer questions that other people haven’t answered yet.”
Her research focuses on studying cancer predisposition variants and the roles those variants play in survival outcomes for children with cancer. She and her team showed that patients with predisposition variants for rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a type of cancer that start in embryonic skeletal muscle cells, had worse survival rates than patients without those variants. For the ASHG meeting, she prepared a pre-recorded presentation on those findings and answered questions on the fly during a live Q&A session with the audience.
“It was an adrenaline rush to wait for the questions,” Martin-Giacalone said. “Some people asked questions that tried to confirm or clarify things I said, which is helpful for me to improve future presentations, and some people asked about how the results would influence what’s happening in the clinic. We had a good discussion about potential ways to continue this work.”
“Bailey has been an outstanding member of our laboratory and has been an asset to the Epidemiology and Population Sciences Program in Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers,” said Lupo, director of that program and a member of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. “She is particularly interested in identifying novel risk factors that underlie pediatric cancer, as well as features that can be used to predict and improve outcomes for children diagnosed with cancer. Her presentation at the ASHG late-breaking session where there were more than 1,000 attendees is a sign of the quality of her work and her commitment to this line of research.”
In addition to her work in the lab, Martin-Giacalone is active in the Baylor and Houston community. She leads the outreach committee of Baylor’s Graduate Student Council and helped plan last year’s BCM Art Show benefitting the Texas Children’s Hospital Periwinkle Arts in Medicine program. She is president of the Houston Science Policy Group, a student-led organization that works to increase awareness of science policy and graduate student community engagement. In her spare time, she participates in a group that advocates for transgender people in prison in Texas and volunteers to teach English as a Second Language classes.
After graduation, she plans to continue her research in pediatric cancer. She is considering postdoctoral opportunities specializing in epidemiology.
“I’m interested in how environmental factors play a role in genetics and disease, and I’m also interested in health disparities in cancer,” Martin-Giacalone said. “There are so many options. My training in Dr. Lupo’s lab sets up a lot of opportunities.”
By Molly Chiu