Kelsey L. Whittier

Sammamish, WA
BS, Psychobiology- Santa Clara Univ 2006
Research interests: 

Further characterization of human medulloblastoma subtypes and their corresponding mouse models, with a special emphasis on delineating the expression patterns of G-protein coupled receptors in order to identify a target for small molecule ligands to aid in PET imaging.

Current projects: 

Medulloblastoma (MB) is the most common malignant brain tumor in children. These tumors arise exclusively in the cerebellum, and represent dysregulation of cerebellar developmental pathways.  Recent genetic profiling has identified 4-5 tumor subtypes; each subtype is characterized by different initiating mutations, genetic and clinical profiles, and prognoses. The two most well-defined subtypes are characterized by overactive, uncontrolled signaling in one of two signal transduction pathways that control proliferation and migration of precursor cells in the cerebellum: the SHH- Patched- Smoothened pathway and the WNT- Frizzled- β-catenin pathway.  Mouse models of these two subtypes have been developed; the ND2:SmoA1 mouse recapitulates human SHH-driven MB, while the Cttnb1-mutant mouse mimics the WNT-subtype of MB.  We hypothesize that groups of human MB tumors will emerge based on differences in G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) expression patterns and that these groups will correlate to the known MB subtypes.  GPCRs are key regulators and points of control in both the SHH and WNT signal transduction pathways, as well as a large number of other signaling pathways.   GPCRs also possess characteristics that make them ideal targets for molecular imaging and therapeutics; including that they are membrane-bound, their ligands bind with high affinity and specificity, and that the receptor-ligand complex is endocytosed carrying the ligand into the tumor cell. While expression patterns of many proteins in human MB subtypes have been discerned, the expression pattern of GPCRs in MB has not been investigated.  My work thus far has shown that sub-groups of human MB tumors emerge based solely on differential GPCR expression patterns. Further, immunohistochemical analysis to differentiate the known MB subtypes demonstrates a high correlation between our GPCR expression-based groups and the known MB subtypes.  Differential GPCR expression patterns could lead to the identification of GPCRs with potential to act as targets for both imaging and therapeutics.  With this overall goal in mind, the development of targeted agents is largely dependent on accurate mouse models of the MB subtypes.  GPCR expression data from tumors of the ND2:SmoA1 and Ctnnb1-mutant mice has shown significantly different GPCR expression patterns, as compared to cerebellum of age-matched murine controls.   Additionally, certain over-expressed GPCRs in these mouse models are consistent with those observed to be over-expressed in sub-groups of human MB.  The next step in my project will be to develop a PET imaging agent that targets key over-expressed GPCRs in specific sub-types of medulloblastoma.

Living in Iowa City: 

Coming from the west coast, I was apprehensive about life in the mid-west, but I can honestly say that I absolutely love Iowa City.  It is a great and easy place to live and go to school, and has a wide variety of extra-curricular activities – from music to outdoor activities, there is a ton going on! Additionally, everyone really is quite nice, and there is an easy-going, collaborative feel at the University that I really appreciate.

Defense date: 
Thesis project: 

G-Protein Coupled Receptor Expression in Medulloblastoma Subgroups: Identifying and Exploiting Molecular Targets

Ph.D. Advisor: 

“I love Iowa City more than I can say. The general ambiance is utterly amicable. Iowa City is crawling with cultural and artistic outputs. Every day there are poetry readings, musical seminars or dance workshops for the general public to take advantage of. Everyone is so friendly and you can't beat the science!! :)”