Dr. Holly Martinson
I received my Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in May of 2014. As a graduate student, I investigated the wound healing-like immunosuppressive microenvironment of postpartum involution in the promotion of postpartum breast cancer. Much of my Ph.D. work involved studying and targeting the immunosuppressive microenvironment of cancers associated with chronic inflammation using therapeutic and chemopreventive agents. This work utilized flow cytometry, immunohistochemical, protein and molecular techniques to analyze human and rodent blood and tissue samples for inflammation, immune suppression, and cancer-associated markers. During my PhD I secured predoctoral funding from the Department of Defense, was an author on 8 published manuscripts and generated data that were the foundation for further Department of Defense and NIH-funded grants.
Throughout my graduate training, I was encouraged to pursue a research career that I find personally motivating. I was born and raised in Alaska and received my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from the University of Alaska Anchorage. It has been a goal of mine to return to Alaska to study cancer biology in a way that was unique to the state and highly relevant to the field. In collaboration with the Medical Oncology director at Alaska Native Medical Center, Matthew Olnes M.D., Ph.D., we are working together to build an original and successful translational research program focused on the cancer health disparities that exist among the Alaska Native people, and to create an opportunity for better treatment options to this medically underserved population.
The focus of my postdoctoral research is to better understand cancer health disparities that exist in the Alaska Native (AN) population. Cancer is the leading cause of death among the AN people, with particular cancers occurring in younger individuals often with a poorer prognosis. The first aim of my research is to investigate the high incidence of gastric cancer in AN population with the goal of characterizing the chronic inflammatory microenvironment of this high-risk population. In my second aim, I will use targeted next generation sequencing to identify new gastric cancer oncogenes that have the potential to become biomarkers for early detection and targets for novel therapeutics for this high-risk population. Our ultimate goal is to translate the results of this study into public health solutions that raise awareness of gastric cancer as well as reduce gastric cancer incidence and mortality rates in the AN population.
The other research project that will begin summer of 2016, will utilize the Alaska Native Tumor Registry, to systematically examine cases of breast, colorectal, head and neck, lung cancers, and lymphomas to describe the clinical, pathological, and genetic features of these cancers in the Alaska Native people. We will use the collected comprehensive data to identify patterns in presentation, outcomes, and optimal treatments leading to recommendations in care that improve patient outcomes in this population. The other goal of this project is assemble information from these exploratory projects to form the basis of future hypothesis driven clinical and translational research. This work will be performed at the Alaska Native Medical Center in collaboration with Sarah Nash, Ph.D. and Matthew Olnes, M.D. Ph.D.