About Student Research

Fatima J. Al Khazal (2021-present)

Finding vulnerabilities in unusual cancers caused by metabolic defects

Familial paraganglioma and pheocheomocytoma (PPGL) as well as gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) are rare cancers that are fascinating because they can be caused by loss of the mitochondrial Krebs cycle enzyme succinate dehydrogenase (SDH). It is a mystery why breaking such an important metabolic enzyme should cause cancer.

Fatimah Al Khazal, an international student, who grew up in Saudi Arabia and Japan, did her undergraduate work at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. She then worked as a technologist in the Maher lab for four years before joining the group as a Ph.D. student in 2021.

Fatimah's thesis project involves unbiased genome-wide clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) screening of paired cell lines that do or do not express SDH. Her goal is to, for the first time, systemically identify genes whose loss is selectively lethal in the context of SDH loss. Fatimah hypothesizes that such synthetic lethal genes will illuminate possible therapeutic approaches for SDH-deficient PPGL and GIST cancers.