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Ana Gomes, Ph.D., Selected as a 2017 STAT Wunderkind

Thursday, October 12, 2017

As you get older, your risk of developing cancer increases. That might seem obvious, but Ana Gomes, Ph.D., wants to know why. She’s studying a chemical, found more prominently in older people than young, and how it may be thwarting breast and lung metastases in mice.

And she’s had to figure it all out, from the gene on up.

Gomes, a postdoc at Weill Cornell Medicine, is scouring the blood plasma of healthy people young and old, looking for chemicals abundant in the elderly and spare in the young. So far, she’s found a promising one that looks like a cellular waste product. She’s dumped it in a dish with cancer cells, and watched those cells grow much more quickly than normal.

She thinks there might be something more prominent in the blood of elderly people that accelerates tumor growth and that a possible target for treatment would be that chemical: reduce its levels, and possibly slow cancer growth.

But there has been just one problem: Since the chemical is a metabolite, she’s needed to figure out where it comes from, trace it back to the enzyme that makes it, and then to the gene that makes that enzyme.

“I think that’s probably the most challenging thing, not knowing anything and having to build everything from the ground,” Gomes said. “But it’s also what makes it fun, right?”

— Ike Swetlitz at

Read about the other 2017 STAT Wunderkinds.