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A Researcher at the Forefront of Cancer Biology

Tenzin Passang (India, UWC Maastricht, Colby ’19) grew up in India in a family of Tibetan refugees, and at Colby pursued a long-held interest in the natural sciences, especially biochemistry Today she is a third-year Ph D student at Emory University, pursuing a degree in cancer biology.

“The major goal of my research is finding alternative cancer therapeutics that can improve patient responses, such as in pancreatic cancer, where the majority of the patients represent late-stage disease and have limited treatment options,” Passang writes.

“Many cancer patients present a compromised immune system, where the cancer cells hijack certain immune cells which are normally responsible to kill the abnormal cells, but demonstrate altered function in the tumor microenvironment. My lab is focused on understanding the biology of how the cancer cells hijack such systems, and applying the knowledge to developing novel immunotherapies that can target the cancer cells by augmenting the immune response — particularly T cell responses, which are a critical part of our adaptive immunity.

“The current field in cancer biology includes studying what genetic makeup, as well as the tumor microenvironment, characterize cancerous cells as different from normal cells, such that we can target more specifically and have better patient response in the clinic My interest mainly lies in finding how different cells in our body cross-talk to signal, and how we as scientists use this knowledge to prevent the damaging signal in our body, while promoting positive signals to combat diseases such as cancer.”