Student Spotlight: Noah Carrillo

4th-year MET doctoral student Noah Carrillo (lab of Vincent Cryns and Richard Anderson) spoke to MET program manager Ezra Mauk about his research and experience in the MET program. Noah passed his preliminary examination in September of 2022.

Where are you from and what attracted you to the MET program?
I am originally from a suburb called Oak Creek on the South side of Milwaukee. I did my undergraduate degree here at UW. Part of what got me interested in MET was the Summer Research Opportunities Program. That was my first interaction with MET. I joined an MET lab that summer and worked under an MET graduate student. So, I very quickly became familiar with the program and all the benefits that it had.

Describe the focus of your thesis research project.
My thesis is a little bit disconnected from conventional toxicology, but one of the things that we study is chemoresistance and breast cancer. We use chemotherapeutics to induce a toxicological response and then study the mechanisms by which breast cancer can resist the chemotherapeutic toxin and prevail and metastasize anyways. Mechanistically, one of the ways that cancer do this is through lipid signaling and my project looks specifically at nuclear lipid signaling. The little lipids that exist in the nucleus get modified in different ways and tell the cells to do different things. One of the things they tell the cells to do is basically resist cell death in response to chemotherapy. The idea is that if we turn these signals off, chemotherapeutics will be more effective.

What do you consider as your most interesting or exciting finding to date?
We actually had a very exciting finding that was sort of the origin of my research project. In the world of nuclear lipids, there is a big question of how they get there, because they’re made outside the nucleus and then end up inside the nucleus. We found these proteins called lipid transfer proteins that do exactly that, transfer lipids around the cell. Everybody kind of thought they were hanging out the outside of the cells towards the membrane. Then, we showed that they were actually going to the nucleus but only when the cells are stressed by things like chemotherapy. So, that was one of the first mechanisms that that we hypothesized on how the lipids get to the nucleus.

What is your favorite outside of lab activity?
I’m originally from Wisconsin, so I’m a big “dive bar” kind of guy. I would say going out and grabbing drinks with some friends is my most common way to relax. Apart from casual socializing, I like to stay active, so biking around the city is something I do very often.

Looking back, what advice would you give to a student who just started graduate school?
I would try to leave it as ambiguous as I can and just say that you’re sort of not supposed to know everything. You’re not supposed to come in and have everything planned and expect that plan to work perfectly. It’s okay to adapt and it’s okay to walk into a situation not knowing everything but just being confident that you can figure it out. So, I would say don’t worry about finding all the answers today. Just worry about getting good at finding answers.

What has been your favorite part of living in Madison?
I’m coming up on my 8th year living here now, so I’ve been in Madison for a long time, and I really like the city and the community you can build here. We get pretty distinct seasons, so it keeps you fluctuating between activities that you can do. I also like the way the campus and city as a whole are set up. I bike everywhere, and Madison is easy to maneuver around. 

If you know, what are your postgraduation career plans?
Hopefully I will be answering that question more definitively soon enough. Right now, it’s sort of industry focused. I’m thinking either pharmaceuticals or biotechnology, but I’m very open to options. Wherever I can apply the skills that I’ve learned in Graduate School towards my profession, that’s probably the one I’ll go with. Right now, that looks more like the pharmaceutical industry than anything else.

What is your favorite or best memory from Graduate School?
My casual answer would be the MET student socials at the library after seminar to decompress with everybody and talk about problems that we’re having to an audience that understands. They’re very niche issues that we all have to deal with. My more academic answer would be that first staining where we saw the transfer proteins in the nucleus. That was a very cool moment, and I had no idea what was going on. I was working with a postdoc at the time. She got very excited, and I was just doing the next experiment. We came to realize that that was sort of the crux of the whole project. We still have those stains; we still have those pictures. So, that was very cool for me. 

Is there anything else that you would share about yourself or your experience in the program?
I’m very proud of our program. I think the students in some bigger graduate programs sort of get an orientation and get left to fend for themselves. I think our program does a very good job of creating a community that we can all be proud of and helping each other get through this rather difficult professional track. I would say I’m also proud of our administration. You’re very receptive and compassionate people and you don’t always find that in a director and program manager. So, I appreciate that as well.