Got Research?

Written by AMBER ALLEN

One of the most common grievances among students in the College of Natural Sciences is finding available faculty-guided research. I have always found this striking due to the fact that the University of Texas has more than 150 research units. The University has created more than 40 endowed chairs, since 1984, to recruit internationally recognized faculty to accelerate research programs in engineering and science(1). One among many incredible new faculty members who lead a research lab is Dr. Blerta Xhemalce.

Dr. Xhemalce’s scientific journey started in Paris, France. Her first research experience was in a children’s hospital investigating the Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, an overgrowth disorder that is also accompanied by an increased risk of developing tumors during childhood. In 2001, Paul Nurse won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the function of cell cycle regulation that is conserved between humans and the model organism fission yeast. This sparked Dr. Xhemalce’s interest in genetically amenable organisms and propelled her to join a lab at the Pasteur Institute where she completed her PhD studying fundamental mechanisms of cancer-related processes in fission yeast cells. For her post-doctoral work, she then joined the Kouzarides lab at the University of Cambridge in the UK where she pursued her interest in cancer and epigenetics in human cells. Dr. Xhemalce recently moved here, to Austin, because of the many diverse opportunities for medical and fundamental research available at the University of Texas.

At UT, Dr. Xhemalce has begun her own research program aiming to find novel epigenetic enzymes that modify chromatin, DNA, and RNA. Many diseases, such as cancer, result in misregulaton of gene expression caused by these types of enzymes. Because these enzymes are misregulated in diseases and have been found to be potentially “druggable’, Dr. Xhemalce’s objective is to understand the regulation of these enzymes and to develop small molecule inhibitors that have the potential to be used in novel disease therapies.  

Dr. Xhemalce is aiming to train mainly graduate students, but is also interested in accepting undergraduate students into her lab. There are no prerequisites required, but she does ask that those interested come in with a cooperative attitude and be highly motivated. “I really want to help people achieve personal and academic goals. I want them to be able to think independently by the end of their experience”, says Xhemalce. Her ultimate goal is to identify these small molecules and enzymes. However, she also plans to publish papers and acquire independent research funding. She would like her lab to be like a small enterprise that will produce knowledge with the financial support from grants. If you are interested in the Dr. Xhemalce’s lab, you may contact her by email at b.xhemalce@austin.utexas.edu.

Sources:

1. "About: Welcome to Texas Research." University of Texas at Austin. U of Texas at Austin, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013..

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