By Sydney Collins, ‘20

At the age of three, Kiana Gunn, ‘19, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and underwent treatment for three years. She has been in remission since age seven, however, she did not learn that she had survived until freshman year in high school.  

“I only had vague memories of me playing with my nurses in a hospital room, and they were all positive,” Gunn said. “I learned of my story around the same time a friend passed from leukemia. It completely changed what I wanted to pursue as a career.” 

When she came to the University of Richmond, Gunn knew that she wanted to work in a research lab that focused on cancer. While searching the faculty pages on the University’s website, Gunn found Dr. Julie Pollock’s name and interest in cancer research and immediately reached out to her.

Since then, Gunn has been working in Pollock’s research lab trying to figure out if estrogen receptors alpha and beta can increase the growth of cell lung carcinoma cells. 

“Research shows that lung cancer is hormone-regulated by estrogen so we’re trying to figure out, using different estrogen receptor ligaments, how the estrogen receptors function,” Gunn said. “The process by which they do this isn't fully known.”

Gunn has worked on this research since the summer after her first year and is contributing to the lab’s goal of developing a transcript of the mRNA and figure out the estrogen receptors’ role. Building off the work of a graduated lab member, Gunn has conducted some proliferation assays that assess the growth of lung cancer cells. Proliferation assays have been screened for their potential in decreasing lung cancer growth and Gunn presented her most recent research at the annual Student Symposium.

“I like presenting my research at the Symposium,” said Gunn. “I also like seeing other people’s posters and asking them what their experiment is about. I think all around it’s a great opportunity to talk and engage with the community.”

Gunn believes that she was able to accomplish the amount of research she has completed due to her participation in the Science Math and Research Training (SMART) program. Through this program, Gunn acquired the basic tools and skills she needed to succeed in the research field. 

“I think it definitely laid the groundwork for me wanting to complete research because it provided support for summer research,” Gunn said. “I was able to use that funding for the first summer and that’s when I worked in Dr. Pollock’s lab and I established a relationship with my research mentor– that was great.” 

In addition to her research experience at UR, Gunn received the opportunity to present her findings at the Southeast Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society (SERMACS) in November. At this conference, Gunn was able to look at the types of research occurring at other universities for undergraduate students. At that conference, Gunn solidified her plan to become a researcher after college.

“When I was there, I thought, ‘Wow, I can really do this,’” she said. “I could see myself continuing with research, and going to graduate school to study cancer biology; seeing how I could become a great contributor to the scientific community was very awe-inspiring to me.”