Moana Hala’ufia

Moana Hala’ufia, PhD student, pharmaceutical sciences and experimental therapeutics

Discovers molecules to target cancer

“She is truly an exceptional researcher and graduate student, who took a project from an idea and developed it into a full-fledged high throughput screening platform which she will now use to screen tens of thousands of drug-like molecules to identify those that disrupt the interactions she is measuring, and that are critical for triple-negative breast cancer progression.” -David Roman, professor

Tucson, Arizona

Faculty mentor/advisor:
David Roman, PhD, professor of pharmaceutical sciences and experimental therapeutics, College of Pharmacy

What is your degree program and anticipated graduation date?
PhD in pharmaceutical sciences and experimental therapeutics, spring 2024

Please describe your research:
Triple negative breast cancer is the most aggressive type of breast cancer. It is only treatable via surgical resection or chemotherapy; highlighting the need for new treatment options for patients. Our lab works on discovering small molecule inhibitors that target key proteins in triple negative breast cancer cells in order to reduce cancer cell proliferation and migration. Overall, we seek to improve the treatment landscape for patients with this type of cancer.

In simple terms, why does this research matter?
This research matters because this type of cancer is extremely aggressive and deadly when diagnosed in women, and having better options for treatment is always a positive. Moving away from harmful chemotherapy regimens and revolutionizing the types of treatments we can offer patients is key in improving quality care. Additionally, this work can be applied to other hard to treat cancers.

How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research?
End of my first year.

How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa?
It has made me appreciate all the facilities and resources Iowa had to offer; Iowa is very collaborative, and I have found that faculty outside of my department are eager to help me with questions regarding my research.

What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation?
I plan on pursuing a job in the pharmaceutical industry.

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