Julio Pimentel, a fourth-year doctoral student in cancer biology at Wayne State University School of Medicine, was named a member of the inaugural Janssen Scholar of Oncology Diversity Engagement Program by Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical companies.
The program aims to provide mentorship from senior industry leaders and develop essential skills valued in academic careers, both within and outside an industrial setting, for those who self-identify as Hispanic or African American.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of the inaugural round of scientists, as well as for the support and guidance I receive from Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, as it will enable me to make progress toward of my career long-term goals are to lead a research program and contribute to cancer diversity,” Pimentel said.
Scholar selection includes a $10,000 stipend to be used for conference travel, research supplies, and training courses, and mentoring.
To be eligible for the program, applicants must be full-time doctoral students in their sophomore year or later, first- or second-year medical students, postdoctoral fellows, or PharmD students engaged in or interested in oncology or other closely related disciplines such as immunology, molecular biology, biochemistry, pharmaceutical sciences, computational biology/data sciences, clinical research and pharmacology.
Pimentel’s research focus in the Cancer Biology Graduate Program is to overcome tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand, or TRAIL, resistance in triple-negative breast cancer.
Triple-negative breast cancer, or TNBC, is an aggressive disease that is unresponsive to commonly used targeted endocrine therapies due to the absence of progesterone, estrogen, and HER2 receptors. While previous studies indicate that most TNBC cells are highly sensitive to TRAIL-induced apoptosis, the development of TRAIL resistance limits its efficacy. Pimentel’s study evaluated the effects of inhibition of protein phosphatase 2A or PP2A on TRAIL-induced cell death in TRAIL-resistant TNBC cells. He generated two TRAIL-resistant cell lines from TRAIL-sensitive parental cells (MDA-MB-231 and SUM159), and found that both TRAIL-resistant cell lines are sensitive to the PP2A inhibitor LB-100 compared to their corresponding TRAIL-sensitive counterparts. The findings suggest that the inhibition of PP2A activity could represent a novel therapeutic strategy for overcoming TRAIL resistance in triple-negative breast cancer.
Last June, Pimentel was selected for the second time to receive the National Latino Leader Award and a scholarship to attend and present the 2021 Society of Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in the Sciences Conference. He also received the recognition in 2020.
The Society of Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in the Sciences is committed to advancing the success of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in pursuing higher degrees, careers, and leadership positions in science, technology, engineering, and math. The organization’s conference is the country’s largest multidisciplinary and multicultural STEM diversity event.
Wayne State University’s board of directors recognized Pimentel in 2020 for exhibiting “Profiles in Warrior Strong.” The recognition recognizes positive achievements continued by the entire university community despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2019, Pimentel won first place in poster presentations at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute Junior Faculty Research/Retreat, and the Cancer Biology Director’s Award. He was selected in 2018 for a WSU Dean’s Diversity Fellowship, designed to attract new doctoral students and support departmental recruitment of students who demonstrate academic excellence and are underrepresented in their fields.
In addition to continuing his research during the pandemic, he gave a virtual presentation to minority high school students interested in STEM in the FocuSSTEM NextGen program and was nominated as a Latino Role Model Shaping the World by the Latino Community Stage, an online platform for aspiring Latina and Latino students to explore academic and career interests in STEM.