Research with a Mission
May 09, 2019 09:00AM
By Elyse Wild | Photography by Two Eagles Marcus
At the Van Andel Institute (VAI), Rochelle Tiedemann, Ph.D., is conducting thrilling research that may help broaden our understanding of cancer and how to treat it.
As a postdoctoral fellow, Tiedemann works in labs under senior mentors while driving her own research projects, which primarily surround colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women, and according to the American Cancer Society, it is expected to cause nearly 52,000 deaths in 2019. Tiedemann is working on developing combination therapies to treat colorectal cancer that will yield a therapeutic response with less damaging side effects for patients.
One of the drugs from her studies is FDA approved and is in a clinical trial within the Stand Up to Cancer Initiative, a nonprofit that provides funding to accelerate discovery for
new cancer treatments.
Additionally, Tiedemann is approaching cancer through epigenetics (literally meaning, “on top of genes.”) She explains that there are 3.2 billion base pairs of DNA in the nucleus of every single cell in your body, only two percent of which actually makes up who you are.
“I have always been really interested in that dynamic,” she said. “How does that two percent know that it is colon cell, heart cell or brain cell? How do you get from DNA that gets coded for MRNA that eventually makes up the protein that makes up the cell and makes up who you are? That’s epigenetics.”
Tiedemann is studying a protein that is frequently overexpressed in colorectal cancer.
“We are figuring out how it leads to a cancer phenotype and how to target it,” she said.
Tiedemann understands how cancer can usher devastation into the lives of individuals and families. While she was in her junior year at the University of North Georgia, her uncle was diagnosed with metastatic liver cancer. His diagnosis coincided with her realization that the path she was on to become a veterinarian was not one that would ultimately fulfill her. She went into an undergraduate research program for science and was immediately taken with the nature of intensive research.
“I loved it,” she expressed. “It is something new every day. I get to study the questions I am really interested in, and find out stuff before anyone else does.”
The experience of losing her uncle, who passed within a year and a half of his diagnosis, paired with her newfound ardor for research led her to pursue a doctorate in biomedical studies.
“It directed me to do cancer research,” she said. “The experience drove me to do research that has a mission.”
Tiedemann emphasizes that as we learn more about cancer, the more we know that it is a collective of individual diseases as opposed to a single disease.
“Each person has their own disease that you have to figure out how to treat, and that is the part I like,” she said. “I can help individual patients understand what their tumor is doing to their body and how we can intervene.”
Tiedemann knows that the work she is engaged in now could very well
“It is extremely rewarding,” she expressed. “It is why I do this. Especially the combination therapy study — the fact that it can go from the lab to the clinic as quickly as it can and knowing we can actually impact human health is extremely rewarding.”
Donations to the ACS ResearcHERS: Women Fighting Cancer 2019 Campaign, which kicks off in May, will go toward Tiedemann and women cancer researcher like her. To learn more about the campaign or donate, visit ACSResearchHERS.org or call 1-800-227-2345
When she is not editing for WLM, Elyse enjoys traveling to far off lands, taking photos, listening to live music and spinning records.