From an early age, Rosevalentine Bosire, PhD, was drawn to the medical field — inspired by her mother who works as a nurse. While training for a career in medical laboratory diagnostics, an internship took her in an exciting new direction: research.
Her summer spent investigating mosquito genomics to inform malaria policy in her home country of Kenya showed her the power of science to impact health care and improve lives.
Now a postdoctoral researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Bosire is the fourth recipient of the Brave Fellowship, which honors the memory of a young woman who was similarly driven to make a positive difference in the world.
Gabe Grunewald was a professional runner who lived with cancer for a decade and helped others find strength and resilience by sharing her story. Funded by Brooks Running and the Brave Like Gabe Foundation, this fellowship supports early-career researchers from underrepresented backgrounds who are studying rare cancers.
Bosire’s research in the lab of Richard Adeyemi, DVM, PhD, focuses on unlocking the key to drug resistance in cancers carrying mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Changes in those genes can affect cells’ ability to repair DNA, increasing the risk of developing breast, ovarian, prostate and other cancers. These mutations are rare — implicated in less than 10% of breast cancer and ovarian cancer cases, for example — but they can lead to cancers with fewer treatment options and higher recurrence rates.
Bosire aims to inform the development of new treatments that cut off the path to drug resistance and recurrence in these cancers. We sat down with her to hear more about her work, her challenges getting hands-on research experience and what the Brave Fellowship will make possible for her. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
My research focuses on BRCA1- and BRCA2-deficient cancer subtypes. Mutations in these genes are associated with triple negative breast cancer and high-grade serous ovarian cancer subtypes, which are aggressive, difficult to treat and have a high recurrence rate. These cancers are sensitive to DNA-damaging drugs like cisplatin, which is a standard treatment option. Following treatment, however, BRCA-deficient cancer cells often rely on alternative DNA repair pathways for survival and thus become resistant.
Using novel genomic techniques, the Adeyemi Lab identified several long non-coding RNA, or lncRNA, genes crucial for cancer cell survival following cisplatin treatment. [Editor’s note: Unlike messenger RNA (mRNA), lncRNA molecules do not contribute to protein production but serve other functions in the cell, such as DNA repair.]
Building upon this data, I am carrying out experiments to answer three main questions. First, how does the expression of the candidate lncRNA genes vary between normal cells and various cancer types? Second, does turning off the individual lncRNA genes make cancer cells more vulnerable to cisplatin and other DNA damaging agents? Third, what role does lncRNA play in DNA repair?
Answering these questions will inform the utility of these lncRNA genes as targets for anticancer drugs. If the expression of these lncRNA genes is found to vary between normal cells and cancer cells, it will make specific targeting of cancer cells feasible.
Laboratory facilities are very limited in Kenya. At my university, we had all these wonderful lectures, but there were very few experiments that we could do. It was common to learn about a lab technique and then be told that there is only one such piece of equipment in the country. And perhaps the equipment was awaiting repairs at that particular time. Much of what we learned, though exciting, remained abstract.
In order to pursue my field of interest, I had to move away from my home. I completed my PhD in Hungary and afterward came here for my postdoctoral research. One of the challenges of being an international postdoc is that federal fellowships are only open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Though the funding opportunities available to non-residents are limited, I am still grateful to have them at all.
Creating effective cures for cancer will take the collective effort of many dedicated researchers. My goal is to contribute to the knowledge that will change cancer from a terminal condition to a treatable disease, not just for the wealthy but even for those in the remotest villages of Africa and the rest of the global south.
I also ultimately aim to help not just the common cancers affecting millions, but also the cancers afflicting only hundreds. The Brave Fellowship will enable me to achieve my mission. My current research will increase our knowledge on the involvement of lncRNA in cancer and perhaps identify a novel target for chemotherapy. It will also complement that of other scientists who have uncovered promising mechanisms to inhibit the activity of lncRNA. Finding the best option to target will be valuable information for drug development.
This fellowship will also permit me to remain at Fred Hutch for another year, allowing me to hone my technical and people skills, obtain a deeper understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying cancer and interact with other scientists in the field. All these will push me a long way on my path to an independent research career.
I am grateful to Brooks Running and the Brave Like Gabe Foundation for supporting my mission of contributing towards effective cures for cancer.