Justin Hills ’14 Conducts Childhood Cancer Research at St. Jude

Justin Hills ‘14 recently completed the Pediatric Oncology Education (POE) program at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. The eleven-week program affords the opportunity for sixty students from across the country to interact with scientists and physicians in their related departments. As a senior in biology with a concentration in human biology, Hills plans to attend medical school after graduation.

Hills discovered the POE program through his Park Scholar student mentor and friend, Trey Mullikin ‘12, who encouraged him to apply. Soon after completing an interview, Hills was selected to join the lab of Dr. Taosheng Chen in the Department of Chemical Biology and Therapeutics. He worked closely with a graduate student mentor and investigated the binding relationship between tumor suppressor protein p53 and Nurr1, a nuclear hormone receptor commonly over-expressed in cancers.

“Collectively, the research being conducted at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is expansive, inspiring and life-changing,“ says Hills.

Hills first became interested in oncology after spending the summer of 2012 working with liver cancer patients in Kumasi, Ghana. In applying to the POE program, he hoped to gain a better understanding of the disease and its progression. Hills says his time working in pediatrics at St. Jude has made him want to continue working with children and childhood cancers in the future. He also hopes to conduct clinical research in pediatric oncology.

“St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is an absolutely magical place to work,” says Hills. “Every employee believes in the mission, vision, and values of the institution and there is an overwhelming joy and dedication to ‘finding cures and saving children’ throughout the hospital.”

Hills says the most rewarding part of his experience during the POE program was presenting his final research report to his fellow classmates and the St. Jude community during his last week on campus. The most challenging aspect, he says, was getting used to the timing of conducting research.

“My research mentor often joked and said, ‘if you’re not tired, you’re not doing it right.’”

Story by Laura Turner