Melissa Rey ’20

Melissa Rey in lab coat.

Targeting a treatment for cancer

Following suggestions from Wesleyan faculty, Melissa Rey ’20 worked with the Center for Career Development to research and apply for REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) opportunities in her field of chemistry for the summer of 2018. She was accepted into eight prestigious programs and chose to study at Boston College. Not only was she was paid for the experience, her travel and housing costs were also included.

“I was in a proteomics lab working with fatty acid binding protein 5 (FABP5), part of a growth factor pathway in the cell. When the growth factor is activated, two cysteine residues in the protein form the S-S bond. It is believed that the formation of that bond influences the ability of that protein to bind to other things. That’s important because overexpression of FABP5 is associated with triple negative breast cancer and colon cancer and negative health outcomes. From observation in mice, we know when this protein is eliminated, metastasis stops, so its elimination may one day be a target for treatment.”

A double major in chemistry and Spanish, Melissa is both a Munroe and an American Chemical Society Scholar. As a Cuban-Colombian from Hialeah, Florida, she speaks and writes Spanish with native proficiency, which helped earn her the honor of being a Hispanic Scholarship Fund Scholar. “The Spanish language is an integral part of my identity, and participating in Spanish classes helps me keep in touch with my heritage when I’m far away.”

Melissa has been accepted to the REU program at the University of Minnesota this summer where she will serve as a materials chemistry research assistant. Her future plans are to earn her Ph.D. in chemistry. She is still contemplating the fields of computational and materials chemistry and hopes to work as a military or industrial scientist. “I have so many people to be thankful for. My advisor Dr. Laura Strausberg has been wonderful. She’s taught me how to think for myself, how to question things, and has encouraged me as a student and as a person. Wesleyan alumna (and board of trustee member) Yehudi Self-Medlin ’96, who earned her Ph.D. in physical chemistry from UVA in Charlottesville, has given me unconditional support and encouragement as well as a wealth of career advice. Everyone needs a Yehudi in her life. When I’m older, I hope I can mentor a young woman the way she’s mentored me.”

This article ran in WESmag Spring 2019 issue.


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