Drexel Researcher Nominated As 2017 STAT Wunderkind

Halley Oyer’s career origin story has a precise launching pad.

When she was 6, her neighbor threw out a collection of old textbooks; Oyer found a dated biology tome and took it home. Even now, 20-something years later, she remembers looking at the diagrams that explained things like how dysentery spreads.

“It was the way the world worked,” Oyer said. “I wanted to help chip away a little bit at that understanding.”

Oyer is now a postdoc at Drexel University studying Sigma 1, a so-called “chaperone protein” that influences other proteins and pathways involved in the amount of stress cells endure. Cancer cells tend to be under greater stress than healthy cells, so Oyer and her colleagues are investigating whether manipulating Sigma 1 can launch a downstream effect that cripples those cells’ stress response. If the cancer cells can’t alleviate the level of stress they’re under, they’ll die.

Sigma 1 has long been explored as a therapeutic target, but even after years of study, researchers still aren’t sure exactly how it influences other proteins and pathways.

Still, Oyer’s research has been spun out into a company, Context Therapeutics, where she works as a research scientist in addition to holding her postdoc position. She hopes to join the company full time when she wraps up her fellowship.

Outside the lab, she spends her time cooking, gardening, and baking. “It’s just like chemistry and biology, but on the home scale,” she said.

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