Driven by love: Brother’s illness inspires student to pursue medical career

Jada Boyd, Junior Biomedical Sciences major, plays the piano in the Lory Student Center Theatre lobby. December 9, 2015

Jada Boyd spent most of her ninth-grade year at the hospital with her older brother, who suffered from a severe liver disease and potentially cancerous colon polyps. She was with her brother throughout his serious illness, a liver transplant and, eventually, his full recovery.

During many days and nights at Children’s Hospital Colorado, the teenager watched her brother’s primary doctor in awe.

“She and her team cared about our family and had a meaningful relationship with us,” recalled Boyd, from Aurora, Colo. “I knew then that I wanted to become a doctor to provide that for others.”

Six years later, Boyd is a CSU junior majoring in biomedical sciences, with medical school in her sights. Her capabilities as a young scientist recently gained national kudos, when Boyd became the only college student from Colorado to earn an award at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Seattle.

Award-worthy cancer research

Jada Boyd, Junior Biomedical Sciences major, plays the piano in the Lory Student Center Theatre lobby. December 9, 2015
Biomedical sciences student Jada Boyd practices piano in the Lory Student Center. The aspiring physician has been an active community volunteer and member of Premedica Club.

Boyd conducted undergraduate research in cancer; she was among more than 1,700 college students from across the country to present research findings at the conference, sponsored by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in November. She was honored for an outstanding presentation in cancer biology, with an award sponsored by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Boyd’s achievements exemplify what can happen when talented minority students receive opportunities and encouragement in STEM disciplines – an important effort at CSU and at other research institutions nationwide.

“It was a big deal,” Juan Lucas Argueso, Boyd’s mentor and an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, said of her success. “The quality of the presentations at the conference was very high. This was an impressive and well-deserved achievement for Jada.”

Boyd used yeast cell models to investigate mechanisms responsible for chromosome translocations, which are abnormalities caused by rearrangement of chromosome parts. This relocation of genetic material is commonly seen in cancer cells. So understanding how translocations occur could be central to preventing some cancers.

Researching mechanisms in translocations is “kind of like uncovering the behind-the-scenes work of a magic trick,” Boyd said.

“Studying mutations allows us a glimpse into the deep inner workings of cancer,” she said. “I see this research as contributing to a better understanding of how mutations occur, which could eventually help us learn to prevent or minimize them. And since cancer effects so many people, this research is crucial and close to my heart.”

Boyd started her research efforts by volunteering in a laboratory that studies the use of specialized radiation in cancer treatment. From there, she earned a Cancer Research Summer Fellowship from the University of Colorado Cancer Center and began working in Argueso’s research laboratory alongside Victoria Harcy, a doctoral candidate in the CSU Cell and Molecular Biology program.

“It’s been neat to watch Jada gain understanding, confidence, and independence in the lab,” Harcy said.

Boyd, in turn, compliments her mentors: “They helped me stay on this path, even when it got hard and I had moments of doubt – and I’ll never forget that.”

A future in helping people

The biomedical sciences student will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in December, then expects to move on to medical school.

“My parents taught me that by helping one person, you can help a lot of people,” Boyd said. “That’s what I’m most looking forward to about being a physician. No matter what type of medicine I go into, I want to build positive relationships with my patients and provide great care. People trust medical professionals and come to them baring all – and being able to figure out how best to help someone is the most gratifying thing in the world.”

Read more about Boyd’s research here.