Chavis Ferguson – Summer LGS-SOAR Undergrad Research Fellow

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CFerguson1Congratulations to Chavis Ferguson, recipient of an Emory Laney Graduate School Summer Opportunity for Academic Research (Emory LGS-SOAR) undergraduate fellowship. He completed a hypothesis-driven project in the Haynes lab this summer under the supervision of Dr. Natecia Williams. He gained hands-on experience investigating a mouse triple negative breast cancer cell line (4T1) by using a Boyden chamber transwell assay, designing and running reverse transcription quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR), and exploring public RNA-seq data for 4T1 and non-cancer cells. He presented his work as a poster, “Gene Expression and Migration of Mouse Triple Negative Breast Cancer Cells,” during the 2021 Emory Summer Research Symposium (online) on Thursday, August 5, 2021. Chavis will return to his home institution, the University of Missouri, College of Engineering, to complete his senior year.

Haynes lab members present research at the 2021 SEED conference

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SEED2017Four members from the Haynes lab presented their latest research at the 2021 Synthetic Biology: Engineering, Evolution & Design (SEED) conference that took place June 16 – 18, 2021 on a virtual platform. SEED 2021 focused on advances in science, technology, applications, and related investments in the field of synthetic biology. Dr. Karmella Haynes served as session chair for “Translating Synthetic Biology into the Clinic” and the “Funder’s Panel.” The four poster presentations from the Haynes lab included:

  • Dr. Isioma Enwerem (postdoc), “Time-course expression profiling reveals early and late responders to a synthetic chromatin regulator”
  • Harrison Priode (research specialist), “Synthetic epigenetic reader engineering with an all-in-one cell-free expression and protein interaction microarray”
  • Paige Steppe (undergraduate researcher), “Using newly-identified epigenetic reader-effector BAHCC1 to engineer a H3K27me3-binding transcriptional activator”
  • Dr. Natecia Williams (senior research specialist), “A synthetic chromatin reader-effector activates key silenced tumor suppressor genes in triple negative breast cancer cells”

Funding – BME Animal Model Development Grant to Disease Disproportionately Affecting Black Americans

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Dr. Karmella Haynes has received a one-year seed grant from the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering to develop an animal model to gain mechanistic insights into a disease that disproportionately affects African-American people. The project “Murine Model to Identify Epigenetic Mediators of Obesity-associated Drug Resistance in Triple Negative Breast Cancer” will be completed by a collaboration between the Haynes epigenetic engineering lab and Dr. Curtis Henry’s cancer research lab (Emory University, Pediatrics). Triple negative basal-like breast cancer (TNBC) is a highly metastatic subtype, comprises 10-20% of all breast cancers, disproportionately affects pre-menopausal Black women compared to White women, and is the most prevalent in obese Black women. Human samples and an obese mouse model will be used to deconvolute the relationship between obesity, triple negative breast cancer progression, epigenetics, and drug resistance. The results will be used to secure longer-term funding from major grant agencies so that the team can identify new drug targets for more effective treatments.


Coulter BME | Emory & Georgia Tech blog. 06.01.2021. “Seed Grants Fund Foundational Work on Diseases Disproportionately Affecting Black Americans.”

Dr. Haynes receives 2021 COLOR Magazine Innovator in STEM award

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color-magazine-logoDr. Haynes has received the 2021 Women of Color: Innovator in STEM award from COLOR Magazine. The Women of Color STEM Achievement Awards program recognizes and celebrates diverse women achieving new heights in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Honorees were nominated by scientists and health professionals across the U.S. The Innovator in STEM Award recognizes a leader who identifies, supports, and promotes innovative practices that address important challenges in expanding access to quality STEM education. The recorded awards ceremony is available on YouTube:

Recruiting: Fall 2021 Undergraduate Student for Gene & Chromatin Engineering

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GaTechEmory_WHBMEThis opportunity is currently [OPEN] The Haynes lab at Emory is seeking bright, talented, and motivated undergraduate students from Emory University or Georgia Tech to fill one fall research position with a start date of August 16, 2021. These positions are a great opportunity to gain hands-on research experience in synthetic biology as it applies to health and medicine. Dr. Haynes has several years of experience mentoring undergraduate research in the classroom, in her research lab (see our publications and posters that include undergraduates), and for the International Genetically Engineered Machines Competition (iGEM).

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Invited Talk – UC Berkeley MCB Marian E. Koshland Seminar Series

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UCBerkeley_MCBDr. Haynes presented an invited virtual talk, “Chromatin Engineering for Epigenetic Therapy in Triple Negative Breast Cancer,” for the Marian E. Koshland Seminar Series at the UC Berkeley Department of Molecular and Cell Biology on Tuesday, April 16, 2021. Special thanks to Eliana Bondra (graduate student) for hosting the virtual seminar and student and faculty meetings.

Invited Talk – Emory Winship Elkin Lecture

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Dr. Haynes was invited to present her work, “Epigenetic activation of tumor suppressor gene groups in triple negative breast cancer cells” for for the Emory Winship Cancer Institute Elkin Lecture series on Friday, March 26, 2020. Special thanks to Dr. Adam Marcus for the invitation.

Paige Steppe receives 2021 NSF GRFP award

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Undergraduate researcher Paige Steppe has received a 2021 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows Program (NSF GRFP) award! This highly competitive award recognizes and supports outstanding students in STEM disciplines who are pursuing research-based graduate degrees at US institutions. The five-year fellowship includes three years of financial support including an annual stipend of $34,000 and $12,000 for tuition support. Paige is a college senior in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering program at Georgia Tech. She joined the Haynes lab in 2020 to investigate the evolutionary diversity of a chromatin-binding protein motif to inform rational design of synthetic epigenetic regulators in cancer. Congratulations, Paige!

Research – Molecular Oncology – Epigenetic regulator BMI1 promotes alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma proliferation and constitutes a novel therapeutic target

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Epigenetic regulator BMI1 promotes alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma proliferation and constitutes a novel therapeutic target
Shields CE, Potlapalli S, Cuya-Smith SM, Chappell SK, Chen D, Martinez D, Pogoriler J,  Rathi KS, Patel SA, Oristian KM, Linardic CM, Maris JM, Haynes KA, Schnepp RW. (2021) Molecular Oncology.
PMID: 33523558

Abnormal expression and behavior of chromatin proteins occurs in many types of cancer, so scientists have investigated these proteins as possible drug targets. Treatment of alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (ARMS) remains a major therapeutic challenge in pediatric oncology. In this collaboration of the Schnepp and Haynes labs, we demonstrate that genetic and pharmacologic inhibition of BMI1 reduces ARMS viability. We show that BMI1 inhibits the tumor suppressive Hippo pathway and, conversely, that BMI1 disruption upregulates Hippo signaling. Collectively, these findings provide an initial framework for targeting BMI1 in ARMS and additional sarcomas.

Invited Talk – Northwestern University Center for Synthetic Biology

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Dr. Haynes presented an invited virtual talk, “Chromatin Engineering for Epigenetic Therapy in Triple Negative Breast Cancer,” for the Northwestern University Center for Synthetic Biology seminar series on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. Special thanks to Dr. Mike Jewett, Dr. Danielle Tullman-Ercek, Dr. Julius Lucks, and the graduate student organizers of the GeneMods podcast and blog.