Grad Student Spotlight: Alisa Fairweather

Alisa Fairweather

Alisa is a native of Maple Valley, Washington, where she grew up wanting to pursue a career as a pediatrician. However, after taking her first organic chemistry course in high school, Alisa found a new passion she recognized would enable her to help and improve the quality of the lives of others.  She went on to achieve a double-major in chemistry and biochemistry at North Dakota State University.

When Alisa joined the Wiemer Research Group as a new graduate student at the University of Iowa, she learned about multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in bone marrow and crowds out the plasma cells responsible for the production of infection-fighting antibodies. Most patients who develop multiple myeloma die within five years.

Many of the therapeutics for multiple myeloma currently on the market interfere with healthy processes in the body and produce severe side effects. Alisa’s thesis project focuses on two isomers that have been found to inhibit the GGTase II enzyme, which plays a role in the formation of the cancer. If a therapeutic can be developed to directly target this particular enzyme, it would eliminate many of the unwanted side effects produced by current therapeutics. Unfortunately, not much is yet understood about these isomers, so Alisa is working to develop a fluorescent tag to attach to the isomers and track their behavior and movement in the human body. This undertaking will lead to a greater understanding of these isomers and serve as a necessary stepping stone to the successful development of GGTase II-targeting therapeutics.

In addition to her work in the lab, Alisa serves as the president of the Graduate Student Advisory Board, which aims to foster community and camaraderie between the graduate students, faculty, and the different research groups in the Department of Chemistry. In the lab, Alisa says, you can lose touch with your colleagues working in different research groups, so the GSAB provides opportunities for everyone to connect, share stories of progress and success, and enjoy each other’s company. The GSAB sponsors the monthly Science and Suds post-colloquium meeting, and they run the graduate student Twitter account. They started the #grouptakeover initiative, which passes control of the Twitter account around the different research groups, allowing graduate students to share updates about their research and other accomplishments. The GSAB is also advising Dr. Cheatum, Dr. Shaw, and grant-writer Amy Charles in a project to offer career-development curriculum to graduate students. Their newest initiative is to start a student-organized colloquium, and in the future they would like to host alumni panels so graduate students can learn about career opportunities and ask advice of former Hawkeyes now working in policy, academics, and industry.


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