Jasmine Wilkerson ’23 Performs Heart, Lung and Blood (HLB) Research at CWRU Medical School

September 7, 2021

Yvonne Gay

A female student works in a laboratory.
Jasmine Wilkerson ’23 at work in a Case Western Reserve School of Medicine laboratory.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Wilkerson

After several life-changing experiences at an early age, Jasmine Wilkerson ’23 decided to pursue a medical degree so she can perform crucial surgeries through medical missions abroad.

A resident of Helena, Montana, Wikerson travelled to a village in Sakila, Tanzania, when she was 11 and 18 years old. While there, she observed and assisted her father and a medical team with assessing and providing treatment to patients in need of eye care. Those experiences, she says, helped to transform her world perspectives. 

“My father is an ophthalmologist and my mother is a licensed clinical social worker. Throughout my childhood, my parents’ careers modeled the importance of helping others by promoting medical care and mental health awareness,” says Wilkerson. 

When she was 11, Wilkerson also had an opportunity to observe a cataract surgery and a tear duct reconstruction surgery performed by her father. “From the moment I scrubbed in to enter the operating room to the conclusion of the surgery, I knew that I would one day become a surgeon and serve others through a medical career,” she says. 

Wilkerson’s commitment to the sciences led her to explore research outside of Oberlin this summer. With a strong recommendation from Professor of Ethnomusicology Courtney-Savalia Andrews, she was accepted into the Heart, Lung and Blood (HLB) Summer Research Program at Case Western Reserve University Medical School in Cleveland.

The eight-week HLB program is designed to engage undergraduates from a variety of disciplines and eight medical students in state-of-the art biomedical research in cardiovascular, pulmonary, hematological, and sleep disorders research. Participants engaged in weekly seminars that highlighted research in these disciplines and engaged in activities that allowed them to have interaction among all students. The program culminated with students presenting their research programs on a digital symposium platform.

Wilkerson, a biology major and anthropology minor, worked with cancer epidemiologist and CWRU professor Sarah Markt and Jonathan Hue, a general surgery resident at University Hospitals in Cleveland. 

Wilkerson and professor Markt conducted a cross-sectional study on the prevalence of low sleep duration and sleep disturbances among breast cancer patients compared to the general noncancer United States population from 2005 to 2016. 

While a statistically significant difference in mean sleep duration was not found in the team’s primary analysis, a higher percentage of troubled sleep among breast cancer patients compared to the noncancer population was discovered.

In her second research project with Hue, Wilkerson manipulated pancreatic cancer cells in mice. 

“We manipulated the microenvironment by testing the KPC cells in high and low glucose conditions and with M1 and M2 macrophages. M1 macrophages are tumor fighting macrophages, while M2 macrophages are tumor promoting macrophages,” says Wilkerson. “Our initial hypothesis was that the M1 macrophages would be most effective at killing KPC cells in high glucose conditions since they are primarily glycolytic. Unfortunately, pancreatic tumors are known to have low glucose concentration, which favors the tumor-helping M2s. From our initial results, we found that M1 macrophages were able to kill KPC cells in both high and low glucose conditions. 

“However, M2 macrophages seem to have a significant protective effect in low glucose conditions. This provides some evidence that if we can raise the glucose levels in the tumor microenvironment, it may help tumor-fighting macrophages and prevent a protective effect for the tumor-supporting ones,” she explains. 

After earning a medical degree, Wilkerson will decide on pursuing a residency program that specializes in surgery neonatology, cardiology, or human reproductive health. 

“While Oberlin College is an academically rigorous college, it is also a place where all academic departments want to see their students succeed, network, and flourish,” says Wlkerson. “If you are interested in the premed program at Oberlin. I would highly encourage you to join because of the students, professors, and research opportunities.” 

Wilkerson transferred into Oberlin’s Pre-Medicine and Health Careers Program from Pepperdine University after her first year of college. Largely, she says, because Oberlin offers a wide range of research opportunities where premed students can gain one-on-one time with professors. The college’s premed program’s committee of professors who help students with the interview process before applying to medical school was another perk. She was also encouraged by the chance to grow her violin playing skills and explore the field of anthropology.

See Wilkerson’s summer research presentation by visiting the CWRU Symposium website.

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