Relayer Aiming to Make a Difference on the Track and in the Lab

Jackie Hepworth

Jackie Hepworth, pictured on the left, is a senior at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) who has been involved with the American Cancer Society Relay For Life since her senior year of high school. Her reasons for staying involved are personal: Her aunt passed away from cancer when Jackie was 16, and she recently lost grandparents to cancer.

When it came time for college, Jackie chose WPI because it was able to offer Jackie outstanding opportunities for groundbreaking research, state of the art facilities, and a 'major qualifying project.'

Jackie joined a Relay team with her sorority, Alpha Xi Delta, her freshman year. As her college years progressed, Jackie became more and more involved with Relay and the American Cancer Society by becoming a team captain and eventually a member of the event committee. “At first I joined Relay because everyone else was doing it on campus. It’s an awesome event, and everyone has a great time. But as you get more involved, you start to realize the difference your making, and it really puts things into perspective.”

When it came time for Jackie to design her major qualifying project her senior year, she knew she wanted to be a part of something that would one day help make a difference. As a biochemistry major, Jackie chose to work with Professor Joseph B. Duffy, associate professor and interim department head of Biology and Biotechnology, for his exciting research with Drosophila melanogaster, more commonly known as the fruit fly.  The research focuses on a specific family of cellular receptors, the epidermal growth factor receptors, which are implicated in 30% of breast cancers, as well as some pancreatic, stomach, and lung cancers. This type of receptor is also present in Drosophila and functions in a similar way, so scientists can study their behaviors and learn more about their interaction in the human body. Jackie’s research focuses on how the fly is able to selectively turn this receptor off during different stages of development, with the hope that understanding the chemistry of this inhibition could lead to novel cancer  therapies.

“I would love to pursue research as a career,” she said. I want to be that voice for others when they can’t speak for themselves.  The only way I know how to do that is to actively do something about it. So I’m using my skills as a future scientist and active volunteer to make sure that the voices of patients are heard. If there is a problem out there and people need help, I want to be a part of the team that finds the solution."