Grace Zhang ’23 received a We Act Grant for the summer of 2020. Read her testimonial below about her experience researching brain tumors and their treatments. 

headshot of Grace Zhang ’23

Grace Zhang ’23

This summer, I was awarded the remarkable opportunity of conducting research on pituitary adenomas remotely with the University of Washington Medical Center. Pituitary adenomas are benign tumors that affect the pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ in the brain that regulates hormones essential for many processes of the body. My research team analyzed pituitary adenomas, with the overarching endeavor of adding to the medical understanding of treatment options for these brain tumors.

Each lab member chose their own specialized topic to study. I studied a rare type of pituitary tumor called craniopharyngioma. As a survivor of craniopharyngioma, this lab research project really hit home for me. Having fought this benign brain tumor, I’m determined to contribute in any way I can to further scientific knowledge of craniopharyngioma and ultimately help other patients battling this brain tumor. In the beginning, I reinforced my understanding on how the pituitary gland utilizes regulatory feedback control systems to deliver hormones to its respective targets in the body. By studying numerous current review and research articles, I learned more about the impact craniopharyngiomas have on the pituitary system and other bodily functions. Finally, I analyzed the genetics behind craniopharyngiomas and how they might contribute to different treatment options for these tumors. After I finished my preliminary research, I presented a general overview of my topic at my lab meetings, which occurred a few times per week through Zoom.

After gaining a strong understanding of the pituitary system and craniopharyngiomas, I expanded my analysis by examining demographic data of craniopharyngioma patients and drawing conclusions from the trends I observed. Specifically, I looked for possible correlations between recurrences and prevalence of craniopharyngioma among different age groups, sexes, and subtypes of craniopharyngioma. This has ultimately been my favorite part of this project thus far. Examining data of craniopharyngioma patients has contextualized my understanding of these tumors. I found it incredibly fascinating and thought-provoking to connect my knowledge of craniopharyngioma with patients’ demographics and look for patterns among my dataset. After creating various figures to represent findings of our clinical pituitary cohort, I examined how our data relates to information found in current literature. Finally, I shared my findings with my lab team.

By conducting research and learning about craniopharyngiomas, I will ultimately contribute to a manuscript dedicated to contributing more knowledge about pituitary adenomas to the scientific community. I began by writing a literature review, which I will compare to findings from our own clinical pituitary cohort. I analyzed current clinical studies and articles to summarize the epidemiology, location, genetics, treatment perspectives and future research required for craniopharyngiomas.

From this incredible experience, I believe that I’m truly making a difference in contributing to the scientific community and, ultimately, craniopharyngioma patients. Even though it was conducted remotely over Zoom, I found my first research experience captivating. Through this amazing opportunity, not only have I learned how to better care for myself, but by contributing to scientific knowledge of craniopharyngioma, I’ll also be able to help future craniopharyngioma patients so they will not struggle as I did. Although I had a basic understanding of craniopharyngioma and its effects prior to this research experience, I’ve now gained a much deeper understanding of them. I couldn’t be more grateful for such a wonderful experience working with such an intelligent group of scholars to make a difference for future patients’ lives.