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Student Spotlight: Nevin Yusofova, Ph.D. '20

By Chrissie Kong
Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Nevin Yusufova (Ph.D. ’20), a recent graduate of the BCMB Allied program, has been interested in drug discovery since her undergraduate studies at Colgate University where she synthesized bioactive small molecules for further testing in cellular models. Prior to joining WCGS, Yusufova worked at a biotech startup in Boston with collaborators in Harvard Medical School to develop therapeutics against endothelial dysfunction and atherosclerosis.

Recently, her work in the Melnick Lab determined that the Histone H1 gene is a tumour suppressor and that mutations in H1 drive malignant transformation through three-dimensional genome reorganization, which leads to epigenetic reprogramming and derepression of developmentally silenced genes. This effort resulted in a first author paper in Nature entitled “Histone H1 Loss Drives Lymphoma by Disrupting 3D Chromatin Architecture.

“This is the first study to provide a mechanism whereby mature B-cells can acquire cancer stem-cell like functionalities,” Dr. Yusufova explains. “The aberrant epigenetic changes in H1-mutant lymphomas open the door for precision epigenetic therapies for patients with the greatest need.” She hopes this study will improve molecular classification of patients and their mechanistic work will help outline pathway vulnerabilities for precision epigenetic therapies.

Figure 5:Loss of H1c and H1e leads to aggressive VavP-Bcl2 lymphomas.

The image shows that in mice loss of H1c and H1e conferred germinal center B cells with enhanced fitness, leading to aggressive lymphomas with an increased repopulating potential.

During her time at Weill Cornell, Dr. Yusufova was particularly interested in the entrepreneurial ecosystem provided by the BioVenture eLab. She took a 12-week course in biomedical entrepreneurship called Accelerating Bioventure Innovation (ABI) where she learned to build a successful business plan on university-patented technology. After completing the course, Dr. Yusufova became a teaching assistant for the ABI class and subsequently a fellow in the annual $100K Biomedical Business Plan Challenge, where clinicians and researchers pitch their business plans to transfer ideas from the patent stage to the investment and commercialization stage. Yusufova notes entrepreneurial learning in graduate school is important not only to commercialize a technology, but also to develop strong presentation skills that are key for all career paths.

Dr. Yusufova’s passion for entrepreneurship and curiosity to learn about NYC-based biotech startups inspired her to lead a club for like-minded students at Weill Cornell. The Startup Venture Club has had more than 100 members since Spring 2019 – together they organize events, explore biotech startups, including incubators and investment programs to help build post-graduation business ventures. “The most rewarding experience for me at WGCS was bringing the student community together during the pandemic through hosting biotech events,” she says.

Dr. Yusufova will be starting her new role as a Senior Scientist at AstraZeneca in February where she will be on the forefront of drug discovery by advancing epigenetic targets in hematological cancers.

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