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Message from the Holmen Lab Principal Investigator

View Selected Achievements

The first steps along my path to becoming a scientist were taken in my 10th grade biology class when my interest and enthusiasm for genetics took hold. However, it was during my time at Western Michigan University when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer that I became determined to focus on cancer research. 

While an undergraduate student at Western, I volunteered in the lab of Dr. Leonard Ginsberg and studied gene transcription. After receiving my Bachelor of Science degree, I stayed in Dr. Ginsberg’s lab and completed a Master’s thesis project studying glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase regulation.

These research experiences motivated me to pursue a PhD in Tumor Biology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. My PhD research, mentored by Dr. Mark Federspiel, focused on receptor interference within the avian leukosis virus family. This virus family has been used to model human immune-deficiency virus (HIV) and also as a tool to generate mouse models of cancer.

My continued interest in cancer and desire to be closer to home during my mother’s cancer battle, led me to pursue a postdoctoral position in Dr. Bart Williams’ lab at the Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While at VARI, I modified the avian retroviruses to deliver genes under the control of the tetracycline-regulated system and to mediate RNA interference. These vectors were successfully validated in vivo in a glioma mouse model and were later used to develop a mouse model of melanoma.

After establishing my own lab at VARI, and successfully navigating my mother through treatments for stage IV breast cancer, I was recruited to the Nevada Cancer Institute (NVCI) in Las Vegas, Nevada. After five successful years at NVCI, I accepted a faculty position in the Department of Surgery at the University of Utah. I am also an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Oncological Sciences and an Investigator at the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) where my lab is located.

My research at HCI is focused on using the mouse models we have developed to define the genes required for tumor initiation, progression, and maintenance with the ultimate goal of identifying novel targets for therapeutic intervention. My laboratory uses a somatic cell gene transfer technique, in combination with traditional transgenic and knock-out systems, to model metastatic melanoma and glioblastoma. These models are useful for pre-clinical testing of pharmacological agents and serve to translate the findings in the lab to more effective treatments for cancer patients.

I am devoted to my research and equally devoted to and proud of my family. My daughter received her BS in Business with an emphasis in marketing from the University of Utah in 2021 and my son will be a freshman at Utah in the fall of 2022 studying biology. He is also a student athlete and was recruited to compete for the University of Utah Men's swim and dive team. My husband has devoted his career to cancer research as well. While my mother was cured from metastatic breast cancer, she later developed myelodysplastic syndrome. She defied the odds and fought the disease for 6 years but lost her battle in 2020. There is so much more work to be done and we are dedicated to furthering our understanding of cancer to improve the lives of cancer patients.

Selected Achievements:

2004 Most Outstanding Abstract Award, American Society of Bone and Mineral Research
2005 Diana Ashby Memorial Research Award
2006 American Cancer Society Research Scholar Award
2008 National Brain Tumor Foundation Research Award
2010 Association for Research of Childhood Cancers Award
2013 Mona Shores Education Foundation Hall of Fame Inductee
2015 Melanoma Research Alliance Established Investigator Award
2019 Karen H. Huntsman Presidential Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at Huntsman Cancer Institute
2019 Estela Medrano Memorial Award