University of Minnesota
MICaB Graduate Program
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Current Students

Emily Irey

Thesis Advisor: Kaylee Schwertfeger

Year entered: 2015

Degrees received:
B.A., University of Minnesota, Morris, MN 2014


  • Dean's Distinguished Graduate Fellowship, 2015-2020
  • Poster presentation at American Indian Science and Engineering Society, November 2015
  • AISES Travel Scholarship
  • T32 Immunology Training Grant Trainee, 2016-2018

Thesis Research:

Despite advances in therapies for breast cancer, this disease still remains a significant cause of mortality in women. Much interest surrounds the development of systemic novel targeted therapeutics, however, little is known about how these drugs affect the surrounding non-tumor cells within the tumor microenvironment. Understanding how systemically-delivered breast cancer-targeted therapies interact with non-tumor cells such as infiltrating macrophages is necessary for elucidating how cells become drug resistant and for developing more effective and durable therapies in cancer patients.

The Janus Kinase (JAK)/Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription (STAT) signaling pathway is activated in breast cancer and when hyperactive, can influence uncontrollable proliferation and inflammation. New therapies aim to inhibit JAK/STAT signaling components to turn off the “switch” in tumors signaling for growth and proliferation.  My research involves investigating how inhibitors of the JAK/STAT pathway affect the tumor microenvironment. We have shown that although inhibition of the JAK/STAT pathway may act on the primary tumor directly, the inhibitor alters a delicate balance in the microenvironment that pushes infiltrating macrophages to pro-tumor responses by increasing tumor cell therapeutic resistance and potentially impacting cell migration. I aim to delineate the signaling components responsible for creating this shift from tumor-hostile to tumor-friendly, as well as, developing combinatorial therapeutic strategies to target the tumor itself, as well as maintaining an anti-tumor response within the surrounding microenvironment. In addition to the effects of tumor associated macrophage JAK/STAT signaling on surrounding tumor cells, I also will be investigating their roles in controlling immunosuppressive T cell responses. Elucidating the mechanism by which these macrophages foster an environment conducive to Treg functions will be vital for identifying therapeutic targets to use in combination with currently available immunotherapies, as well as identifying a specific patient population that will potentially be better responders to such treatment.