University of Minnesota
MICaB Graduate Program
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Current Students

Julia Nikrad

Thesis Advisor: David Largaespada

Year entered: 2016

Degrees received:
B.A., St. Catherine University, St. Paul, MN 2014

Honors and Awards:

  • Viksnins, Harris & Padys MICaB Award, 2016
  • NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, 2017 - present


Thesis Research:

Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumors (MPNST’s) are aggressive soft tissue sarcomas often associated with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1). NF1 is one of the most common genetic disorders arising due to a mutation in the NF1 gene. NF1 encodes neurofibromin, a Ras GTPase-activating protein. Functional neurofibromin is crucial for proper Ras-signaling homeostasis, while mutant variants are often unable to effectively modulate Ras signaling. Hyperactive Ras signaling activates both the MAPK and PI3K pathways, leading to excessive cell growth and proliferation. In Schwann cells in the PNS, this excessive cellular growth and proliferation gives rise to benign tumors known as neurofibromas. These tumors, although initially benign, have an increased propensity to progress to MPNST. Precise factors governing this progression are unknown. Our lab has identified a number of candidate factors that may be important in this malignant transformation. The goal of my project is to gain a better understanding of how these factors drive malignant transformation.