Chemistry major focused on computational research for cancer

Word of mouth led Jelaine Cunanan ’18 to Dominican

When searching for a university with a strong science program, Jelaine talked with several alumni from her Sacramento area high school who were enrolled at Dominican. Their stories of hands-on research alongside faculty mentors convinced her to sign up for a campus visit day.

Today, the junior chemistry major already has two years of research under her belt, working with Dr. Randall Hall, the Lillian L. Y. Wang Yin, Ph.D. Endowed Professor of Chemistry in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

She also has a newfound passion for computational chemistry, a branch of chemistry that uses computer simulation to assist in solving chemical problems.

Dr. Hall’s lab examines computer simulations to study environmental and biological causes of cancer, nano-particles implicated in production of airborne toxins, hydrogen storage materials, and flame retardant/polymer mixtures used to manufacture a variety of plastic materials.

“The idea of simulating existing molecules on a computer is really interesting,” says Jelaine. “It is a complex subject, but Dr. Hall makes it really simple for me to understand and I find the work really exciting.”

This year, Jelaine is studying the thermodynamic and structural properties of different forms of the cyclooxygenase enzyme with the goal of understanding the role of the different forms of the enzyme in cancer formation. This project is a collaboration with Dr. Mary Sevigny and students Daniel Vann-Victorino ‘17, Rena Chan ’16, Shubhneet Kaur ’19, and Jorden Tahquechi '19..

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Dr. Hall, who in 2012 joined Dominican from Louisiana State University (LSU), also helped Jelaine land a 10-week summer internship at LSU this past summer. At LSU, Jelaine worked on developing a computational model of how a fluorescent dye molecule interacts with a gold nanoparticle to absorb light differently than it would otherwise. The model could help experimental researchers who use dye and nanoparticle interactions for biomedical sensing and even light-activated drug delivery applications.

“You need both experimental research and computational research – they go hand in hand,” Jelaine says. “But my favorite part of this research has been exploring things that don’t even exist yet.”

After Dominican, Jelaine intends to attend medical school. Her experience at Louisiana, as well as her ongoing work at Dominican, has helped her decide that she would prefer a career in medicine rather than research.

“I learned a lot about myself and my learning style, so when I get to the point that I start applying to medical school, I will feel more reassured that I am making the right decision.”


March 20, 2017