Anouk van den Bout (L), Camille Cooley and Holly Beale (R) pose in the new Vaske Lab. van den Bout will be taking over lab management from Cooley during summer, 2019.


A three-year, $450,000 grant awarded by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in late 2018 is the start of an exciting new chapter for Olena Morozova Vaske, a newly appointed assistant professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology at UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute affiliated faculty member.


The prestigious 2019 NextGen Grant for Transformative Cancer Research will support Vaske’s research on the use of genomic markers to guide treatment decisions for children with cancer. Vaske, who holds the Colligan Presidential Chair in Pediatric Genomics, said the project aims to increase the number of pediatric cancer patients who could benefit from targeted therapies. 


“With this award, we will be able to develop an interdisciplinary program that combines research in biology and bioinformatics with the hopes of achieving clinically-relevant advances for children with cancer,” said Olena.


Vaske’s team has developed a novel RNA sequencing analysis that can reveal abnormally active genes in a patient’s cancer cells. 


With this grant, Vaske has the funds to expand her lab and hire personnel, including a new research specialist, Anouk van den Bout, who will take over management of the Vaske lab. 


van den Bout first came to University California Santa Cruz in 2015 for an internship in David Haussler’s wet lab. Under the direction of Sofie Salama and Andrew Field, she gained the primate stem cell training, learned about library preparation, RNA-sequencing and developed an increased interest in bioinformatics. “During my time in the Haussler lab, I met Olena Morozova Vaske and learned about her work for Treehouse,” van den Bout said. “Olena’s enthusiasm and commitment was really inspiring to me and I gained interest in the project she was working on.”


van den Bout will now be part of a team of researchers identifying highly expressed genes that could be targeted with drugs and studying the biological effects of those genes. They will evaluate whether the increased expression of these genes is predictive of how the cells respond to cancer-fighting drugs.


Another part of the project will use nanopore sequencing technology developed by UCSC biomolecular engineers David Deamer and Mark Akeson. Working with Akeson’s lab, Vaske’s team will use the technology to profile cancer cells and identify the genetic changes responsible for abnormal gene expression patterns.


van den Bout was struck by the devotion and confidence the Treehouse team exhibited in their day-to-day work. “I got involved with their volunteer work and found myself having a lot of fun wearing a Batman costume while extracting DNA from strawberries.”


When she heard about the job opening under Vaske’s direction, “I was super excited. I really enjoyed working together with Olena in the past and I have felt a strong connection with the Treehouse Childhood Cancer project. 


“I enjoy the environment of Santa Cruz a lot and I have always felt very comfortable and welcome at the UCSC, “ van den Bout continued.


van den Bout believes that Treehouse will be a good place for her to develop as a scientist and gain more experience. “I have a strong interest in genomics and enjoy being part of this ambitious team,” she said. 


“I believe that helping launch the biology component of the Treehouse program is going to be challenging and at the same time very fulfilling and a great opportunity for me as a scientist.”