Ms. Melissa Ledet

Ph.D. Candidate, Comparative Biomedical Sciences

The Bicknese Family Prize was established in 2005 by Dr. Joanne Bicknese, ’76, DVM ’78, as an annual award to support research activities of a female scientist-in-training. The award strives to provide support at a critical point in the trainee’s academic development and help launch her into a successful career. The award honors Dr. Bicknese’s parents, Helen and Louis Bicknese, and her aunt and uncle, Grace and Carl Bicknese.

This year’s Bicknese prize winner is Ms. Melissa Ledet. A current graduate student in Dr. Gerlinde Van de Walle’s lab, Ledet came to the Baker Institute in August of 2013 as a rotation student. While doing her three graduate rotations at the Institute, she learned of Dr. Van de Walle’s research in mammary cancer and became especially interested in this project, as she had lost her grandmother to breast cancer.

Since then, Ledet has been studying mammary stem cells of species that are resistant to mammary cancer, such as horses, and of species that are as susceptible to mammary cancer as humans are, such as canines. Looking for clues to what makes one species more susceptible to mammary cancer than another, Ledet’s current focus is on comparing equine to canine mammary stem cells and observing how they respond differently to carcinogenic agents.

While studying species-specific responses to breast cancer stimuli, she and Dr. Van de Walle discovered that horses secrete a factor that kills cancerous human breast cells. Moving forward in her research, she will be seeking to identify this cancer killing factor. Most recently, Ledet has been using RNA-sequencing to compare gene expression of cells that originally came from human mammary cancers in an attempt to learn what makes them vulnerable to the killing factors secreted by horse cells. She is also continuing her research into why horse and canine cells respond differently to carcinogens.

Ledet has used the funds given by the Bicknese prize to purchase software that allows her to better analyze results, make figures, and work remotely on projects. She plans to use the rest of the funds to obtain a new laptop, which will help her work more efficiently.

“I am honored to receive this award and am very grateful to Dr. Bicknese and her family for helping me follow my passion for breast cancer research,” says Ledet.