University of Notre Dame researcher receives Indiana CTSI postdoctoral award

Author: Brandi Klingerman

Img 20170504 171038557 Hdr 1Postdoctoral Scholar Henry Clay Conner

Henry Clay Conner, University of Notre Dame postdoctoral scholar, has received a Postdoctoral Training Award in Translational Research from the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI). The award will be used for his work in Athanasia Panopoulos’s lab. 

Panopoulos, Elizabeth and Michael Gallagher Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, director of the Flow Cytometry Core Facility, and affiliated member of the Harper Cancer Research Institute, and her team are focused on using induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, or cells that have been reprogrammed to behave as though they are in an embryonic-like state. The iPS cells are utilized as a system to better understand how cancer cells are able to mediate their aggressiveness by inappropriately exploiting stem-like mechanisms. Conner will use the iPS cells to study tumor-initiating cancer cells in order to investigate the hypothesis that both kinds use similar mechanisms to modify cell behavior. 

In explanation, Conner said, “It was originally thought that once cells in the body have differentiated, or have been assigned for a certain purpose, like to become a skin cell or a red blood cell, that cells could not become anything else. However, iPS cells are created by reprogramming these differentiated cells back into an embryonic-like state to become a completely different cell.”

A number of studies have shown evidence of cancer cells utilizing embryonic programs, contributing to aggressive malignancy and poor patient prognosis. Unfortunately, how to best identify and target these stem-like mechanisms remains an ongoing challenge. Notre Dame researchers are using the iPS cell system as a model to identify embryonic protein mechanisms common to iPS and cancer cells but not in other cells. The idea is that the lab can then piece together the role of these proteins in iPS and cancer cells and identify how those proteins contribute to various factors – like rapid division and therefore growth – of cancer cells. 

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In addition to his campus lab experience, Conner will also use the skills he learned throughout his National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS)-Eli Lilly Scholars Externship. During the externship, he learned how a global pharmaceutical company takes a drug from conception to market. While Conner worked in a variety of settings, he spent significant time in the Pharmacometrics Department, which evaluates a given drug’s interaction with the body. His research was centered around how leading pharmaceutical companies have previously established safe doses of new drugs and whether the chosen dose recommendations are as effective as possible. 

For this work, he reviewed data that had been submitted by top pharmaceutical companies to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approving drugs that combat diabetes. Then, Conner reviewed the dose ranges each company tested and the dosage that those companies settled on for phases two and three of the FDA approval process. 

In explaining the applicability of this work to his research at Notre Dame, he said, “Throughout my six-month externship, I had to learn completely new skill sets, including how to perform high-level computer modeling, which was something I had never done before. Now, a data set that may have taken me weeks to sort through for my research at Notre Dame only takes me minutes.”

The Indiana CTSI is a statewide collaboration of Indiana University, Purdue University, and the University of Notre Dame, as well as public and private partnerships. Established in 2008, the Indiana CTSI is supported by a $25 million Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) of the National Institutions of Health, supplemented by nearly $60 million from the state, the three member universities, and public and private partnerships. The Indiana CTSI is a member of a national network of CTSA-funded organizations across the United States. 

To learn more about the Indiana CTSI and its funding opportunities, please visit

To learn more about the NCATS-Eli Lilly Scholars Externship, please visit

Originally published by Brandi Klingerman at on March 26, 2018.