News Details

February 16, 2017

Alumnus Studying as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at VUMC

Mellissa Hicks Nixon, a 2010 West Virginia Wesleyan College graduate and a former WV-INBRE-supported summer research student, is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She is working in the laboratory of Dr. Justin Balko. The current focus of the lab is understanding the role of cell signaling pathways in driving cancer progression and immune evasion.

At Wesleyan, she conducted research supported by WV-INBRE under the mentorship of Dr. Luke Huggins, associate professor of biology. Her work culminated in the publication of a paper in the European Journal of Scientific Research where she was first author (Antibacterial and cytotoxic effects of red mangrove [Rhizophor mangle, L. Rhizophoraceae] fruit extract, European Journal of Scientific Research; 11/5/2011, Vol. 63 Issue 3, p439).

Dr. Nixon then attended The Ohio State University to pursue her PhD. She was the first author of two basic science manuscripts investigating the role of therapy resistance in breast cancer, and one clinical manuscript conducting a meta-analysis examining the benefit of dual anti-HER2 therapy vs single agent combined with chemotherapy. After graduating in 2014, Dr. Nixon began her post-doctoral work at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

As a research fellow, she has won the American Association for Cancer Research ScholarIn-Training-Award and has given a poster podium presentation at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, the largest single organ site meeting in the world. Most recently, Dr. Nixon, through a collaboration with cardio-oncologists, oncologists and bioinformaticians, published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, the high-impact scientific journal. This article, entitled “Fulminant Myocarditis with Combination Immune Checkpoint Blockade,” describes two cases of acute and unexpected fatal myocarditis that occurred in melanoma patients following treatment with the combination of ipilimumab and nivolumab. Similar clonal T cell populations were found in myocardium and in the tumor, suggesting these patients were having a rare T-cell-driven drug reaction.

Dr. Nixon hopes to continue conducting translational research investigating tumor autonomous mechanisms for immune evasion with the hopes of gaining an independent tenure track faculty research position.

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