- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Science intrigues her, fulfills her, and propels her.
Rand, who is drawing widespread recognition for her work with omega-6 fatty acids as a postdoctoral researcher in Bruce Hammock's biological analytical lab at UC Davis, says science is both “exciting and rewarding.”
“Science and chemistry were my two favorite subjects in school,” said Rand, who was born in Bermuda but grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada. “I had excellent teachers that really fueled my interest. It was their enthusiasm. I remember my eighth grade math teacher leaping up on a table to get her point across about the Pythagorean theorem, and my 11th grade chemistry teacher used memorable metaphors to explain challenging concepts. Both my parents were biologists, and growing up in Eastern Canada we went on many outdoor trips. The combination of motivational teachers and exploring the natural world fueled my interest to continue in science professionally.”
Rand thinks of science “as a way to connect with the world in many ways, by working to understand it better, collaborating with a network of scientists, and communicating science to the public. Science matters because of its diversity: it heals, transforms, innovates, and understands, all of which globally shape our world.”
Rand, who holds a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Mount Allison University, Canada and a doctorate in environmental chemistry at the University of Toronto, joined the Hammock lab in 2013 and was named a fellow on the Oncogenic Signals and Chromosome Biology T32 Training Grant, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics.
In the Hammock lab, Rand studies omega-6 fatty acids, or technically, “the regulation of cancer angiogenesis from the metabolism of epoxy omega-6 fatty acids.”
How does Amy Rand explain to the average layperson what she does?
“I've thought a lot about translating why my science matters to people outside the field,” she said. “It helps since what I study is what we eat - the omega-6 fatty acids. While there's much information already informing the public about these fats, there's still so much we don't know about how they affect our health. I talk about the uncertainty and the challenges we still face, and what I'm doing to help fill these gaps.”
"Amy took on one of the most demanding projects in the laboratory in asking how a group of natural compounds regulate angiogenesis," said Hammock, a distinguished professor of entomology who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In April of 2016, Rand drew international accolades when she received a prestigious career development award from the American Association for Cancer Research—the two-year $100,000 Judah Folkman Fellowship for Angiogenesis Research. She won the highly competitive international award for her proposal, “Regulation of Cancer Angiogenesis from the Metabolism of Epoxy Omega-6 Fats.”
Cancer researchers praised her for her potential as a future leader in the field of angiogenesis research.
“We're so proud of her,” said Hammock, who directs the campuswide Superfund Research Program, National Institutes of Health Biotechnology Training Program, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Combined Analytical Laboratory.
Hammock and Rand collaborate with Harvard Medical School professor Dipak Panigrahy, former researcher in the Hammock lab and a fellow in the late Professor Judah Folkman's angiogenesis research lab. Folkman, the father of angiogenesis research, is best known for pioneering the concept of blocking angiogenesis or the development of blood vessels, to control cancer growth. "This concept has resulted in a number of anti-cancer drugs and has had a major impact on cancer treatment,” Hammock said. “Of course blood vessel development is also critical for survival."
Looking back, Rand related that her Ph.D research “focused on our exposure to fluorinated commercial materials, their resulting metabolism, and how the metabolites might affect our health. While my Ph.D training was heavily focused on analytical chemistry and metabolic characterization, I wanted more formal training on the biological and biochemical mechanisms associated with disease. I've always been interested in research that combines chemistry and biology to enhance our understanding of human health.”
Rand encourages students to follow their dreams, to pursue what interests them, “if they're able, regardless the subject. I wouldn't be where I am without balancing science with other parts of my life, like performing music during graduate school, which allowed me to come back to the lab with fresh inspiration for next steps. But we need to motivate people, especially minorities, to continue in science, because people from different backgrounds and experiences are necessary for creating a collective mind that does effective scientific research and innovation.”
When she started her postdoctoral research, moving across the continent to Davis, she knew few people. “Within a short time, I fell into a great community of people at the local climbing gym, that have sparked many outdoor adventures - climbing, backpacking, swimming, and skiing - over the past 3 years. Living in Northern California has been a real treat!”
She also has a soft spot for entomology. “Growing up, I used to swim insects to shore if I found them floating far from it - I was alarmed to see them nearly drowning, and did my part to help. That might have been what initiated my future role as lifeguard and swimmer.”
Hammock says his own long-term interest in nature and biology “was fostered by a wonderful scoutmaster who thought kids should be wandering in the woods, and a great biology teacher who provided a microscope to me in high school and said 'go discover.' The move to entomology was further stimulated when I realized that the big cause of human suffering in the world was starvation caused in part by insects eating crops. It was also stimulated by realizing that insect-borne diseases dwarf cancer, heart disease, etc., in terms of human suffering. It is hard to know where science leads.”
As for where science leads, Rand has just accepted a position as assistant professor of organic toxicology in the chemistry department, Carleton University in Ontario. She starts her position Sept. 1.
“We really hate to lose her,” Hammock said, “but we're happy for her; this is a really nice position. And, we'll still be collaborating.”
"I hope we collaborate for the next 80 years or so," he quipped.