Research Recap: A Chemistry grad works in cancer care, research on local herring populations and publication for Behavioral Neuroscience students

Western’s faculty and students are engaged in exciting research and scholarship across a variety of fields. Each week, Western Today will share short summaries of the latest developments in scholarly work at the University. Interested in reading in-depth stories about science and research at Western? Go to Gaia, the university's online journal of research, discovery and scholarship, and subscribe (it's free) to that site by clicking the "Follow" button. Want more research news? Follow @WWUResearch on Twitter.


Erin Rosenkranz

Erin Rosenkranz (she/her/hers) graduated from Western with an MS in chemistry (biochemistry focus) in fall 2021. She now works in pharmaceutical sciences at Seagen, formerly Seattle Genetics, a biotech pioneer in cancer care.

 Rosenkranz enthusiastically credits much of her success in biochemistry to her master’s thesis committee members and other biochemistry faculty and staff at Western, whom she thinks of as her second family. Specifically, Associate Professor of Chemistry John Antos, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry Jeanine Amacher, and Associate Professor of Biochemistry Serge Smirnov are responsible for her introduction to the world of research, where Rosenkranz found her passion — first as an undergrad, working with unstable, unfolded plant proteins. In grad school, she worked with dematin, a long, unstable human protein responsible for the elasticity and trademark dimple in red blood cells. 

Now, Rosenkranz works on the frontlines of pharmaceutical innovation with antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs). ADCs are antibodies, specific to particular tumor cells, that are combined with anti-cancer agents. These therapeutics are engineered to target cancer cells directly, allowing a person’s healthy cells, which might be damaged by whole-body therapies like chemo, to remain as healthy as possible during treatment. These ADCs have the potential to vastly improve the lives of people undergoing oncological treatment. 

At Seagen, Rosenkranz tests the practical application-oriented side of cancer therapeutics. She works towards maintaining the stability and efficacy of these drugs to improve the practicalities of efficiency of production, dosing, administration, and distribution. 

Rosenkranz says her mentors at WWU supported her not only through her coursework and research but through the job search as well.

“I can’t thank my thesis committee members at Western enough for giving me the skills and knowledge to pursue my passion,” she says. “Thanks to them, I’m able to live my dream of contributing to scientific knowledge that has the potential to help improve people’s lives.” 


Heidi Stewart

Heidi Stewart (she/her) is a second-year graduate student in Environmental Science and a recipient of the WWU Graduate Research Award for her research on predation in the decline of the Cherry Point Pacific herring stock near Birch Bay. Under the direction of Stewart’s graduate research advisor, Assistant Professor of Marine and Coastal Science Kathryn Sobocinski, Stewart works on this large-scale Pacific herring project with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is funded by the Puget Sound Partnership. She says Sobocinski has been a supportive mentor and advisor who emphasizes the importance of problem solving.

Small fish like Pacific herring regularly experience wide swings in population because they tend to be food for many different species. If the predators have a good year, a lot of herring eggs, larvae, and adults will be eaten, and there may be a sizeable population dip the following year. When herring aren’t as plentiful, predators will search for other food sources, allowing the herring population to bounce back. Stewart says we can expect these kinds of fluctuations. But the Cherry Point Pacific herring population has declined by a startling 97% since 1973.  

Known predators of Pacific herring include birds such as surf scooters, crabs, salmon, seals, and cetaceans. But it’s difficult to know which species rely on herring as a vital food source and which species consume herring out of convenience. Stewart's question right now is whether predation is one factor responsible for the lack of rebound in the Cherry Point Pacific herring stock. 

 Stewart says small fish are difficult to study — too small to attach a tracker, and chances are, that tracker will get eaten by something else anyway. Researchers like Stewart have to be creative in their methods, so she's conducting a predator-exclusion study by placing control and exclusion retrofitted sablefish pots over the herring eggs to assess bird predation. To evaluate egg mortality, Stewart then samples eggs inside and outside of the excluders. She’s also using underwater time-lapse photography to catalog the abundance of other predator species in the area.  

Stewart earned her bachelor’s degree in marine science at the University of Hawaii and worked in a marine science lab in Sequim before becoming a grad student at Western. She plans to earn her doctorate after graduating from Western.


Jeff Grimm

Psychology Professor and Director of the Behavioral Neuroscience Program Jeff Grimm has published an article, “Sex differences in sucrose reinforcement in Long-Evans rats,” with seven WWU Behavioral Neuroscience undergraduate co-authors in the journal Biology of Sex Differences. His lab has been studying sex differences in sucrose taking and seeking behaviors  in rats for the past couple of years and plan to conduct many more studies in this area. The student co-authors are Katherine North, Madeleine Hopkins, Kyle Jiganti, Alex McCoy, Josef Šulc, Derek MacDougall and Frances Sauter.

Portrait of Erin Rosenkranz outside on a boat
Portrait of WWU Environmental Science grad student Heidi Stewart outside