Research Notes

Lab Chat With Dr. Lindsay M. LaFave

Lab Chat With Dr. Lindsay M. LaFave

Lindsay M. LaFave, Ph.D., studies lung adenocarcinoma, the most common type of lung cancer. After earning her doctorate in cancer biology at the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in Manhattan, Dr. LaFave completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. In 2021, she joined the Einstein faculty, where she is an assistant professor of cell biology and a member of the Stem Cell & Cancer Biology Program at Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center.
Lindsay M. LaFave, Ph.D. (Photo by Jason Torres)

Starting a lab is hard under normal circumstances. What was it like during the pandemic?

The pandemic certainly magnified the challenges of getting equipment and hiring staff, especially having to do so many of those things over Zoom. But over time, I found a core group of colleagues, and we supported each other through it all.

Why did you come to Einstein?

A key reason was the breadth of the science. I was excited to work with researchers in stem-cell biology, cancer dormancy, and chromatin biology, and with clinicians in lung cancer. I knew they would improve my science and help take it in new directions.

What is the focus of your National Cancer Institute grant?

In previous studies, I discovered that some late-stage lung cancer cells have excess levels of the transcription factor RUNX2. Transcription factors are proteins that turn specific genes on or off. Now we’re investigating how RUNX2 activation affects disease progression. I hope this work will reveal new drug targets for slowing the development and spread of the disease.

Cancer research generates vast quantities of data that must involve computational biology to be comprehensible. Is research becoming too far removed from hands-on experience?

My lab uses single-cell sequencing, which produces large amounts of data about the epigenomic factors that drive lung cancer. Bioinformatics help us analyze those data and generate hypotheses. We also use mouse models, lung organoids, and cells and tissues from patients to validate those bioinformatics findings and refine our hypotheses. So it’s a fruitful back-and-forth.

What are organoids?

They’re tiny three-dimensional tissue cultures derived from mouse or human stem cells that mimic many of the properties of an organ. There’s a limit to what aspects of human biology we can replicate in a petri dish, but as organoid models become more complex, we’ll increasingly use them in place of mouse models.

You’re in the Leading Edge Symposium. What is that about?

It’s a cross-institutional effort to support women and nonbinary postdocs, with the goal of improving gender equity in the life sciences.

What are the biggest barriers to gender equity in academia?

Some barriers disproportionately affect women, such as inadequate access to childcare. Women are also underrepresented in faculty positions, so it can be hard to find them as mentors and to feel a sense of belonging. These are just a few of the aspects of the institutional culture of academia that require change.

What do you do for fun?

My husband and I like to travel, go hiking, and explore new restaurants. Some days I just like to hang out at home with my husband and my cat and watch movies or read.

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