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Young Investigator: Jennifer Patritti Cram

By October 7, 2020December 18th, 2023NF1, Science & Research

Earlier this year, we announced a $750,000 investment in promising young investigators, providing support to their innovative NF research projects. Now, we’re introducing some of these researchers: Jennifer Patritti Cram (Cincinnati Medical Center) tells us how Covid changed life in a research lab, what brought her to NF research, and what this funding from CTF means.


Tell us about life in a research lab. What’s a typical day look like?

A pre-COVID19 day in my lab looked like going into the lab at around 9:00am, checking and responding to important and time-sensitive emails, setting up experiments for the day/week, lunch at noon, going to the mouse room in the early afternoon and checking up on the mouse colony, getting some coffee and reading/answering a second wave of emails, finishing up daily experiments, analyzing data, and planning my next day.

Now, during the COVID19 pandemic, days look very different. Now, I work at home during the morning, handling everything that can be done remotely, such as checking emails, analyzing data, planning experiments, reading papers, writing papers and writing my dissertation. In the afternoon, I will go to the lab and perform experiments and check up on my mouse colony.

What are you hoping to learn from this project?

I hope to understand the role of a protein that is upregulated in human plexiform neurofibroma tumors and understand if targeting that protein to inhibit its function can reduce plexiform neurofibroma formation and increase patient survival. Our results will impact the neurofibroma field by defining the mechanisms relevant to neurofibroma tumor formation. My research also has the potential of providing a new drug that can be used by NF1 patients to prevent tumor formation and/or decrease tumor growth.

What are your long-term research goals? 

My long-term research goal is to find drug(s) that NF1 patients can take that will decrease tumor growth/formation and hence increase their quality of life and life-expectancy. I hope my CTF-YIA funded research will be a good foundation of experiments that can be used to develop drugs to treat NF1.

Have you read any papers or attended any webinars/virtual conferences recently that have informed your NF research? Or were particularly interesting?

Absolutely. As a researcher, I need to be informed on new developments in the NF1 field. Therefore, every week I read 1-2 new papers about NF1 or related research. Additionally, this year I was able to attend the virtual NF Conference, hosted by the Children’s Tumor Foundation, where I had the opportunity to network with NF1 researchers from around the world and learn about all the new and exciting NF research happening now.

What does it mean to you to receive this funding from CTF?

It means so much for me to receive funding from CTF because this funding comes from the work and fundraising efforts of NF1 patients and their families. For me, being awarded the YIA also means a great deal because NF patients sit on the evaluating committee for this award. One of my main goals as a scientist is to be able to communicate science to the public. When it came time to write this grant, I really took it upon myself to write a grant that NF1 patients and scientists alike could, not only understand the research easily, but also could perceive the merit of the scientific research. When I received the feedback from the reviewers, the first one I looked at was the patient reviewer comments. And to see that he/she said: “I love the idea behind the research study” and “I look forward to hearing more about the results” really made me incredibly fulfilled as I knew I had achieved the goal of communicating my research to a diverse audience.

What brought you to the NF research field?

I did research on a cancer signaling pathway (RAS signaling pathway) when I was an undergraduate researcher. Going into graduate school, I wanted to continue to study the pathway, but now in terms of how this pathway is involved in nervous system diseases. I joined Dr. Nancy Ratner’s lab in 2017 to pursue my dissertation research and have been studying NF1 ever since.

What do you like to do when you’re not in the lab?

When I’m not in the lab, I like spending time with my family and my three dogs: Luna, Bella and Cosmo.


For more information about funding opportunities from the Children’s Tumor Foundation, click here.