I was born and grew up in Cuba and moved to the US in 2006 after finishing high school. After learning the language, I enrolled at Florida International University to pursue a Biomedical Engineering degree. I had an interest in medicine as a career since a young age, but it was my undergraduate research experiences that sparked my interest in pursuing a physician-scientist track.
While at FIU, I joined a biomedical research lab that focused on drug delivery systems to target cancer cells. Under the mentorship of Dr. Anthony McGoron, I took on a project to develop a 3D ovarian cancer cell culture model to be applied to drug delivery studies as well as a protocol to image this model. The time I spent in the lab made me want to seek more research experiences in the biomedical area, with a focus on cancer. I learned about a Summer fellowship opportunity with the American Association of Physicists in Medicine that was awarded to two students nationwide to conduct research in this area. I obtained the position to do research at UCLA for one Summer. There, I studied glioblastoma cell behavior after different combinations of 5FU, IFN-b, and radiation treatments with mentorship from Dr. Michael McNitt-Gray and Dr. Kei Iwamoto. These experiences shaped my career interests and by then I was certain that an MD/PhD program was the right choice for me after undergraduate training.
I happily joined the OSU MSTP in 2012 and looked for labs that focused on cancer research and drug treatments. This search led me to a rotation in Dr. William E. Carson III’s laboratory studying the apoptotic effects of compound MLN 2238, a second-generation proteasome inhibitor, on melanoma cells. I later rotated and joined Dr. Matthew D. Ringel’s thyroid cancer laboratory for my thesis work. My main work focused on elucidating a potential biomarker for Medullary Thyroid Cancer (MTC) clinical prognosis and new therapeutic targets for MTC in-vitro. We focused on cell cycle regulators and cyclin dependent kinases acting at the cell cycle and transcription regulation levels. We showed that reduced retinoblastoma tissue protein expression is associated with decreased patient survival independent from patient age at surgery or cancer stage. We also determined that the compound Dinaciclib (CDK2/5/7/9 inhibitor) and the CDK7 inhibitor THZ1 are active against in-vitro naïve MTC cells as well as MTC cells that are resistant to treatment with RET inhibitor Vandetanib. This activity was evident when the compounds were used alone and in combination with Vandetanib. Inhibiting CDK9 or CDK7 affected CDK9 and RET transcription and protein levels, indicating a potential role for transcriptional targeting in MTC treatment and suggesting the possibility of a super-enhancer mechanism regulating CDK9 and RET. We published these findings in Thyroid and JCI Insight. With Dr. Ringel’s mentorship, I obtained an F31-Diversity grant from the NCI to fund this work. During my graduate training, I spent some time at Dr. Ringel’s thyroid cancer clinic where I met several patients with MTC at different stages of disease. My research interests together with this crucial clinical exposure influenced my decision to pursue Endocrinology and a PSTP as the next training program.
In looking for training programs, OSU was always my first choice. Their strong mentorship, both at the clinical and research level, along with the incredible opportunities of a big academic center made my decision an easy one. Living in Columbus for 8 years during MSTP training meant that this city has become my home and I am excited to continue learning and growing in this friendly environment. I look forward to a career as a physician-scientist in the field of Endocrinology, with focus on thyroid cancer to make a positive impact in thyroid cancer treatment and improve patient care. I also hope to have a role as a mentor for younger generations of students from varied backgrounds with interest in medicine and research.
MD, The Ohio State University, 2020
PhD, Biomedical Sciences, The Ohio State University, 2018
BS, Biomedical Engineering, Florida International University, 2012
AA, Biology, Miami Dade College, 2009
Awards and Research Grants
- Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research (F31 CA 210556), 2016-2020
- OSU Research Award, 2019
- OSU Medical Scientist Training Program Leadership and Academic Achievement Award, 2019
- Endocrine Society Meeting Travel Award, 2018
- OSU Wexner Medical Center Research Day Travel Award, 2018
- MSTP T32 Fellowship Award, 2012
- American Association of Physicists in Medicine Minority Undergraduate Summer Experience Fellowship, 2011
- Biomedical Engineering Excellence Scholarship, FIU, 2010-2012
- Valenciaga, A., Saji, M., et. al. (2018). Transcriptional targeting of oncogene addiction in medullary thyroid cancer. JCI Insight, 3(16).
- Valenciaga, A., Grubbs, EG., et. al. (2017). Reduced Retinoblastoma protein expression is associated with decreased patient survival in medullary thyroid cancer. Thyroid, 27(12), 1523-1533.
- Landrum, J., Bone, R., Mendez, V., Valenciaga, A., & Banbino, D. (2012). Comparison of dietary supplementation with lutein diacetate and lutein: a pilot study of the effects on serum and macular pigment. Acta Biochim Pol, 59(1), 167-169.
Posters and Oral Presentations
- Valenciaga, A., Khawaja, R., Way, D., Bahner, D. Thyroid Ultrasound in Medical Education at The Ohio State University. World Congress of Ultrasound in Medical Education. Irvine, CA. September 2019; oral presentation.
- Valenciaga, A., Saji, M., Zhang, X., Yu, L., Mohd Yusof, A., Bumrah, C., Miles, W., Cote, GJ., Ringel, MD. Cyclin dependent kinases as targets in Medullary Thyroid Cancer. Endocrine Society Meeting. Chicago, IL. March 2018; poster presentation.
- Valenciaga, A., Saji, M., Zhang, X., Yu, L., Mohd Yusof, A., Bumrah, C., Miles, W., Cote, GJ., Ringel, MD. Cyclin dependent kinases as targets in Medullary Thyroid Cancer. OSUCCC Annual Scientific Meeting. Columbus, OH. April 2018; poster presentation.
- Valenciaga, A., Saji, M., Zhang, X., Yu, L., Mohd Yusof, A., Bumrah, Ringel, MD. CDK7 and CDK9 as therapeutic targets for MTC in-vitro. OSUWMC Annual Trainee Research Day. Columbus, OH. March 2018; poster presentation.