Dr. Whitehurst received her B.A. and B.S. in Chemistry and Biochemistry, respectively, from Virginia Tech in 1997. Dr. Whitehurst then obtained her Ph.D. from UT Southwestern in 2004 under the tutelage of Melanie Cobb, Ph.D. She continued her training as a postdoctoral fellow with Michael White, Ph.D., at UT Southwestern, during which time she was supported by fellowships from the Komen Foundation, DOD, and ACS. Following receipt of a Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R01) from the NCI, Dr. Whitehurst began her independent career in 2009.
The major theme of her work is to characterize the mechanisms that permit uncontrolled growth of tumor cells. She uses RNAi-based functional genomics to identify gene products that support viability and/or modulate chemotherapeutic sensitivity in tumor cells. This strategy led her to discover that tumor cells can depend on aberrantly activated gametogenic genes for survival. These genes, known collectively as cancer-testis antigens, are only expressed in the testis and tumors, making them ideal targets for therapeutic intervention.
Her current work is focused on using cell biological, biochemical, and whole animal studies to elaborate the contribution of these cancer-testes antigens to neoplastic phenotypes. Dr. Whitehurst’s research program is supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and an Innovative Research Grant from Stand Up 2 Cancer.