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Molecular & Cell Biology & Genetics (MCBG) Student Highlight - Lorela Ciraku

Dr. Ciraku earned her PhD in 2022 for her doctoral dissertation research, “OGT/CDK5/ACSS2 Axis Regulates Metabolic Adaptation of Tumors in the Brain.”

Lorela Ciraku, PhD - Research Excellence Award in Most Original and Creative Work

Lorela was born and grew up in Albania. The world is open to Lorela. She studied at Red Cross Nordic United World College in Norway and earned her international baccalaureate degree before she came to the U.S. to attend Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. Lorela was awarded several prestigious honors during her undergraduate studies, including the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Fellowship to learn a variety of genetic and biochemical techniques. After productive undergraduate studies, Lorela obtained further research experience as a laboratory technician at the University of Virginia. The MCBG program Admissions Committee was very excited that Lorela decided to join the Drexel community. Accordingly, Lorela initiated her creative research work under the guidance of Dr. Mauricio Reginato within the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology.

Lorela’s doctoral research project focused on the role of nutrient sensing enzyme O-GlcNAc transferase (OGT) in brain cancer metastases growth. She made a series of discoveries regarding how OGT controls metabolic pathways to affect tumor growth using cancer patient samples. She found that OGT regulates the metabolic enzyme ACSS2 (acetyl-CoA synthetase short chain family member 2) via phosphorylation by CDK5. Her experimental results suggest that the OGT-CDK5-ACSS pathway as novel therapeutic target for treatment of brain tumors and brain metastases.

Lorela attended many scientific conferences to disseminate her work including Cold Spring Harbor Biology of Cancer Meeting, SKCC Educational Retreats, Drexel Emerging Graduate Scholars Meeting, and Drexel Discovery Days. Her dissertation research project was highly recognized and supported by Dean’s Fellowship for Excellence. She also received several honors for her presentations, including the Outstanding Senior Graduate Student Poster Award, GSA Student Travel Award. Importantly Lorela received the Research Excellence Award in Most Original & Creative Work from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies, Drexel University College of Medicine. Her research work resulted in first-author publications in prestigious journals including Oncogene (2022), Cell Signaling (2022), and JoVE (2021). She also co-authored 3 papers that were published in Molecular Cancer Research (2020), BMC Biology (2019), and Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine (2019), and a few more manuscripts are under preparation.

Lorela Ciraku playing Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 17 at the DUCOM Classical Winter Recital in 2021.

These are all remarkable achievements, which are a result of her creativity, hard-working, and excellent time-management skills. While Lorela has been extremely productive, she is an outstanding pianist; we enjoyed her playing Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 17 at the DUCOM Classical Winter Recital in 2021.

Currently, Lorela works as a postdoctoral researcher at University of Lausanne, Switzerland. Her current research focuses on radiation and immunotherapy in ovarian cancer. We wish her all the best and continued success in her future career.

A Molecular & Cell Biology & Genetics program graduate student working in a laboratory at Drexel University College of Medicine.