GPSAW 2023: Jen Rybak

Jen Rybak is doing research that could aid in the development of cancer drugs. She is pursuing a doctorate in the University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute Bredesen Center’s Genome Science and Technology program.

Rybak said she enjoys the scientific process and discovery of knowledge.

“I always knew I wanted to spend my life learning, but it took me actually working on cancer-causing proteins to decide the direction I wanted to go,” she said.

Early in her doctoral research, Rybak studied the mechanisms behind a small peptide that targets the membrane region of a protein often involved in causing cancer, thus inhibiting the ability of cancer cells to spread. Over the past year, this research has broadened.

“My project aims at understanding how multiple membrane proteins work together to cause cancer and create resistance to current anti-cancer therapies. By gaining a better understanding of how these proteins function together, we hope to provide insight into the design of therapies that might work better and longer than those on the market now,” she said.

Rybak has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UT and a master’s degree in chemistry from Duke University.

After graduate school, she moved back to the area to be close to her family in Lenoir City. She went to work as a research technician in UT Associate Professor Francisco Barrera’s membrane biophysics lab.

“I found I loved the work,” she said. When she decided to pursue her doctorate, GST was the perfect fit because of its interdisciplinary nature.

“With so many different types of researchers in one umbrella program, you get perspectives on your research that otherwise would be lost,” she said.

Outside of the lab, Rybak enjoys spending time with family and friends.

“I love to cook for people, am an avid UT sports fan, and attend as many concerts and games as I can. And when all that gets too busy, I escape into a good book.”

Rybak and her husband, Patrick, are newlyweds. They have a lab mix named Addy.

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