This summer, the O'Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center is exploring the role of the mentor-mentee relationship in cancer research training and education. For the first spotlight in this series, we’ll learn more about the research undertaken by Lalita Shevde-Samant, Ph.D., and her mentee, Dominique Hinshaw.


Since 2017, Lalita Shevde-Samant, Ph.D., has served as the associate director for cancer education and training at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB. During this time, she has continued mentoring trainees in her laboratory while also creating more opportunities for meaningful professional relationships between trainees and their faculty mentors.

Lalita Shevde-Samant, Ph.D. (left), and Dominique Hinshaw (right)Lalita Shevde-Samant, Ph.D. (left), and Dominique Hinshaw (right)

Shevde-Samant oversees the O’Neal Cancer Center’s Cancer Research Training & Education Coordination initiative, also known as CRTEC.

“CRTEC is a critical component in our cancer center support grant from the National Cancer Institute and integrates cancer training, education of biomedical and population researchers, and health care professionals into efforts to enhance the scientific mission and potential of the O’Neal Cancer Center,” Shevde-Samant said.

In addition to her role as the associate director for cancer education and training, Shevde-Samant also serves as the director of the cancer biology Ph.D. theme at UAB, which allows her to extend the benefits and opportunities offered by the O’Neal Cancer Center to graduate students engaged in cancer research. These graduate students are mentored by O’Neal faculty scientists. 

Mentorship could involve a one-on-one relationship, teaching a class or any form of education, as Shevde-Samant explained.

“I would say the one thing I know for sure is that any mentor-mentee relationship is going to be successful only if there's a certain level of trust,” Shevde-Samant said. “Trust is really the cornerstone of any mentoring relationship.”

“I would say the one thing I know for sure is that any mentor-mentee relationship is going to be successful only if there's a certain level of trust. Trust is really the cornerstone of any mentoring relationship.”

—Lalita Shevde-Samant, Ph.D.

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Shevde-Samant’s current mentee, Dominique Hinshaw, graduated from Auburn University in 2017 with bachelor’s degrees in microbiology and philosophy. Shortly thereafter, Hinshaw joined the UAB Graduate Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Training Program and, in 2018, began her work in Shevde-Samant’s laboratory, where she has since published several papers, has been awarded a position on the prestigious T32 training grant in immunologic diseases and basic immunology, and was also recently awarded the UAB Graduate Biomedical Sciences/Joint Health Sciences Outstanding Graduate Student Award.

Hinshaw’s research has focused on the immune microenvironment of breast cancer.

“In breast cancer, within the tumor cells, there's an upregulation of a developmental pathway called the hedgehog signaling pathway, which contributes to tumor growth and metastasis,” Hinshaw said. “We started exploring how this would impact the surrounding immune cells. Essentially, we discovered that the tumor cells cross talk with the immune cells through the hedgehog signaling pathway and co-opt these immune cells to promote tumor growth and metastasis — making this pathway potential for therapeutic intervention.”

In this O'Neal Mentorship Spotlight Q&A, the O'Neal Cancer Center asked Hinshaw to answer a few questions about her work so far.

Q: Why are you interested in this work and how did you become interested in it?

A: “When I joined the program, I knew I wanted to study breast cancer because I had a relative who was impacted by breast cancer. This led me to Dr. Lalita’s lab for my first rotation, where I found the lab culture to be incredibly positive and collaborative. It’s funny — when I started graduate school, I thought I was open to pursuing any project, as long as it didn’t involve immunology, but it was clear to me that that's where Dr. Lalita’s research was going. Even though an immunology-related project wasn’t my first choice, I recognized that the relationships with a mentor and the others in the lab are most invaluable. So I joined Dr. Lalita’s lab and started my project in immunology. Over the past five years, I have grown to enjoy my studies so much that, if you were to ask me now what my favorite scientific field is, I would say Immunology. So it ended up being the best choice I could have made.”

Q: What have you learned while working with your mentor, Lalita Shevde-Samant, Ph.D.?

A: “I've learned so much from Dr. Lalita. Something that Dr. Lalita has taught me is how important it is to be persistent and determined in every aspect of my work, especially when it comes to facing failure, which is inevitable as a scientist. Through these five years, we've gone through a lot of ups together, but also some downs — things like failed experiments and paper rejections. Dr. Lalita has been an exemplary role model through that process. She has taught me to take the failure, learn from it, grow from it and not let it devastate me. I've learned so much about how rewarding endurance can be from working with Dr. Lalita.”

"Something that Dr. Lalita has taught me is how important it is to be persistent and determined in every aspect of my work, especially when it comes to facing failure, which is inevitable as a scientist."

—Dominique Hinshaw

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What’s next for Hinshaw? She is planning to earn her Ph.D. this year and hopes to pursue a career in scientific editing. Her relationship with Shevde-Samant will not end there as she hopes to continue her work in the lab as well. 

“A good mentor-mentee relationship is long-lasting,” Hinshaw said.