Firefly Frontiers Winner: Steve McClellan

Steve McClellan is manager of the Flow Cytometry and Imaging Core Lab of the Mitchell Cancer Institute at the University of South Alabama. Mr. McClellan’s research interests include cancer stem cell isolation and culture, targeted cancer stem cell therapies, and high throughput screening of cancer stem cells. The Firefly Frontiers grant will support Mr. McClellan’s research on cancer stem cell monitoring in cell culture.

What fascinates you most about microRNAs?

The last few years have seen an explosion of information about the role of miRNA in cancer—from regulation of basic cellular functions and phenotypes to the highly specialized secretion of vesicles from cancer stem cells that contain miRNA for reprogramming the stromal cells in the tumor microenvironment to promote tumor growth. The fact that a tiny string of RNA can have such dramatic effects on cellular processes is astounding to me.

Where do you see the miRNA field headed in the next 5 years? What areas are most promising for breakthrough discoveries?

The possibilities are endless. I personally am most excited about the potential of finding new therapeutic targets for cancer.

What is your biggest pain point when it comes to microRNA research?

The development of FirePlex® technology has opened new doors for me. I would not have undertaken some of the studies planned using traditional PCR quantitation or microarray, due to both cost and labor time being too prohibitive in my opinion.

What advantages does FirePlex® miRSelect bring to your research?

I believe that there are problems with isolating RNA and not losing miRNA in the process. I believe the cell digest protocol used with the FirePlex® kit will become the gold standard for true quantitation of miRNA. I am also very excited about using the system with patient sera for translational and pre-clinical studies.