The Pelotonia Graduate Fellowship Program provides two-year research fellowships to the best and brightest Ohio State University graduate students who want to help cure cancer. Cancer is a complex disease, and curing it will take a multidisciplinary effort. So no matter what their field of study, from traditional scientific fields to fields such as business, history and engineering, all Ohio State graduate students may apply.

Graduate students do a significant amount of work in most labs. Ohio State has many graduate students who are working in the broad field of cancer research, but many of them are not working on independent research projects. Receiving a Pelotonia Graduate Fellowship gives these students the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the field of cancer research, and to develop and work on their own independent projects.

To date, 98 graduate fellows have been funded. These students come from very diverse graduate programs—from Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry to Biomedical Engineering and Psychology—and are working on diverse projects, including development of new bioinformatics algorithms that predict treatment responses for triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), to learning how black raspberries can impact and prevent prostate cancer.

Competition for Pelotonia Graduate Fellowships is fierce. Each year approximately 75 graduate applications are submitted. Each application is critically reviewed by members of the Pelotonia Fellowship Committee. Because of the prestigious nature of these awards, many students have reported that receiving a Pelotonia Fellowship has distinguished them from their peers when going on to do postdoctoral research or moving on to faculty positions.

Graduate Fellows are paid a competitive annual stipend (~$25K), and Ohio State’s Graduate School has generously agreed to pay their fees and tuition.


To be eligible, an applicant must:

  • Be an outstanding Ohio State graduate student
  • Have passed their candidacy exam before funding begins
  • Propose a cancer-related project
  • Participate in Pelotonia

Applications for the next Graduate Pelotonia Fellowships will be due February 15, 2016, and are scored on the following criteria:

  • Applicant strengths and research potential
  • Mentor/advisor qualifications and training record
  • Innovativeness and impact of project to cancer research

Read the full guidelines 

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2015 Graduate Student Pelotonia Fellows

Jeremy Borniger

Project – Assessing the Role of Neuroinflammation in Cancer and Chemotherapy-Induced Sleep Disruption

Summary – Why do breast cancer survivors often experience sleep problems? To investigate this question, I will use a mouse model of breast cancer and adjuvant chemotherapy treatment. Throughout cancer progression and treatment, I will measure sleep and investigate inflammation in the brain. Because an activated immune system alters sleep, I predict that sleep disruption will be accompanied by brain inflammation, and inhibition of this inflammation will improve sleep in tumor-bearing mice or mice treated with chemotherapy.

Mark Calhoun

Project – Evaluation of Microenvironmental Cues towards the Identification of Novel Drug Targets

Summary - Investigate how physical forces acting on tumor cells, like pressure and fluid flow, affect their ability to invade brain tissue. This information may help us find a way to inhibit the invasive nature of glioblastoma.

Amanda Campbell

Project – Regulation of the Natural Killer Cell Anti-Tumor Response by Myeloid-Derived Immune Cells

Summary – Evaluate how interactions between different immune cells impact the body’s response to invading tumor cells. This information will be used to develop strategies to combat breast cancer by maximizing the immune response to anti-cancer therapies.

David Ciarlariello

Project – Interferon gamma promotes natural killer cell-specific immunoevasive strategies in multiple myeloma

Summary – Discern the alternative role of interferon-gamma, a factor important for immune cell recruitment and activation, in the blood cancer multiple myeloma. In a healthy setting, interferon-gamma’s presence is associated with an appropriately responding immune system. However, we observe that the cancer cells of multiple myeloma react to interferon-gamma and may actually increase their ability to survive, undetected. I intend to understand and overcome this phenomenon.

Daniel Comiskey

Project – Modulating MDM2 Alternative Splicing to Control Tumor Progression

Summary – I am interested in understanding how a short form of a gene called MDM2 contributes to cancer progression. I am also developing molecular therapies to change the levels of this MDM2 short form in order to kill cancer cells.

Nicholas Denton

Project – Tumor Associated Macrophages Mitigate Herpes Simplex Oncolytic Virus Therapy

Summary – I will use viruses that are reprogrammed to only attack cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells alone. However, tumors sometimes trick macrophage immune cells into protecting the tumor from the virus. I will figure out how to train macrophage immune cells to help the virus destroy the tumor instead.

Shuai Dong

Project – Unraveling the role of PI3K p110? in T cell immunomodulation in leukemia

Summary – This project investigates how PI3K p110? could regulate T cells and the immune system. Since immune suppression remains a major barrier for effective anti-cancer therapy, therapeutic targeting of T cells with a specific PI3K inhibitor could be immunomodulatory and anti-cancer.

Rebecca Hennessey

Project – The Role of Ultraviolet (UV) Light in NRAS Mutant Melanoma

Summary - Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) from sun exposure and tanning beds is a substantial risk factor for skin cancer, including melanoma. Using a model system that replicates the biology of human melanoma, I will evaluate the role of UVR in the initiation and progression of melanoma. This will provide insight into how to prevent as well as treat UVR-induced melanomas.

Michael Hoover

Project – Determining the regulatory role of histone H1.4 phosphorylation in breast cancer

Summary – Learn how changes to a protein called histone H1.4 affect how DNA is packaged. This information will help us understand how cells grow and are altered during breast cancer.

Spenser Hughes

Project – Parasympathetic Activity, Pain, Cancer-Related Intrusive Thoughts, and Cancer-Related Fatigue During Breast Cancer Survivorship

Summary - This project will explore whether breast cancer survivors with more consistent heart rates have more fatigue, pain, worries about cancer recurrence, and negative memories about their cancer treatment than survivors whose heart rates are more variable. This information may allow for more effective treatments for cancer-related fatigue and pain.

Chris Koivisto

Project – Characterizing the effects of dietary-induced obesity and PTEN loss-of-function in development and progression of endometrial carcinoma

Summary - We are studying how obesity and common genetic alterations found in endometrial cancer work together to disrupt normal hormonal signaling pathways that ultimately result in tumor formation and progression. This information will be used to 1) identify women who have an increased risk for developing endometrial cancer; 2) identify women with increased risk for developing advanced disease who have already been diagnosed with early-stage endometrial cancer; and 3) identify new targets for treatment.

Cassandra Moyer

Project – Characterization of novel BRIP1 variants in early-onset breast cancer

Summary - Determine how changes in a gene called BRIP1 lead to the development of breast cancer in young women. This information will be used to improve diagnoses and better personalize therapy for women born with these abnormal changes.

Nivedita Ratnam

Project – Project- NF-kB Mediated Suppression of Macrophage Activity During Initiation of Cancer

Summary - Nuclear Factor Kappa B or otherwise referred to as NF-?B is a protein that regulates gene expression and in many cancers is increased thereby making it an interesting candidate to study and design therapeutic targets to inhibit in various cancers. A new discovery made in our laboratory showed that NF-?B appears to block the immune cells that try to kill off cancer cells and is scientifically called “the suppression of immune-surveillance”. The goal of my project will be to figure out the mechanism by which NF-?B inhibits these good immune cells and this data can be used to help the field develop a new therapeutic target that could be used in “Immune Therapy”.

Morgan Schrock

Project – Characterization of DNA damage in Fhit-deficient stem cells and tissue progenitors cells: Informing the origin of cancer stem cells

Summary - Understand the role of Fhit, a protein lost in half of human cancers, in initiating cancer progression.

Emily Smith

Project – Arginine Methylation as an Epigenetic Driver of B Cell Transformation

Summary - In addition to infectious mononucleosis (mono), Epstein - Barr virus (EBV) has the ability to cause several different aggressive cancers. My project will evaluate the relationship between EBV and an enzyme called PRMT5 and provide insight into how they work together to take over normal processes of healthy cells in order to drive cancer. Our findings from this project will help identify new targets to treat these aggressive diseases.

Kun-Yu Teng

Project – Development of novel therapy for hepatocellular cancer in preclinical models

Summary - Learn how a key gene in the injured liver facilitates tumor development. This will provide insight on how the environment surrounding tumor cell promotes its growth and whether targeting this molecule by immune therapy or genetic means could be an effective liver cancer therapy.

Katie Thies

Thies reduced

Project – The Role of PU.1 in Macrophages during Breast Cancer Metastasis

Summary - The goal of my project is to evaluate how cells of the immune system influence breast cancer metastasis, or the spread to distant organs. This may provide insight into (1) how to best disrupt communication between such immune cells and cancer cells and/or (2) how to utilize immune cells for improved methods of patient diagnosis and prognosis.

Allison Webb

Webb reduced

Project – Identification of Pax protein coordination of EGF pathway activity in signaling and responding cells

Summary - Examine the role of PAX2, which coordinates embryonic cell growth and division, in endometrial cancer cells. Because PAX2 does not function in non-cancerous adult cells, if the ectopic activity of PAX2 is identified it can lead to the development of a targeted treatment against endometrial cancer which will diminish off-target effects.

Travis Westbrook

Project – Biobehavioral studies of cancer-specific stress in chronic lymphocytic leukemia

Summary - Examine how psychological factors such as stress and depression relate to biological measures of cancer severity (e.g., lymph node size) among patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, an incurable blood cancer. This research may highlight new pathways to improve well-being and physical functioning among these patients.

Zhen Yu

Project – Design of Anticancer Catalytic Metallodrugs that Selectively Shorten G-quadruplex Telomeric DNA

Summary - We intend to develop a new generation of anticancer drugs by use of a novel catalytic metallodrug design strategy. These anticancer agents will target telomeric DNA, a specific DNA sequence that plays an essential role in cancer cell proliferation.

Walter Zahurancik

Project – Kinetic Basis for Tumorigenesis by Cancer-Associated Pol? Exonuclease Domain Mutants

Summary - Determine how the proofreading function of a major human DNA replication protein is affected by mutations associated with various cancers. The information from these studies will help us to better understand the role that this protein plays in cancer development.

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