Symposium Showcases Student Researchers

BY BOB HECKER

Gustavo LeoneIn a room filled with young scholarly minds, Ohio State cancer researcher Gustavo Leone, PhD, made a pertinent point.

“Some of the best ideas in cancer research come from students,” he said, “because they often think outside the box.”

Leone, associate director for basic research at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James), chairs an internal scientific committee that awards fellowships to Ohio State students at all levels – undergrads, graduates, medical students and postdoctoral fellows – who apply to conduct cancer-related research in the labs of faculty mentors at the OSUCCC – James, and across the entire Ohio State University campus.

The fellowships are funded by revenue from the annual grassroots Pelotonia bicycle tour that raises millions of dollars for cancer research at the OSUCCC – James. The first three Pelotonias, held in 2009, ’10 and ’11 between Columbus and Athens, Ohio, collectively raised approximately $25.5 million. The fourth annual tour is set for Aug. 10-12 between Columbus and Gambier, Ohio, home to Kenyon College. Speaking at the inaugural Pelotonia Fellowship Reception on May 31, 2011, Leone addressed an audience of student recipients, their faculty mentors and several Pelotonia riders and donors who were interested in learning how some of the money they helped raise is being used.

The reception was designed “to connect Pelotonia riders and donors to the students who actually do the cancer research so you can learn what’s going on,” Leone said at the reception. Profiles of all fellowship recipients and their projects were available in booklets given to guests.

“I encourage you to leaf through them, and if you see something that interests you, try to find that person and talk to him or her about their research,” Leone said.

The first Pelotonia Fellowship Symposium took place the following day with research presentations by fellowship recipients and lectures by guest speakers John Petrini, PhD, and Ross Levine, MD, from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Judith Campisi, PhD, from the University of California. The second annual Pelotonia Fellowship Symposium is scheduled for May 30 (see sidebar).

To date, the Pelotonia Fellowship Program has awarded 116 grants to 56 undergrads, 32 graduate students, two medical students and 26 postdoctoral fellows. Awards may go to students in any discipline who want to pursue a project relating to cancer research under the guidance of a faculty mentor, said Program Director Jeff Mason.

During the fellowship reception, OSUCCC Director and James CEO Michael A. Caligiuri, MD, emphasized not only the importance of the fellowship research but also the need to continue generating funds to support it through future Pelotonias.

He noted other ways that Pelotonia dollars are applied to cancer research. For example, they fund “Idea Grants” that are awarded to teams of scientists at the OSUCCC – James who want to pursue new high-risk studies that could lead to breakthroughs and to future external funding.

The money also supports clinical trials, recruitment and retention of top cancer scientists, and purchase of sophisticated equipment needed by the community of OSUCCC – James researchers to further their projects.

“We continuously want to recruit the best and brightest minds in cancer research to our program, and this takes millions of dollars because they often bring their entire lab team and lots of expensive equipment,” Caligiuri explained.

“We want all of you here today to mix and mingle, get turned on to the science, ride more and raise more,” he told reception guests. “The dollars drive the discoveries, and the discoveries drive cancer care and uncover the cures.”

Fellowship Presenters at the 2011 Symposium

  • Jonathan Lee, a Molecular Genetics major (faculty mentor Maki Asano, MD, PhD);
  • Kevin Kauffman, a Chemical Engineering major (faculty mentor Kristy Ainsle, PhD);
  • Dustin Gable, a Biomedical Sciences major (faculty mentor Amanda Toland, PhD).

Graduate Student Fellows

  • April Gocha, Integrated Biomedical Science Graduate Program (faculty mentor Joanna Groden, PhD);
  • Hsiao-Chiang Chuang, Pharmacy Graduate Program (faculty mentor Ching-Shih Chen, PhD);
  • Nripersh Dhungel, Molecular Genetics Graduate Program (faculty mentor Anita Hopper, PhD).

Postdoctorate Fellows

  • Enrico Caserta, PhD (faculty mentor Gustavo Leone, PhD);
  • Parvathi Ranganathan, PhD (faculty mentor Ramiro Garzon, MD);
  • Jiang Li, PhD (faculty mentor Dongping Zhong, PhD).

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