Training the Next Generation
Pelotonia Fellowships Support, Encourage Tomorrow’s Cancer Researchers
The Pelotonia Fellowship Program annually allots $2 million to help promising Ohio State students with an interest in cancer research work in the labs of OSUCCC – James faculty mentors. Since the program began in 2010, it has awarded 292 fellowship grants to 129 undergraduates, 77 graduate students, four medical students, 61 postdoctoral fellows and 21 international scholars. The awards are peer reviewed and made by a committee of cancer researchers chaired by Gustavo Leone, PhD, associate director for basic research at the OSUCCC – James, and co-chaired by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, of the OSUCCC – James Cancer Control Program. Here’s a look at three recent Pelotonia fellowship recipients:
Peter Lyon, a junior majoring in molecular genetics, admits that completing the full 180-mile ride in Pelotonia 14 “was difficult at times, but the end result was well worth it.” He might say the same about the basic research he is conducting in the lab of Amanda Simcox, PhD, a member of the Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics Program at the OSUCCC – James. Lyon is doing genetic and biochemical analyses of a cellular protein called CG4096/ADAMTS, which the Simcox lab discovered. The protein is part of a signaling pathway called EGFR that helps control cell division and is implicated in many human cancers. Loss of the protein can contribute to the uncontrolled cell growth that fuels tumor development.
“Our findings could lead to new knowledge about the EGFR pathway,” says Lyon, who plans to ride 180 miles again this year. After graduating, he will pursue an MD/PhD and hopes to one day “work at a large research institution like Ohio State.”
Hoping to help reverse a nearly 10-year decline in federal funding for cancer research, Julia Behnfeldt will pursue a science/health policy career after earning her PhD in biomedical research with an emphasis on cancer biology this spring at Ohio State. “Pelotonia has done an exceptional job of easing these funding losses at OSU, but nationwide the research community is suffering,” says Behnfeldt, who rode 25 miles in Pelotonia 14 and will ride 50 miles this year. “I plan to bring my knowledge of science to legislators to highlight the need for a sustained investment in research.” She’s off to a good start. Earlier this year she was one of three graduate students nationally to receive an honorable mention for the 2015 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award presented by the American Institute of Biological Sciences. As a Pelotonia fellow in the lab of Joanna Groden, PhD, of the Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics Program at the OSUCCC – James, Behnfeldt examines how two important DNA-repair proteins interact to prevent chromosomal instability, a driver of cancer formation.
Priya Londhe, PhD
Priya Londhe, PhD, is a Pelotonia postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Denis Guttridge, PhD, co-leader of the OSUCCC – James Translational Therapeutics Program. She is working to solve the mysteries of cachexia, the progressive muscle wasting that renders many patients too frail for treatment. Cachexia occurs most often in patients with advanced lung, pancreatic and gastrointestinal cancers. Londhe hopes to find a treatment that will improve quality of life for these patients. “We want to understand how nanosized particles called microvesicles, which are secreted by tumor cells, regulate muscle wasting in cachexia,” Londhe says. “We have shown that these microvesicles cause killing of the muscle cells, which was unknown prior to our work, and we believe that this killing activity contributes to cachexia.”
If this proves to be true, she adds, “It will help us better understand cachexia and pave the way for pharmacological interventions.” Londhe rode 25 miles in Pelotonia 14 and is excited about riding again this year. “I met a lot of cancer survivors and was humbled to see their support for Pelotonia,” she says.