Researcher Susan Mallery is a lifelong Buckeye. She earned four degrees at Ohio State—a bachelor’s in zoology in 1976, a master’s in exercise physiology in ’78, a doctor of dental surgery in ’81 and a PhD in pathology in ’90.
Then she joined the College of Dentistry faculty, specializing in oral pathology, which involves using a microscope to diagnose diseases of the mouth, jaw and face. Today, she is a professor and chairs the college’s Division of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology and Radiology.
Research has always been an important part of her life. “My ultimate goal is to advance an idea that will help patients, ideally by preventing a certain disease,” says Mallery, who is a member of the Molecular Carcinogenesis and Chemoprevention Program at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).
“My father died of small-cell lung cancer while I was in dental school, one of my sisters died of Hodgkin lymphoma and another sister died of systemic lupus erythematosus. All this happened within a year and a half,” Mallery says. “I think that’s why research is so important to me.”
She chose Ohio State early on because she wanted good academic training and a chance to participate in competitive sports at a time when few opportunities existed for women athletes.
As an undergraduate, she excelled as a distance runner. Running track and field for Ohio State, Mallery had three top-10 finishes at the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) nationals and earned a second-place finish in the three-mile at the 1976 inaugural Women’s Big Ten Track and Field Championships. Her NCAA rankings qualified her as an All-American.
Off-season, she ran for the Ohio Track Club, where she met Jesse Owens. “He was a tremendously wonderful and gracious man,” she says.
While in graduate school, she won the 1976 and 1977 women’s division of the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. She was one of the first women to run a marathon in under two hours fifty-five minutes, and she ranked among the top 20 women in the world in track and field.
In 2007, she was inducted into the Varsity “O” Hall of Fame, Ohio State’s athletic hall of fame. In 2015, she received the Archie M. Griffin Professional Achievement Award from the Ohio State Alumni Association. The award notes that Mallery’s career includes several teaching awards, and that, in 1999, she became the first recipient of the Field Faculty Award recognizing excellence in teaching and research.
Mallery recalls her many achievements modestly, but they describe a level of drive needed for successful medical research, from finding funding to publishing the results.
She has spent much of her career developing methods for preventing oral cancer, a disease that can devastate a person’s quality of life and is often fatal, particularly when caused by tobacco and alcohol use. She is especially interested in chemoprevention approaches that use local delivery formulations to apply natural products and biologics directly to the affected site on the oral epithelial.
This year she applied for and received a Pelotonia Idea Grant. She and her collaborators are developing nanoparticles that carry two complementary chemopreventive agents. The particles are designed to adhere to and be taken up by cells lining the mouth.
The researchers will then formulate the nanoparticles into lozenges. In the mouth, the lozenges will dissolve, bathing the cells of the mouth with the nanoparticles. Once inside the cells, the nanoparticles will releases the two chemopreventive agents, which will inhibit molecular signals that push cells to grow and divide. The goal is to keep precancerous cells that are present from developing into full-blown oral cancer.
“This field-coverage approach delivers these chemopreventive agents to precancerous cells throughout the entire mouth,” Mallery says.
The Pelotonia Idea Grant is enabling the researchers to test the chemopreventive nanoparticles released from a gel in an animal model, which will provide data they need for approval to study the lozenges in a clinical trial.
Mallery has been a dedicated Pelotonia donor from the start, but she ordinarily isn’t a bike rider, she says. 2018 was her first year to ride the event, and she registered for the 50-mile route. She works out aerobically almost daily and rides her bike when she can, preferring her mountain bike with its heavier tires for training rides, and taking it up hills. Mallery says she rode for her father and sisters, and for a good friend who lost two children to cancer. “I’m joining with the other riders for a common goal: to annihilate cancer.”