Creating a Cancer-Free World

The Pelotonia Fellowship Program is already making strides toward a cancer-free world, as several student fellowship recipients at varying levels of scholarship – undergrads, grad students, medical students and postdoctoral researchers – are working with faculty mentors to make waves in the world of cancer research. Here are a few examples:

SHAUNA COLLINS, a senior in biomedical science at Ohio State who received a fellowship to work in the lab of Don Benson, MD, PhD, of the OSUCCC – James, submitted an abstract that was accepted for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology last June in Chicago. Collins was first author on the study, which describes the effects of elotuzumab, a drug developed to treat multiple myeloma, on a specific cell of the immune system called the natural killer (NK) cell. The data shows that this drug increases the ability of NK cells to release toxic substances that kill malignant tumor cells. Collins has been to multiple conferences and is also published in the journal Blood with her research group. Soon she will present her work at an international conference in Brazil through a program run by the Ohio State Honors and Scholars Center. She plans to attend medical school and is considering a career in hematology.

APRIL SANDY GOCHA, a student in Ohio State’s Integrated Biomedical Science Graduate Program who works in the lab of Joanna Groden, PhD, has used her Pelotonia fellowship to help “unravel our understanding of how cancer cells survive and proliferate to form tumors.” She explains that, while the ends of DNA, called telomeres, normally shorten as people age, cancer cells are able to make their telomeres longer to allow the cells to grow out of control and form a tumor. “We have identified that tumors can use several mechanisms to perform this feat, which is one more piece of evidence to help us understand how cancer cells survive, and which places us one step closer toward our one goal of ending cancer,” says Gocha, who recently presented her research at an international conference in San Francisco and is preparing her team’s story for publication. After completing her graduate studies, she intends to pursue a career in science writing to help the public better understand scientific research and feel the excitement of discovery.

MARKUS MAIR, a postdoctoral researcher from Austria, received a Pelotonia Fellowship award for “Genetic Dissection of the Tumor Microenvironment,” a project that he is conducting in the lab of Gustavo Leone, PhD, along with graduate student Huayang Liu and postdoctoral researcher Piotr Daniel. The team has established a novel genomewide approach to identifying genes in normal cells surrounding the tumor that have an impact on tumor development and progression. Through this approach, they have identified such genes and are evaluating their findings. Mair says this tumor microenvironment project is a challenging approach to understanding crosstalk between the tumor and surrounding tissue. He notes that results from this screening might be relevant for many types of cancer. “In the future we will be able to treat cancer patients more efficiently by targeting the tumor microenvironment and the tumor in combination,” he adds.

DUSTIN GABLE was a senior majoring in biomedical science when he received a Pelotonia fellowship for a project relating to his study of the role of microRNA-1 in the progression of skin cancer. Gable had been working in the lab of Amanda Toland, PhD, a researcher at the OSUCCC – James, since his freshman year and considers it a life-changing experience because it influenced him to pursue a career in biomedical research. “She taught me to think independently and creatively, to attend conferences, to constantly learn about (biomedical) advances, and to form close relationships with scientists around the world,” he says, noting that he also participated in a summer internship program under the direction of Michael Grever, MD, chair of Internal Medicine, in which he shadowed teams of physicians at The James while conducting his research. This sparked his interest in combining medicine with research. Last August he entered medical school in the MD/PhD program at The Johns Hopkins University. He plans to combine his translational research with a career in pediatrics or internal medicine.

ELISE BLANKENSHIP, an Ohio State undergrad, was one of 74 college students nationwide selected last spring by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) in Washington, D.C., to present their work to elected officials on Capitol Hill during the CUR’s 2011 “Posters on the Hill.” Blankenship, who at the time was a third-year Food and Nutrition Science major, was chosen from a field of nearly 700 applicants by the CUR, which promotes student-faculty research. She works in the lab of Nancy Lill, PhD, a researcher at the OSUCCC – James. Blankenship’s research mainly involves a potential new combination therapy for triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive and deadly subset of the disease. Her poster was titled “Efficacies of Chemotherapeutic Agents, Alone or Combined With EGF Family Ligands, in Killing Breast Cancer Cells.” Blankenship is not a Pelotonia fellow, but her work is supported by a Pelotonia idea grant that was awarded to Lill and to OSUCCC – James researchers Charles Shapiro, MD, and Weiqiang Zhao, MD, PhD.

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