2015 Pelotonia Fellowship Symposium Spotlights OSU Student Cancer Researchers

Janice KiecoltGlaser PhD Brenda Schulman PhD Gustavo Leone PhD Jeff Mason

An MD/PhD student perhaps captured the essence of The Ohio State University’s 2015 Pelotonia Fellowship Symposium on Nov. 19 when he described cancer as “a very smart disease that we’re all trying to figure out.”

The student, David Clever, is a former Pelotonia fellowship recipient who is doing research at the National Cancer Institute while working toward his dual MD/PhD through Ohio State. He had returned to OSU for the symposium and offered his cancer description while posing a question to undergraduate Pelotonia fellow Sophia Maharry after her presentation on research she is conducting with OSU faculty mentor Albert de la Chapelle, MD, PhD, and mentor Ann-Kathrin Eisfeld, MD, a visiting scholar in de la Chapelle’s lab.

Clever’s words rang true because nearly everyone who attended the symposium—which was held in Ohio State’s Biomedical Research Tower and was attended by students and seasoned cancer researchers alike—has a stake in the global effort to solve the molecular mysteries of this complex disease.

Gustavo Leone David Clever Jeff Mason1
Pelotonia Fellowship Program Director Gustavo Leone, PhD (left), and Jeff Mason (right), also of the Pelotonia Fellowship Program, pose with David Clever, an MD/PhD student at Ohio State and former Pelotonia fellowship recipient who currently is conducting research at the National Cancer Institute. 

The symposium showcased the work of several OSU students who have received fellowships from funds generated by Pelotonia, an annual grassroots bicycle tour that raises money for cancer research at Ohio State.

The fellowships enable students from any discipline or level of scholarship—undergraduates, graduates, medical students, postdoctoral fellows and international scholars—to conduct cancer studies in the labs of faculty mentors. A 46-member committee containing some of the university’s top cancer researchers reviews all fellowship applications and issues the awards.

Opening the symposium with a brief welcoming address before a capacity audience, Fellowship Program Director Gustavo Leone, PhD, noted that most in attendance were young trainees, but that a number of faculty members were also on hand, along with three internationally renowned guest speakers from outside institutions who had come to share their latest cancer research.

Leone, who also serves as associate director for basic research at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, described the fellowship program as “truly multidisciplinary,” pointing out that the 353 fellowships awarded since the program began in 2010 have gone to students working with mentors from 10 colleges and 48 departments at Ohio State, and also from Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

To date the program has received $11 million in Pelotonia revenue to fund 182 undergraduates/international scholars, 102 graduates/medical students and 69 postdoctoral fellows.

The 2015 symposium featured research presentations from 11 student fellowship recipients, ranging from undergraduates to PhDs, who lectured on such topics as the structure of retroviral genomes, the interaction of an oncogene and ultraviolet light in the etiology of malignant melanoma, and genetic signaling in the tumor microenvironment of metastatic breast cancer.

The three renowned guest speakers and their topics were:

  • Frank McCormick, PhD, the David A. Wood Distinguished Professor of Tumor Biology and Cancer Research and professor emeritus at the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of California, San Francisco (“New Approaches to Targeting K-Ras”);
  • Brenda Schulman, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and the Joseph Simone Chair in Basic Research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (“Twists & Turns in Ubiquitin Transfer Cascades”); and
  • Philip Tsichlis, MD, the Jane F. Desforges MD Professor of Hematology and Oncology at Tufts University School of Medicine and executive director of the Molecular Oncology Research Institute at Tufts Medical Center (“Signaling, Epigenetics and RNA Metabolism”).

Frank McCormick Michael Caligiuri Denis Guttridge
Pelotonia Fellowship Symposium guest speaker Frank McCormick, PhD, FRS, DSc (Hon), shown at left, is greeted by OSUCCC Director and James CEO Michael A. Caligiuri, MD (center), and Denis Guttridge, PhD (right), co-leader of the Translational Therapeutics Program at  the OSUCCC – James. McCormick, who was introduced as a speaker by Guttridge, is the David A. Wood Distinguished Professor of Tumor Biology and Cancer Research and a professor emeritus at the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of California, San Francisco.

Leone expressed gratitude to the guest speakers, the student presenters and to all who attended the symposium. He also acknowledged Fellowship Program Co-Director Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, a Distinguished University Professor who directs the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at OSU and is a member of Ohio State’s cancer program.

Leone said he and Kiecolt-Glaser are proud of the program’s diversity and transparency in giving promising students a chance to explore their innovative ideas for cancer research.

Pelotonia fellows, he added, have made discoveries that are being published in prestigious journals, received additional research and scholarly awards, produced data that has culminated in large grant applications, and continued onto successful paths into graduate and medical schools, as well as into postdoctoral, industry and faculty positions.

“These students,” he said, “move us to our ultimate goal of one day living in a cancer-free world."