42 Student Trainees Awarded Research Fellowship Support Fueled By Pelotonia

August 01, 2017
The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center  Arthur G James Cancer Hospital and Richard J Solove Research Institute

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Forty-two student trainees have been awarded research scholarships from The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) funded through its annual Pelotonia Fellowship Program.

Awardees span Ohio State’s colleges of medicine, arts and science and engineering and include 26 undergraduate students, 14 graduate and two post-doctoral trainees. Undergraduate awardees receive one year of funding support; graduate and post-doctoral awardees receive two.

The student research fellowships are supported by funds raised through Pelotonia, an annual cycling event that has raised more than $130 million for cancer research at the OSUCCC – James.

To date, the Pelotonia Research Fellowship Program has provided more than $13 million to support 433 undergraduate, medical student and graduate scholarships to support research projects undertaken by Ohio State students working in the labs of cancer faculty mentors. This program offers a variety of experiences, from an 8-week lab experience to multi-year research fellowships and participation in an international exchange program to conduct cancer research in laboratories in India and Brazil. 

“The impact of these scholarships actually goes deeper than providing students with a unique opportunity to do cancer research,” says Michael Caligiuri, MD, director of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center and CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. “With college affordability continuing to be a concern for many working families, we are able to provide meaningful financial support to these talented young people so they can continue to pursue their dream.  And it is from the investment in these bright minds that we will eventually achieve our vision of a cancer-free world.” 

The newest class of Pelotonia fellows and their project descriptions follow. The 2017 event takes place Aug. 4-6, 2017. For registration and more information, visit pelotonia.org. To learn more about the research fellowship program, visit cancer.osu.edu.

Spring Pelotonia Research Fellows:

Post-doctoral fellows

  • Lindsey Brinton, PhD, from Blacksburg, Virginia, will study how a mutation in the cell’s DNA affects its ability to recognize and respond to mistakes made while copying DNA during the replication process. Her goal is to determine in what ways this contributes to the initiation and progression of acute myeloid leukemia in order to develop more effective therapies.
  • Pedro de la Torre Marquez, PhD, of Atlantico, Columbia, will study cell-to-cell interactions of protocadherin-20 (PCDH20) in cancer and other pathologies and identify cell-to-cell signaling pathways involved in tumor development.

Graduate fellows 

  • Alex Avendano, of Carolina, Puerto Rico, will use microscale and macroscale engineering measurements of mechanical properties in tumors to study how genetic modifications specifically in cancer-associated fibroblasts contribute to accelerated pancreatic tumor growth and resistance to therapy. Through this approach, the hope is to create a more complete picture to how non-cancer cell components such as fibroblasts influence aggressive tumors and to potentially discover new therapeutic strategies, centered on targeting fibroblasts as opposed to cancer cells, for managing this deadly disease.
  • Russell Bonneville, of Grove City, Ohio is using computer science and biology to analyze big data to study genetic changes that arise in cancer and whether there are novel genetic markers that can be used to guide selection of novel therapies. He is developing new ways to detect novel genetic markers including microsatellite instability (MSI) and methylation, that can occur in any type of cancer. Cancers with these markers may potentially be sensitive to novel therapies that boost the immune system or interfere with tumor growth. New precision medicine clinical trials are being developed based on this research.
  • Chia-Wen Chang, of Taiwan, will evaluate the role of lymphatic vessel in tumor microenvironments as well as the remodeling of lymphatic vessels during lung cancer progression. The team will develop a 3-D microfluidic vessel analogue to study lymphangiogenesis  and investigate what micro-environmental cues make them more susceptible to cancer cell metastasis by remodeling lymphatic vessels and changing vessels properties. 
  • Donald Belcher, of Duncan, Oklahoma, will use computer-based and pre-clinical models of tumor vascularization to help identify optimal artificial blood delivery to increase cancer cell’s response to chemotherapy. The study will specifically look at triple negative breast cancer.
  • Luxi Chen, of San Jose, California, will study how innate immune cells develop normally in order to combat a blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Innate immune cells normally function to target and kill AML cells. However, in patients with AML, these innate immune cells cannot develop properly and lose their ability to eliminate the AML cells. Completion of this project will increase scientific understanding of the basic biology of human innate cell development describing how and where AML disrupts their development, and how to best design effective immune strategies and promote long-lasting immunity against AML.
  • Miranda Gardner, of Atwater, Ohio, will use high-resolution mass spectrometry and proteomics to improve scientists understanding of epigenetic changes in cancer gene expression. This work is expected to aid in the identification of new biomarkers and therapeutic targets.
  • Eileen Hu, of Milpitas, California, will study the role of hematopoietic stem cells in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the most common form of adult leukemia. Although current therapies have increased overall long-term survival in CLL, emergence of abnormal stem cells can result in resistance to therapy and relapse. This study will investigate the potential role of leukemia-initiating cells within a subpopulation of HSCs from CLL patient-derived bone marrow as the source of continual regeneration of CLL. If this is true, it could lead to a paradigm shift in development of curative therapies.
  • Hanyang, Huang, of Yangzhong, Jiangsu, China, will seek to develop a smartphone-based whole slide scanner for faster tumor identification that could improve cancer diagnosis accuracy. Conventional intraoperative consultation relies on the on-site pathology service to be on stand-by, making it logistically difficult to provide real-time evaluation at remote surgical centers and clinics. Implementing digital pathology at all hospitals is cost-prohibitive. This project will focus on developing a whole slide imaging scanner that is low cost but high resolution to improve real-time decision-making.
  • Jose Javier, of Southeast Asia, will study the increased expression of the protein transforming growth factor β as a predisposing factor for B-acute lymphoblastic leukemia during chronic inflammatory stress. While much work has been done to understand the genetic drives of leukemia, not everyone carrying similar early cellular mutations will ultimately develop cancer, underscoring the need for a better understanding of which factors – genetic or otherwise – work together with inflammatory stress to induce B-cell ALL. This study will use RNA sequencing to assess the development and accumulation of specific genetic mutations thought to create cellular windows of opportunity for blood cells to become leukemia cells. The long-term goal of this study is to understand the effects of signaling pathways on leukemia development.
  • Debadrita Modak, of Calcutta, India, will study the interaction between two proteins (PCDH7 and Cx43) in cancer that that has spread to the brain. Cancer cells travel through the blood-brain barrier and the majority are destroyed by brain cells called astrocytes. However, certain metastatic cells form Cx43 gap junctions that allow metastatic cells to slip past the astrocytes innate protection mechanisms. This study will seek to understand the cellular mechanisms that allow this to occur to help develop ways to prevent this gap junction from forming and, therefore suppress brain metastasis.
  • Madeline Niederkorn, of Eastlake, Ohio, will perform detailed biochemical and molecular analysis of a cellular signaling axis including three proteins (TIFAB-USP15-p53) known to be involved in the development of myelodysplastic syndromes and certain blood cancers in order to identify novel therapeutic strategies for treating these malignancies.
  • Andrew Reed, of Alliance, Ohio, will conduct a study of the effects of human DNA polymerase beta cancer variants on a specific cellular repair mechanism.  Normal genome replication is essential for cell viability and is continually challenged by various damaging agents such as 8-oxoG. The resulting structural changes of the human DNA polymerase beta cancer variants and the effects on the specific pathway Reed is studying are not fully understood. This study seeks to determine a molecular basis for decreased activity in specific genomic variants in an effort to understand their role in cancer development.
  • Les Sprague, of Sidney, Ohio, will continue preclinical work on an oncolytic virus given in combination with several different Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved chemotherapy drugs. A growing body of evidence from preclinical studies suggests that oncolytic viruses will be most effective, or even synergistic, if combined with other cancer therapies.
  • David Weiss, of Lehighton, Pennsylvania, will study the impact of stress, depression and treatment on vaccine responses in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Patients with cancer are at a higher risk for complications and death, often from infections from viruses like influenza. The risk is especially high for cancers like CLL, which directly impact the immune system. Additionally, stress has been shown to negatively impact the disease course. Weiss will evaluate the impact of stress on vaccine responses in patients with CLL who are about to begin their first treatment. One group of patients will receive treatment at the same time as the pneumococcal, influenza and diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis vaccinations. The second group will receive the same vaccinations prior to initiating ibrutinib treatment. The project will help determine if cancer treatment or stress impacts the effectiveness of vaccines in an at-risk population. 

Undergraduate fellows

  • Raisa Amin, of Dhaka, Bangladesh, will conduct a study looking at depression, heart rate variability and pain in breast cancer survivors. Breast cancer survivors are four times more likely to experience depression compared with the general population. Heart rate variability (HRV) – the beat-to-beat variability of the heart – is a good index of a person’s ability to regulate emotion while experiencing pain or other stressors. The goal of this project is to understand associations between depression, HRV and pain sensitivity and identify which cancer survivors are at a higher risk for experiencing chronic pain and its consequences.
  • Mary Carson, of Hillard, Ohio, will conduct a study looking at improving the effectiveness of an online intervention for major depressive disorder (MDD) in cancer patients. This is the most common psychiatric disorder experienced by cancer patients and is associated with significant functional impairment, including poorer physical health and quality of life. Traditional face-to-face cognitive behavior therapy – the gold standard for MDD – may not be ideal for patients already burdened by numerous appointments. This research will seek to optimize online cognitive behavior therapy intervention tools to improve patient adherence and improve treatment benefits.
  • Alexandria Carter, of Shepherdsville, Kentucky, will help with the development of a mouse model to test a novel immune-based cancer therapy. This model targets a specific molecule on immune cells called NKG2D, with the goal of activating these so-called “natural killer” cells and other immune cells to fight blood cancer. Results of this preclinical research project will help determine the efficacy of their new approach for multiple myeloma and leukemia cancer therapy.
  • Jonathan Chang, of Gahanna, Ohio, will use a 3D model to analyze the role of cancer-associated fibroblasts in the tumor microenvironment of pancreatic cancers characterized by loss of a specific tumor suppressor known as PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homlog). This study is expected to enhance scientific understanding of the mechanisms that increase tumor progression in the absence of PTEN as well as maximize engineering tools to navigate and qualify the effects of therapeutic treatments.
  • Samuel Chen, of Worthington, Ohio, will conduct a study of cellular transcription factors involved in the EGFR mutation feedback loop, a genetic mutation involved in several forms of cancer including lung. Information gathered from this study will help characterize genetic regions that regulate EGFR and increase understanding of EGFR’s role in the spread of cancer cells.
  • Nick Courtney, of Powell, Ohio, hypothesizes that inhibition of a protein called bromodomain and extra terminal domain protein 4 (BRD4) in breast cancer cells can reduce the production and function of myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSC), a certain type of cell involved in suppressing immune cell function and decreasing therapeutic response in cancer patients. If true, the addition of this inhibitor to immune-based therapies could improve breast cancer patient response rates.
  • Luke Genutis, of Bedford, Ohio, will conduct a genomic study of thyroid cancer to help enhance scientific understanding of the role of the SMAD3 gene in thyroid cancer development. Thyroid cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer but very little is known about potential predisposition via genetic factors.
  • Nick Grosenbacher, of Tallmadge, Ohio, will conduct a laboratory study to investigate the use of an aromatase inhibitor given in combination with a specific targeted therapy (TORC1/2) to improve treatment response in endometrial cancer. Long-term outcomes for patients with recurrent disease are poor, with limited treatment options for patients. This project tests a new approach that pairs a combination of drugs that is untested in endometrial cancer, and uses genomic data to further define when this treatment could be appropriate. 
  • Justin Jiang, of Worthington, Ohio, will create a preclinical model for studying one of the most difficult cancers to treat – liver. He will do this by creating a new RNA-based gene-editing platform to improve the safety and specificity of current methods. This new platform can then be used to study the molecular mechanisms of liver cancer development in a preclinical model.
  • Cody Justice, of Westerville, Ohio, will conduct a study to understanding why 50 percent of kidney cancer patients treated with tyrosine kinase inhibitor drugs like pazopanib experience serious cardiac side effects and identify patients at the highest risk of experiencing these side effects. He will also work on developing methods to detect early signs of pazopanib-induced cardiotoxicity before heart failure progresses.
  • Jass Kaur, of Cleveland, will study the potential role of natural gut bacteria in prevalent cognitive problems after cancer treatment (chemotherapy), often referred to as “chemobrain.” Gut bacteria can influence brain functions, including cognition, and chemotherapy is notoriously harsh on the gut microbiota. This project explores the brain-gut pathway during cancer to evaluate non-invasive ways to improve cognitive impairments and therefore improve quality of life for cancer survivors.
  • Dinushi Kulasekere, of Akron, Ohio, will conduct a study to determine the effects of classification systems on clinical outcomes and to either support or dispute usage of these types of scales in the medical field. The study combines both economic and medical data to help understand the impact of condition severity scales use to classify a patient’s overall disease and impact of healthcare coverage and costs. The overarching goal is to achieve great efficiency and outcomes in health care systems.  
  • Alexandria Lenyo, of Huron, Ohio, will conduct a study to determine the role of the fibroblast growth factor receptor (FGFR) in cancer's resistance to targeted therapies. FGFRs are oftentimes found to have genetic alternations, which can lead to cancer in the affected cells. In this new study, Lenyo will evaluate three cell lines to determine if a single point mutation within the FGFR gene – E566A – causes resistance to four different targeted therapies used to treat cancer currently. 
  • James Li, of Dayton, Ohio, will conduct a study using next-generation sequencing data and massively parallelized cloud computing to examine how single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) influence the secondary structure of mRNA in multiple cancer types. Understanding and then classifying these mRNA disruptions could potentially help to identify new cancer etiologies.
  • Julia Love, of Dublin, Ohio, will conduct a study to determine the safety and effectiveness of a new oncoloytic virus for the treatment of a form of pediatric brain cancer, neuroblastoma. The disease has a 50 percent five-year survival rate and relapse is common. This study will evaluate a new oncolytic virus therapy that preliminary research suggests is more powerful while also resulting in less damage to non-cancerous cells. 
  • Seth Lyon, of Marion, Ohio, will study the processing of recently discovered mutated mt-tRNas found in patients with liver and glioblastoma brain tumors to gain insights on how some cancer associated somatic mutations in tRNAs affect the cancer development.
  • Neil Makhijani, of Centerville, Ohio, will study pancreatic cancer-induced cachexia, a syndrome that causes severe muscle loss and ultimately significant morbidity and mortality. This study will test the efficacy of and analyze the mechanism behind a new combinational therapy designed to combat pancreatic cancer-induced cachexia. Preliminary results have been promising and research efforts are now leading towards phase I/II testing in humans in the near term. 
  • Siobhan McDermott, of Cleveland, Ohio, will study the effect of depression and cancer treatment on physical fitness among breast cancer survivors. This study will also assess if the type of treatment survivors receive (chemo, radiation, etc.) further influences the relationship between depression and fitness. Knowledge from this study could help physicians identify individuals at risk for declines in fitness and design.
  • Ivan Pires, of Piracicaba, San Paulo, Brazil, will conduct a study in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) looking at photodynamic therapy as a new way to target treatment of the disease. TNBC accounts for 20 percent of breast cancer diagnoses, however, the disease does not express the same targetable receptors used to treat other types of breast cancer. He plans to engineer blood-derived proteins to analyze photodyamic molecules. Results from this study could lead to an effective and novel targeted photodynamic therapy for TNBC.
  • Aman Prasad, of Dublin, Ohio, will study the role of a specific form of microRNA (microRNA-155) on cellular metabolism in natural killer cells to facilitate interferon-gamma production, a critical cytokine heavily involved in intercellular immune and inflammatory processes. Preliminary data shows that microRNA-155 overexpression leads to metabolic reprogramming of NK cells. This research will confirm the initial cellular findings in a preclinical model. Results could improve understanding of immune metabolism and the tumor microenvironment, which has implications in cancer research.
  • Maria Riley, of Westerville, Ohio, will study the role of STAT3 (a cancer related gene) as a potential therapeutic target in ovarian cancer. This form of cancer continues to have high rates of fatality, especially in cases of drug-resistant tumors.  This study will look specifically at tumors, which are able to survive at low oxygen conditions (hypoxia) and have been shown to be more aggressive due to activation of numerous cancer-promoting signaling molecules. This study is expected to provide insights on the fundamental mechanisms involved in ovarian cancer growth and design a novel drug to overcome chemotherapy resistance in cancerous tissue, without harming normal, healthy tissue with minimal side effects. 
  • Griffin Spychalski, of New Albany, Ohio, will investigate how fluid forces integrate with tumor-secreted chemical signals to cause cancer to recruit new blood vessels that feed the tumor to sustain rapid growth.
  • Manuel Torres, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, will study the relationship between ancestral background and the frequency of canonical lung adenocarcinoma driver mutations in Brazilian patients. He will explore the relationship between racial background and non-small cell lung cancer mutations in tumor samples from 400 Brazilian lung adenocarcinoma tumors. Analysis will be done using a clinically relevant panel of 50 genes and 40 markers indicative of ancestral background. 
  • Jessica Waibl, of Worthington, Ohio, will conduct a study aimed at improving scientific understanding of how natural killer cells – the immune system’s first line of defense in responding to cancer cells – lose their protective role in cancer. She will specifically seek to understand the role of a protein (ETS-1) highly expressed in natural killer cells.
  • Logan Walker, of Fargo North Dakota, will work to develop an improved method evaluating RNA-based gene expression to better characterize cancer mutations.
  • Jonathan Wright, of Toledo, Ohio, will study specific cellular mechanisms believed to be critical to cancer cell's ability to spread to other parts of the body. His study will focus on locating and characterizing a second binding site for a protein (L-plastin's ABD2) involved in the movement of white blood cells and cancerous cells. This study will build a foundation of knowledge so continued research can create therapies which target this protein in an attempt to control cancer spread.


About the OSUCCC – James

The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute strives to create a cancer-free world by integrating scientific research with excellence in education and patient-centered care, a strategy that leads to better methods of prevention, detection and treatment. Ohio State is one of 48 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers and one of only a few centers funded by the NCI to conduct both phase I and phase II clinical trials on novel anticancer drugs. As the cancer program’s 308-bed adult patient-care component, The James is one of the top cancer hospitals in the nation as ranked by U.S. News & World Report and has achieved Magnet designation, the highest honor an organization can receive for quality patient care and professional nursing practice. With 21 floors and more than 1.1 million square feet, The James is a transformational facility that fosters collaboration and integration of cancer research and clinical cancer care.

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