The Pelotonia Undergraduate Fellowship Program provides one-year research fellowships to the best and brightest Ohio State University undergraduate students who want to help cure cancer. Cancer is a complex disease, and curing it will take a multidisciplinary effort. So no matter what their field of study, from traditional scientific fields to fields like engineering, history and business, all Ohio State undergraduate students may apply.

Getting the brightest undergraduate students at Ohio State to start thinking about cancer is a primary emphasis of the undergraduate program. Undergraduate students try out different fields and make choices that will affect their careers. Many of these students can contribute greatly to the field of cancer research if they have the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in this critical field. 

So far, 179 Pelotonia Undergraduate Fellows have been funded. These students have very diverse majors, from Molecular Genetics and Biology to Anthropology and World Literatures, and they work on varied projects that include investigating how different therapeutic agents improve natural killer cells’ ability to kill tumor cells, and measuring how social support may help improve the quality of lives of cancer survivors and their families.

Competition for Pelotonia Undergraduate Fellowships is fierce. Each year, approximately 80 undergraduate applications are submitted. Each application is critically reviewed by members of the Pelotonia Fellowship Committee. Because of the prestigious nature of these awards, many students have reported that receiving a fellowship has distinguished them from their peers when applying to and being accepted into medical school or PhD programs.

Most students have financial responsibilities and are not able to volunteer as research assistants in cancer research labs. For that reason, undergraduate fellows are paid a $12,000 annual stipend to work on their independent research projects. This generous stipend allows them to fulfill their financial responsibilities while gaining valuable experience in moving the field of cancer research forward and developing their own projects. During the summer, they are expected to put fulltime effort into their projects, and during the academic year, part-time effort. 

Up to four fellowships are dedicated to support diversity enhancement. We are looking for diversity not only in applicants, but also in projects. We are very motivated to fund diverse projects and strongly encourage students from all areas of study who are interested in cancer research to apply.


To be eligible, an applicant must:

  • Be an outstanding Ohio State undergraduate student
  • Propose a cancer-related project
  • Be willing to participate in Pelotonia

2016 Undergraduate Student Pelotonia Fellows

Abed Al-Rahman Traboulsi


Project – The Role of Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Ligands in Response to IFN-γ releasing Natural Killer Cells.

Summary – Evaluate how interferon gamma, a molecule released by cells in the immune system, affects the production of cancer cell proteins that have the ability to block immune cell development. This will provide insight on how leukemia, a cancer of the blood, evades the human body’s natural defense.

Adam Sychla


Project – Determining the function of 9p21.3 variants in tumor susceptibility.

Summary – Evaluate how three genes that control cancer formation are affected by a specific region of DNA located far away.

Alex Sprague


Project – Efficacy of a novel oncolytic virus RAPTOR for treatment of breast cancer brain metastases in vitro and in vivo.

Summary – To evaluate the effect of a cancer-killing virus on breast cancer that has spread to the brain. This information may lead to a new therapy for cancer patients.

Alexa Magner


Project – The Role of cAMP Signal Mediators in Rap1 Activation in Follicular Thyroid Cancer.

Summary – Evaluate how Rap1, a gene frequently associated with tumor cell migration, is affected by two proteins; Epac and PKA. Rap is a known target of Epac 1, while it has been suggested that Rap may be a target of PKA as well. By dissecting and analyzing these pathways, the role of Rap in follicular thyroid cancer will help target mechanisms of tumor formation, and can be used for increased drug therapy in the human disease.

Alicia Bao


Project – The Mechanism of tRNA Intron Turnover and the Consequences of Its Dysfunction.

Summary – Before tRNAs can function properly, many have a portion known as an intron that must be cut out and destroyed. I will study the full mechanism in which the cell eliminates these introns, and the consequences if they are not removed. tRNA fragments have been found to interact with other proteins in the cell death pathway, and therefore may have a role in cancer cell regulation.

Anamaria Bonilla


Project – Preventative efficacy of chemically distinct SPF30 sunscreens in preventing NRas-mutant melanoma.

Summary – Determine the success of six chemically distinct sunscreens in preventing or delaying the onset of ultraviolet driven melanoma in a genetic mouse model. This information can help determine which chemicals present in sunscreens are best at providing protection against sun exposure and therefore provides information for developing more effective sunscreens.

Andrew Giltmier


Project – Identification of novel protein components of the cytoplasmic capping complex using proximity-dependent biotinylation.

Summary – Identify unknown proteins associating with the cytoplasmic capping complex, a set of proteins that functions to modify RNA messages. This will provide deeper understanding into the role that the cytoplasmic capping complex plays in producing cancer traits.

Ashley Braddom


Project – Anti-NCL scFv as a new tool for skin cancer therapy.

Summary – Determine the ability of a compound, named 4LB5, to reduce cancer cell growth by impairing the function of a cancer cell specific protein. This will provide important information necessary to further develop the compound into a new skin cancer treatment.

Ashley Hadjis


Project – The Role of PALB2–BRCA2 Interaction in DNA Repair and Tumor Suppression.

Summary – Examine how the PALB2 Y1183X mutation is involved in breast and pancreatic cancers, in addition to the chromosomal instability disorder Fanconi Anemia. This project may provide insight into the role of the PALB2 gene in DNA repair, as well as other processes involved in the development of these diseases.

Darsheed Mustafa


Project – Heteroarene Alkylation with Alcohols via a Radial- Mediated Deoxygenation-Alkylation Cascade.

Summary – Develop methods to modify important pharmaceutical drugs. These modifications will allow more potent libraries of drug analogs to be developed in a single chemical step.

Devine Jackson


Project – Extracellular miRNAs as drivers of lung cancer metastasis.

Summary – Metastasis, the spread of tumors from the original site is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Identifying differences in the secreted cargo of non-metastatic cancers and metastatic cancers will provide key insights to how this cargo alters neighboring cells to promote metastatic growth. This information can be used for diagnosis and prognosis of lung cancer.

Elijah Gardner


Project – Investigating Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition and Cross Resistance in Cancers Resistant to Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor Inhibitors.

Summary – To determine how cancer cells exhibiting mutations in a series of proteins known as Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptors become resistant to drugs that inhibit these proteins. By further understanding how this resistance occurs, we may be able to create new cancer therapies to overcome it.

Gonzalo Olaverria Salavaggione

Olaverria Salavaggione

Project – The Role of NRAS Isoforms in Immune Evasion by BRAF Mutant Melanoma.

Summary – Assess the ability of immune cells to help or hurt melanoma tumor cells over-expressing variants of the NRAS protein. This information will provide a better understanding of the effects of NRAS proteins in cancer cells and potentially give insight into new targets for future cancer therapeutics.

Jackson Killian


Project – A Computational Method to Correct for DNA Degradation of FFPE Samples in Sequencing-based Methylation Experiments.

Summary – Develop a computational method that will give MethylCap-Seq, a new cost-effective method that examines the genetic-mark content of DNA, newfound access to a wealth of cancer samples. This will open the door for genetic biomarker-based cancer research and contribute to the development of personalized treatment methods.

James Gallagher


Project – Dissecting the Tumor Suppressive Functions of PTEN in Endometrial Cancer.

Summary – The AKT signaling pathway plays a key role in tumor progression. This pathway consists of multiple proteins, each playing a key role in its regulation. The majority of cancers have a mutation to only one of the integral proteins. Uterine cancer differs in that it contains multiple mutations in said pathway. The goal of our project is to evaluate the role of this redundancy in uterine cancer using mouse models to study the interactions between two mutated regulators (PTEN and Pik3ca) in order to understand whether these mutated proteins work independently or together as cancer progresses from early to late stages.

Kathryn Andrews


Project – Role of MicroRNAs in Radiation Resistance in Prostate Cancer.

Summary – Determine how a small type of RNA called microRNA may contribute to resistance to radiation therapy in prostate cancer patients. This may offer potential targets to fight radiation resistance in patients.

Khara Walker


Project – Evaluation of Immunogenetics and the long survival of Uveal Melanoma patients.

Summary – The immune system is critical to combat many cancers, but little is known about the details of the response and why some patients survive longer than others. This project will try to determine the key immune genes found on “natural killer cells,” which have an important role in controlling the progression of ocular melanoma cancer. We will look at differences in these responses in the original tumor, as well as secondary cancerous tumors throughout the body, and correlate these responses to patient prognosis, span of time between recurrence of cancer, and the survival rate of the patients. This information can provide a solid foundation for the development of tangible strategies that will boost immune responses responsible for improving one’s chances of survival from cancer.

Meghan Pawlikowski


Project – Predictive Role of miR-135b in Gemcitabine Sensitivity in Breast Cancer.

Summary – The goal of the study is to determine the importance of a specific microRNA (small molecules involved in tumor initiation, progression and drug resistance) in breast cancer sensitivity to a very well-tolerated form of chemotherapy, known as gemcitabine, and how tumor cells communication interfere with the response to the drug. A better understanding of those mechanisms would lead to an important step forward in the identification of patients that could benefit from a less toxic drug than those that are normally offered for metastatic breast cancer.

Molly Josifov


Project – Developing astrocyte-specific cell lines in Drosophila melanogaster as a model of glioblastoma.

Summary – The project is focused on glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer. The tumor cells to be studied are from a simple genetic system, Drosophila (the fruit fly), which has been used extensively for cancer gene discovery. This project aims to establish the first set of glioblastoma lines from Drosophila cells.

Mubarik Mohamed


Project – Regulation of F-actin bundling by human plastins.

Summary – Investigate how plastins, a family of actin binding proteins, are regulated in the cell. Plastins are known to be abnormally expressed in human cancers, and this work will provide insight into the role of these proteins in the progression and spread of cancer.

Remy Powell


Project – Influence of tomato variety on the molecular signatures of prostate carcinogenesis in the TRAMP mouse model.

Summary – Evaluate two different types of lycopene, a molecule found in red and tangerine tomatoes, on their ability to reduce prostate cancer incidence and severity. This information could be used to develop a food based intervention for men at high risk of prostate cancer.

Ryan Judd


Project – The effects of glucocorticoids on T cell maturation and tumor infiltration.

Summary – Understand the role of the social environment in cancer progression through the function of a stress hormone in causing immune cells to kill cancer cells. This model in mice could provide a better understanding of how specific hormones work in human cancer as well as the social environment’s effect on cancer progression.

Shannon Loftus


Project – Determining how soy phytochemicals can reduce immunosuppression in prostate cancer.

Summary – Determine how biologically active chemicals in soy called isoflavones affect the immune system in the setting of prostate cancer. This information will influence the development of nutritional therapies that work together with immune cells to treat these patients in a less invasive manner.

Tianyun Li

Li Ardy

Project – In vitro and in vivo radio- and chemo-sensitization of human papillomavirus (HPV)-negative head and neck squamous cell carcinomas by the Smac mimetic LCL161.

Summary – Evaluate the ability of LCL161, a member of a new class of drugs, to increase the effectiveness of radiation and chemotherapy. This information will be used to develop a new therapy for a type of cancer called head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

Tiffany Noel


Project – In Vitro Generation, Characterization, and Reprogramming of Monocyte-Derived Tumor-Associated Macrophages.

Summary – Evaluate a type of cell found surrounding the tumor called tumor associated macrophages and change them from suppressing the immune response to stimulating it. This information can be used to enhance the immune response to cancer and improve cancer therapy.

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