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Zachary White II, a rising second-year student at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, recently received the 2018 ASTRO Minority Summer Fellowship Award.
The purpose of the award is to promote radiation oncology as a career choice, as the fellowship provides medical students with an experience designed to expose them to clinical, basic and translational research questions in radiation oncology.
White is one of only two students across the country selected for this year’s award. This summer, he will complete eight weeks of basic sciences research and gain clinical exposure at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center Department of Radiation Oncology.
He will conduct his research under the direction of Dr. Markus Bredel, Professor and Sharon A. Spencer Distinguished Endowed Chair in Translational Radiation Oncology at the UAB School of Medicine, and Dr. Susan Nozell, associate professor of radiation oncology at the UAB School of Medicine.
His research project titled, “Impact of ANXA7 I1 Expression on PDGFRA and MET Endosomal Trafficking in Glioblastoma Multiforme,” focuses on Glioblastoma Multiforme – the most common and malignant brain tumor that is highly resistant to both radiation and chemotherapy treatment.
According to White, the tumor suppressor annexin A7 (ANXA7) is a membrane-binding protein that is alternatively spliced and expressed as two isoforms – I1 and I2 – with only I1 being tumor suppressive. “In glioblastoma, I1 is absent or low and I2 is found in abundance,” he said. “Signaling molecules such as EGFR, PDGFRA and MET are normally activated in cases where you may have a wound and your body needs to grow new cells in order to heal. However, these molecules are over-activated in cancers such as glioblastoma, which causes the cell to grow at an uncontrollable rate. By understanding how ANXA7 I1 impacts PDGFRA and MET signaling, we hope to improve therapy for patients with glioblastoma. When restored, ANXA7 I1 has the potential to downregulate the signals of tumor growth and reduce tumorigenicity.”
White credits his mother’s battle with cancer for inspiring him to pursue the field of radiation oncology, and applying for the ASTRO award. “As an aspiring physician, the thought of losing my mother to breast cancer and being unable to help her is a concept that I find difficult to accept,” he said. “Unfortunately, when I was in the third grade, this thought became a real threat. I experienced the stress of balancing my schoolwork, visiting the hospital as often as I could, and worrying whether my mom was going to live. After surgery, she underwent radiation followed by six months of intense chemotherapy and today she is a 16-year cancer survivor.”
White said one of his favorite aspects of radiation oncology is the opportunity to give compassionate medical care to cancer patients while working with the latest state-of-the-art medical technology. “I'm really grateful to be chosen for this award because it grants me the opportunity to continue doing research in radiation oncology and be able to interact with Dr. Bredel's patients in the clinic,” he said.
ASTRO is the premier radiation oncology society in the world, providing members with the continuing medical education, health policy analysis, patient information resources and advocacy that they need to succeed in today’s ever-changing health care delivery system.
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