The first batch of Pelotonia Fellowships were awarded in 2010. The goal was to identify, encourage and provide some initial funding for the next generation of cancer researchers.
“Your mentors are counting on you to come up with the next and best new ideas,” Mike Caligiuri, The Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center and CEO of the James, told the latest batch of Pelotonia Fellows. “We’re betting on you.”
The bet is paying off, big time – and the 353 Pelotonia Fellowships you funded have launched the careers of a growing community of brilliant cancer researchers. Here are the stories of two, Dustin Gable and Jennifer Ahn-Jarvis, who were among the first to receive a prestigious Pelotonia Fellowship.
“It was a springboard, and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Ohio State and the Pelotonia Fellowship,” said Dustin, who received an undergraduate Pelotonia Fellowship in 2010. He’s now about halfway through a joint M.D./PhD program at Johns Hopkins University – and plans on a career as a pediatric oncology physician/researcher.
“(The Pelotonia Fellowship) allowed me to focus on my research,” said Jennifer, a 2010 graduate Pelotonia Fellowship recipient. She’s now a postdoc fellow at Ohio State’s College of Public Health.
Dustin grew up on a farm in the small town of Miller City, Ohio. He initially came to Ohio State to study biology, but discovered biomedical science – and also began working in the lab of Amanda Toland.
His project in Amanda’s lab involved testing a ribonucleic acid (RNA), known as microRNA-1, “to determine if, when we reintroduced it into mouse cancer cell lines, it could suppress tumor growth,” Dustin said. “And, we saw increased cell death and decreases in growth.
Dustin also learned that there was such a thing as a joint M.D./PhD program at major research universities – and decided this was his career path.
“It became clear to me that the M.D./PhD was so critically important to advance research,” Dustin said.
At Hopkins, he’s working with mentor Mary Armanios and researching telomeres: structures that protect the ends of human chromosomes. “When problems go wrong with these caps, and telomeres shorten, cells can die and prematurely cause diseases commonly associated with aging such as emphysema and (other lung diseases),” Dustin said.
He’s still a few years from graduation, but, once a Buckeye…
“Returning to Ohio State is always a possibility,” Dustin said. “I’d be crazy not to consider the premier cancer center in the country.”
Jennifer was born in Seoul, South Korea and moved with her family to California when she was 3. She eventually became a registered nurse, but “I saw all these people who couldn’t afford treatment and medications and thought there must be strategies for prevention.”
This led her to Ohio State and a Master’s Degree (2007) and PhD (2013) in Food Science.
“Food Science is something that can prevent disease and promote health,” Jennifer said. “We figure out how we can optimize food for the most benefit.”
Working under Yael Vodovotz, Steve Clinton and Steve Schwartz – and with the help of a Pelotonia Fellowship, Jennifer led a clinical trial to determine if the isoflavones in soy “could be absorbed into the body as an anti-oxidant and stimulate the body’s immune system.” The trials were for prostate cancer survivors who appeared to be cancer free but had elevated PSA levels.
“The cancer is somewhere,” she said.
The delivery system was soy flour that was used to make bread. Through a lot of trials, Jennifer and the team determined that the fermentation process “improved the chemical process” and that adding almond powder did the same thing.
The clinical trials are over, and yielded promising results. “We’re doing another trial with soy bread and will focus on how it stimulates the body’s immune system,” Jennifer said.
She is also involved in research to determine if the soy bread can help pancreatic cancer patients and post-menopausal women with weight-gain issues who are pre-diabetic.
It’s very important to have a healthy diet. “Eat the rainbow – lots of fruits and vegetables,” Jennifer advised. “Eat less processed foods. Meat is OK, but not too often and in smaller portions.”
Jennifer has ridden in Pelotonia and plans to be a medical volunteer this year. “It’s amazing when you’re part of Pelotonia and see all the people who are cancer patients and survivors,” she said. “This is why I do what I do.”