Receiving a Pelotonia Fellowship gives students the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the field of cancer research and work on their own independent projects. Mark Calhoun is entering his fifth and final year of his PhD in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and is one of the Graduate Student Pelotonia Fellows. Mark grew up in Lewis Center and attended Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology before returning to central Ohio to obtain his PhD from Ohio State. Read on to learn more about Mark’s research and involvement in Pelotonia.
Why is Pelotonia important to you?
You know, ultimately, the goal of any cancer researcher is to eliminate his or her own job, which puts us in kind of a unique situation. But the reason why we do this is for the people. And Pelotonia, which takes a “For the people, By the people” approach to funding, really leaves me feeling connected to the people. And as a researcher, that is so important to always keep in mind the “why” for all of our toils in the lab.
As a part of the Pelotonia Fellowship program, what does your research focus on?
Just like your behavior and mine is influenced by the environment around us, so too are tumor cells influenced by the environment around them. We call the sum of the factors affecting tumor cells the “tumor microenvironment.” So while cold weather might influence you to walk faster, factors in the “tumor microenvironment” may influence tumor cells to spread or grow faster. We are using engineering strategies to explore how specific factors of interest in the “tumor microenvironment” affect tumor cell behavior. We are primarily interested in glioblastoma, a highly lethal brain tumor with which patients most often survive just over a year, though our technologies can be applied to other tumor types
How do you hope to continue your cancer research in the future?
My plan is to become a professor at a university, like Ohio State, where I will run my own lab. My vision for the future of glioblastoma, and other difficult to treat tumors, is increasingly multimodal therapy. To elaborate, the standard of care for glioblastoma is surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation – so we’re hitting the tumor on three “levels,” but with limited success. In the future, we will need to hit the tumor on even more “levels” in order to eliminate more of the tumor, thus lengthening patient survival. For example, glioblastoma cells migrate very quickly, so targeting migrating cells would likely eliminate more of the tumor. This treatment could come in the form of another drug, given in conjunction with the standard, or a completely new treatment modality separate from surgery, chemo, or radiation. By studying the “tumor microenvironment,” we hope to identify new “levels” on which to attack the tumor.
What was your first experience with Pelotonia like?
Overwhelmingly positive, starting with when I bought my road bike. The good people over at Trek shared their experiences with the ride, which was really encouraging. The training rides and some of the other charity rides provided great opportunities to meet people and hear their stories. I remember during one training ride, I was wearing my red Pelotonia Fellow shirt and someone wanted a picture to include in her scrapbook because it was important to her to have met someone that was actually using the money she was raising. It was a very cool moment, though I wouldn’t recommend wearing a cotton tee shirt on a ride during a hot day! And the actual ride itself went even better than I expected. My training prepared me well and I met a lot of interesting people. The energy at the rest stops, passing through some of the towns, and finally getting to the end is incomparable. I highly recommend finishing at Kenyon!