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V Foundation Grant to NC State Will Grow New Generation of Cancer Researchers

A new partnership between North Carolina State University and the V Foundation for Cancer Research will introduce young scientists to cancer therapeutic research, encouraging them to pursue careers in combating the disease.

Fueled by a $1 million award from the V Foundation for Cancer Research, the Jimmy V-NC State Cancer Therapeutics Training Program will get students – high schoolers, undergraduates and graduate students – out of the classroom and into different NC State research labs involved in cancer therapeutics.

“This unique program will give a variety of students a broad look at cancer and expose them to real research projects engaged in all stages of cancer therapeutics,” says Dr. John Cavanagh, professor of molecular and structural biochemistry at NC State and the leader of the project. “The most effective way to get students excited about the prospect of going into scientific research is by letting them get their hands wet and do real science – that’s what this program is all about.”

“NC State is honored to have a program such as this one to be the first gift named for Jim Valvano on our campus,” says NC State Chancellor James Oblinger. “It is quite appropriate that NC State honors Jimmy V’s memory and legacy through a program that will enhance cancer education through cancer research.”

Nick Valvano, chief executive officer of the V Foundation, says that the collaboration with NC State makes sense.

“What’s so exciting is that this program plays to the strengths of NC State in its scientific research,” Valvano says. “It makes me proud to say we’re doing this with NC State and that it has Jim’s name on it.”

The program will initially fund 15 to 20 students who will be selected after a competitive application process. While most program students will be undergraduates, Cavanagh says that high-school students from Wake County – especially underrepresented students – will have the opportunity to work in the labs, as will graduate students and post-doctoral students, who will serve as mentors.

Students will be initially exposed to four ongoing NC State cancer therapeutic research projects in the laboratories of Cavanagh, Dr. Christian Melander (assistant professor of chemistry), Dr. Jonathan Lindsey (Glaxo Distinguished University Professor of Chemistry) and Dr. Jonathan Horowitz (associate professor of oncology). These collaborating core faculty work in an array of cancer areas, providing students with a very broad view of cancer research.

Students will be involved in efforts to find new chemotherapy treatments that kill only cancer cells, rather than all cells; in discovering effective ways of treating lethal opportunistic infections in cancer patients; in determining the Achilles’ heel of the mechanisms that cause two specific genes to trigger tumors in skin and prostate cancers; and in utilizing photomedicine – the use of light for diagnosis and therapy – to treat different types of cancer.

“These projects present different stages in the drug-design process, ranging from the identification of important target pathways to synthesizing molecules that have already shown great promise in cancer treatment,” Cavanagh says. “By such broad exposure, students will find a particular area of interest and, hopefully, become tomorrow’s generation of cancer researchers.”

The V Foundation funding also includes resources for an undergraduate research lab – where undergraduates and high-school students can practice and learn more about working in a research lab – and for travel expenses to attend scholarly meetings to present research findings.

– kulikowski –

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