Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Pharmacy student Brentsen Wolf has received a research fellowship for 2019-20 from the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education (AFPE) Gateway to Research Scholarship Program. Wolf is studying DNA mutations in the tumor cells of breast cancer patients.
According to Wolf, approximately 1 in 8 American women will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. In 2019, an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 62,930 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. About 41,760 women in the U.S. are expected to die in 2019 from breast cancer. For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, besides lung cancer.
“DNA mutations in tumor cells make the disease worse, harder to treat and the outcome of treatment less optimistic,” said Wolf, a Granite City native. “We are looking for one specific type of mutation, a synonymous codon mutation, that can have multiple effects on tumor cell growth and function.”
The National Cancer Institute of the U.S. National Institutes of Health is allowing Wolf to study data from 70 patients in The Cancer Genome Atlas Breast Cancer Project.
“Our study involves testing for changes in more than 12 key tumor cellular processes,” Wolf said. “All the findings can be compared among 70 individual patients and will discover common patterns of genetic damage in the cancer cell that occur repeatedly among cancer patients.”
Wolf expects identification of the affected processes will generate scores of completely novel cancer biomarkers. “The biomarkers will not only serve in cancer diagnosis and to improve the accuracy and reliability of prognosis, but also some of the biomarkers are likely to become completely novel targets for breast cancer treatment,” Wolf said. “This will result in a significant increase in the number of treatment options available for selection by physicians and patients. Several of the new targets are likely to act synergistically with exciting new treatment modalities, such as immune checkpoint inhibition, to improve the health of patients with breast cancer, and offer the patient hope of complete, lasting remission with permanent elimination of all cancer cells.”
“This AFPE award is quite rare, and it truly highlights the quality of our program,” said Ronald E. Worthington, PhD, professor in the SOP Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Wolf’s research mentor. “We must engage the interest of more Illinois students to consider pharmacy as a profession that goes beyond retail, with endless opportunities for jobs in fascinating scientific enquiry to improve health and possibly cure disease. We need to encourage prospective pharmacy students to understand that there is an ocean of exciting job opportunities in medical/scientific research, clinical trial management, and other sectors that go beyond retail pharmacy.”
“My thanks go out to Dr. Worthington and the SIUE School of Pharmacy faculty for their support throughout these past three years, because they meant a lot to me,” Wolf said.
The AFPE award involves a $5,000 stipend for one academic year. The awards are given to individuals who, in the judgement of the scientific review panel, have met the following criteria:
The Gateway to Research Scholarship program’s primary goal is to help students gain an understanding of the importance of research by enabling them to apply that knowledge to improve their clinical skills. The program provides a unique opportunity for talented PharmD and baccalaureate degree students to participate in a faculty-mentored research project. The Gateway to Research Scholarship also encourages students who have the aptitude and desire to pursue a career in research to continue their education in a PhD program.
The mission of the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education (AFPE) is to advance and support pharmaceutical sciences education at U.S. schools and colleges of pharmacy by awarding fellowships and grants. AFPE offers funding to first-year graduate school and pre-doctoral fellows in the pharmaceutical sciences, pre-doctoral fellowships in the clinical pharmaceutical sciences and pharmacy faculty development research grants.
Photo: SIUE School of Pharmacy student Brentsen Wolf.