Student Fellowships Funded by Local Businessman

Two students on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus this summer had a lot in common. Monica Brown and Madison Weber wrapped up work in the Cancer Research Summer Fellowship Program. Both also are college undergraduates who focused on colon cancer research. Both of their fellowships also were funded by a man who lost his father to colon cancer years ago.

Left to right: John Tentler, PhD, Madison Weber, Nicki McTague from Infinite Monkey Theorem, Monica Brown, Todd Pitts, PhD

Left to right: John Tentler, PhD, Madison Weber, Nicki McTague from Infinite Monkey Theorem, Monica Brown, Todd Pitts, PhD

The Cancer Research Summer Fellowship Program is sponsored by the University of Colorado Cancer Center. The program gives dozens of college undergraduates and more advanced high school students the opportunity to spend ten weeks conducting cancer research.

Brown and Weber worked in the lab of Todd Pitts, PhD, and John Tentler, PhD, the associate director for education at CU Cancer Center, director of the summer fellowship program, and associate professor in the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Division of Medical Oncology. Pitts and Tentler specialize- in developmental therapeutics for gastrointestinal cancers Their lab’s focus is pre-clinical studies of novel drugs for the treatment of advanced colorectal cancer, utilizing both cell culture and mouse models. Pitts and Tentler’s pre-clinical work is the basis of treatment options for patients with advanced GI cancers in the CU Cancer Center Phase I Clinical Trials Program.

“CU Cancer Center’s Cancer Research Fellowship is a highly competitive program that gives undergraduates interested in cancer research the chance to conduct real experiments in a real lab,” said Tentler. “We want to give young people a chance to develop their skills and become cancer scientists. It’s very satisfying to see program participants chose research as a career path.”

Brown and Weber are working to determine how a particular combination of cancer drugs works on colon cancer cells in the lab. Brown is combining TAK-228, which is an inhibitor of the mTOR pathway, with a MEK inhibitor called trametinib. Weber is combining TAK-228 with several inhibitors of diacylglycerol kinase in order to block cancer cell metabolism.

Monica Brown

Monica Brown

“I volunteered in this same lab last summer,” said Brown, a senior at Iowa State University with a double major in genetics and microbiology. ”I wanted to step into a cancer and this program solidifies that I really want to do this. The actual research helped me finalize my decision.”

Weber also is a senior at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts where she studies biology and philosophy.

“I was a little bit uncertain about whether research was right for me,” said Weber. “I struggle with repetition and tedium. Which is what research involves. After this summer, I know research is a good fit so this has been a valuable experience for me.”

Madison Weber

Madison Weber

In addition to working in the same lab, on the same kind of cancer, Brown and Weber have something else in common. The funding for their participation in the Cancer Research Summer Fellowship Program was awarded by Ben Parsons, who owns The Infinite Monkey Theorem, an urban winery focused on making Colorado wines in Denver’s RiNo district.

Parsons’ father passed away from colon cancer in the United Kingdom in 2007. That’s when Parsons searched for organizations doing cancer research or offering support services to patients and their families. That search lead him to CU Cancer Center.

“I have devoted my life’s work and business ventures to honoring my father and those who have gone through this battle. We are proud partners of the University of Colorado Cancer Center and feel humbled to be able to assist with a fraction of their work,” said Ben Parsons, owner and winemaker at The Infinite Monkey Theorem.

Click here to learn more about the Cancer Research Summer Fellowship Program.

About the author: Erika Matich

Erika Matich is the communications manager for the University of Colorado Cancer Center. Contact her at Erika.Matich [at] ucdenver.edu.

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