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National Cancer Institute grant builds better researchers

Matthew Lauver, a Penn State College of Medicine graduate student, has spent years working with Dr. Aron Lukacher to understand how mutations in a virus can affect the development and progression of a deadly brain disease.

Thanks to a grant from the National Cancer Institute, Lauver received funding to work with Lukacher, chair of microbiology and immunology, for an entire year. They developed a model of the viral mutations in JC polyomavirus using a related virus, mouse polyomavirus. The funding also allowed Lauver to see how their efforts affect patient care.

“The T32 grant allowed me to shadow a clinical oncologist, which was a great opportunity to learn about how some of the research I am doing relates to the work being done in the clinic,” Lauver said.

T32 is the common name for the Ruth L. Kirschstein Institutional National Research Service Award. For 22 years, the Institute has been using the grant to help equip predoctoral and postdoctoral scholars with skills to conduct independent cancer research at the College of Medicine.

On March 28, former and current recipients of the award gathered for the third annual Viruses and Cancer NCI-T32 Retreat, which showcased the work of former, current and potential trainees of the grant. The Department of Microbiology and Immunology, the Office of the Vice Dean for Research and Penn State Cancer Institute sponsored the event.

At Penn State College of Medicine, the work produced by recipients of the award focuses on viruses that cause cancer. Carcinogenic viruses pose a challenge to researchers because they are transmissible and can mutate.

Craig Meyers, distinguished professor of microbiology and immunology, is director of the T32 training grant in viruses and cancer. He said the National Cancer Institute places a strong emphasis on training and education and that students and post-doctoral scholars gain invaluable experiences in the program.

“The program exposes them to different areas of study, interaction with other labs and time to go out with clinicians and see what clinical areas are like,” said Meyers. These experiences have helped trainees and postdoctoral fellows secure employment in biomedical cancer fields.

Other trainees who are part of the T32 grant include:

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