O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center announces 2023 NextGen Scholars
The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB is pleased to announce the 2023 class of NextGen Scholars, including two predoctoral awardees and one postdoctoral awardee. The O’Neal NextGen Scholars Awards support the training of future scientific leaders in cancer research.
Predoctoral awards enable promising graduate students to obtain mentored cancer research training from O’Neal Cancer Center faculty members by expanding upon each student’s dissertation project, enhancing the student’s potential to develop into a productive, independent researcher.
Postdoctoral awards support an integrated program of research and training for promising postdoctoral trainees and are also meant to enhance a trainee’s potential to develop into a productive, independent researcher.
Funds raised by the Young Supporters Board of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at its annual Fiesta Ball fund two O’Neal NextGen Scholars Awards each year, the Jacob Baker NextGen Scholar Award and the Mary Ann Harvard NextGen Scholar Award. The awards provide research funding for young cancer scientists and are named in memory of two former Young Supporters Board members who died from cancer.
This year, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama funded an O’Neal NextGen Scholars Award. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama funds research proposals that accelerate breast cancer research in Alabama. Since its founding in 1996, the organization has invested nearly $14 million in cutting-edge breast cancer research initiatives across the state.
2023 O’Neal NextGen Scholar Awardees
Nicole Caston, MPH
Nicole E. Caston, MPH, currently a doctoral candidate in the UAB Department of Epidemiology, is the recipient of a 2023 O’Neal NextGen Scholars predoctoral award, funded by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama. Caston’s research focuses on understanding underrepresentation in breast cancer clinical trials. Clinical trials offer novel treatment for patients with cancer and can advance the care of future patients. However, representation is low for patients who live in neighborhoods of high disadvantage. Caston aims to understand how patient-, system- and place-level factors influence clinical trial enrollment, willingness and accessibility for patients in neighborhoods of high disadvantage. This data will provide the foundation for the development of patient-centered interventions, improving breast cancer clinical trial representation. Caston is sponsored by Gabrielle Rocque, M.D., MSPH, senior scientist at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center and associate professor in the UAB Division of Hematology & Oncology.
Manoj Kumar, Ph.D.
The winner of the 2023 Jacob Baker NextGen Scholar Award is Manoj Kumar, Ph.D., currently a postdoctoral fellow in the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology. Kumar’s proposal investigates new ways to treat temozolomide (TMZ) and radiation-resistant glioblastomas. Surgery, TMZ chemotherapy and conventional radiation therapy are currently used to treat glioblastoma, but many forms of glioblastoma have become resistant to TMZ and conventional radiation therapy, creating a need for new treatment options. Kumar’s research will investigate the role of FLASH radiation, an innovative ultra-high dose radiation therapy with the potential to improve the therapeutic index for glioblastoma and other cancers, in treating TMZ and radiation-resistant glioblastoma.
In addition to this project, Kumar is also utilizing in-vitro models of primary and recurrent patient-derived xenografts to screen a library of blood brain barrier penetrant pharmaceuticals to identify novel treatments for primary, temozolomide and radiation-resistant glioblastoma. Kumar is sponsored by Christopher Willey, M.D., Ph.D., senior scientist at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Hale-Stephens ROAR Endowed Professor in the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology.
The winner of the 2023 Mary Ann Harvard NextGen Scholar Award is Lauren Nassour-Caswell, currently a biochemistry and structural biology theme student in the UAB Graduate Biomedical Sciences program. Nassour-Caswell’s proposal investigates the role of myristoylated alanine-rich c-kinase substrate (MARCKS) in the generation and stability of tunneling nanotubes between patient-derived glioblastoma (GBM) cells and normal human astrocytes. Tunneling nanotubes have emerged as important structures directly involved in the mediation of therapeutic resistance within the tumor microenvironment, and Nassour-Caswell’s proposal focuses on targeting these structures using a peptide derived from the protein MARCKS as well as elucidating the protein’s specific role. Her research will provide new insights into overcoming therapeutic resistance in glioblastoma and greatly progress the field of cellular intercommunication. Nassour-Caswell is sponsored by Christopher Willey, M.D., Ph.D., senior scientist and clinician at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Hale-Stephens ROAR Endowed Professor in the UAB Department of Radiation Oncology.