Honors Enrichment Award: Cancer Research at the Penn State College of Medicine

This will mark my second year with the Gittlen Cancer Research Foundation. I work in the Penn State College of Medicine on the seventh floor of the Biomedical Research (BMR) building, and my desk window overlooks the small wooded area behind the Penn State Hershey campus.

This year I was fortunate enough to be awarded the new Honors Enrichment Award, and thought it was practical to apply the award to the research I was already doing in the lab. After several discussions with my lab’s principle investigator (Dr. Kristen Eckert) and RMU’s Professor Harold, it was decided that I would pursue my own independent research, but in a way that would be applicable to projects already going on in the Eckert lab.

The Eckert lab seeks to understand the important mechanisms that disrupt DNA replication during the Synthesis (or S. phase) phase of the cell cycle. The lab’s research focuses on how replicative stress (in the form of inflammation) causes such disruptions, which lead to mutations, which finally lead to tumor forming cancer cells. In fact, chronic inflammation is a hallmark of cancer. Better understanding these mechanisms will allow doctors and scientists to more effectively treat and prevent cancer and cause the least amount (ideally none) of damage to the patient’s healthy cells.

My research is specifically focused on the reactive oxidative species (ROS) made by cells in relation to replicative stress. Basically, I am looking at negatively charged oxygen species within the cell that arise during what we think are the beginning stages of cancer development.

The experience in the lab this summer is proving to be a challenge, but I am incredibly excited to see what our findings will be. At any rate, the work being done by Dr. Eckert’s lab and the results that we produce will always be a brand new step on the path to finding better treatments and preventions for cancer.

Damian DiFlorio

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