Mansfield University Biology Students Earn NASA Research Scholarships

MANSFIELD, PA – Two Mansfield University Cell and Molecular Biology majors, working in the laboratory of Dr. Kristen Long, have been granted scholarships to pursue cancer research. Adrianna Vaskas, a May 2019 graduate from Wyalusing, PA, and Catherine Troutman, a senior from Klingerstown, PA, each earned a $4,000 scholarship from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Pennsylvania State Grant Consortium. These scholarships are awarded to Juniors and Seniors attending an accredited Pennsylvania college or university and enrolled in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics program. Scholarship recipients agree to participate in education outreach and mentoring activities throughout the award cycle.

One of 18 students to be granted funding for the 2018-2019 cycle, Adrianna Vaskas used her funding to expand her studies on curcumin, a derivative of the spice turmeric, and its impact on pancreatic cancer. Vaskas explains, “Past studies used curcumin as a treatment for tumor-bearing mice lacking specific immune compartments. Despite following published protocols, we noted a different response to this treatment in our model compared to current cancer research literature. My study approach is unique. We used curcumin as a treatment for tumor-bearing mice with fully functioning immune systems. NASA’s scholarship enabled the project to become far more comprehensive and led to a collaboration with both a pharmaceutical company and another researcher at the University of Pennsylvania to help us uncover the cause of these different responses.”

Vaskas reward extended far beyond the lab as she notes, “I’ve gained valuable experiences, including presenting at state and regional conferences, working in a team with my lab mates, and appreciating the resiliency needed for extensive problem-solving. I hope other students pursue their passions, no matter how lofty they may seem.” Vaskas will present her findings alongside Dr. Long next month in Boston, MA at the 2109 American Association of Cancer Research’s national conference: Pancreatic Cancer: Advances in Science and Clinical Care

Catherine Troutman, one of only ten students granted funding for the upcoming 2019-2020 cycle, plans to use her scholarship to investigate the differences in telomerase and the alternative lengthening of telomere pathways shown between healthy and malignant cells. Troutman explains, “In normal, healthy cells, telomeres—DNA ‘caps’ on the ends of chromosomes—shorten with every round of cell division. These eventually shorten to the point where cells can no longer divide and subsequently become marked for normal cell death. In cancer cells, the telomere length is preserved, enabling cancer cells to escape natural cell death and replicate into masses. I hope to uncover the specific pathway of telomere lengthening used by pancreatic cancer cells and then develop ways to inhibit that pathway. This NASA-Pennsylvania State Scholarship will help bring my research ideas to life.” 

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