Cancer biology graduate student wins NCI training fellowship

A doctoral student in cancer biology at the Wayne State University (WSU) School of Medicine has secured funding from the National Institutes of Health to support her research. 

Alexis Wilson’s project, “ATF4-SCD axis in bone metastatic prostate cancer,” is investigating how the interaction between tumor cells and fat cells within bone marrow activates adaptive mechanisms to promote the growth and progression of metastatic prostate cancer in bone.

Wilson was awarded the F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award for Individual Predoctoral Fellows by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The program enables promising predoctoral students with potential to develop into productive independent research scientists to obtain mentored research training while conducting dissertation research.

Wilson is mentored by Professor of Pharmacology Izabela Podgorski, Ph.D., co-leader of the Prostate Cancer Research Team and a member of the Tumor Biology and Microenvironment Research Program at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute.

“Alexis was awarded this F31 grant on her first submission to the NCI, which truly speaks to her excellence and her potential as a cancer scientist in training,” Dr. Podgorski said. “I am extremely proud of Alexis and her achievement. She is very bright and passionate about research, and she has a contagious drive to find answers to scientific questions. This F31 project, which is based on Alexis’ original ideas, will not only allow her to study the novel mechanisms involved in metabolic adaptation of tumor cells in bone, but also will provide her with unique training opportunities in support of her future independent career in cancer biology.”

Wilson is in her fourth year of the Cancer Biology Graduate Program. She grew up in Davison and chose WSU for graduate school because of her experience as a then-undergraduate student at Grand Valley State University attending the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program hosted by WSU’s Cancer Biology Graduate Program and the Karmanos Cancer Institute.

“I had the opportunity to work in Dr. Podgorski’s laboratory, where I became fascinated with her research on identifying molecular drug targets for metastatic prostate cancer in bone. I also loved the community I felt at Wayne State during my SURF internship and wanted to be a part of it,” Wilson said.

F31 applications are subject to a rigorous peer review that considers the credentials of the trainee, their potential for an independent career in cancer research, the training environment, and the scientific merit of the project.

“I feel very grateful and excited to be receiving this grant. I am truly honored to be able to have this opportunity,” she said.

The significance of this research is immense as bone metastatic disease correlates with increased morbidity and mortality in prostate cancer patients. Various studies, including those in Dr. Podgorski’s lab, have determined that the bone marrow niche plays a supportive role during metastatic progression, which leads to increased tumor cell survival and escape from therapy although the molecular mechanisms are not fully understood.

Originally published at Today@Wayne.

Alexis Wilson, fourth year Cancer Biology Graduate Program student

Izabela Podgorski, Ph.D.