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Engineering a Cure: Eight Buckeye engineering students receive Pelotonia fellowships

Donald Belcher, a graduate student in chemical and biomolecular engineering, is one of eight Buckeye engineering students to receive a 2017 Pelotonia Fellowship.Eight College of Engineering students—four graduate and four undergraduate—were awarded fellowships from the Pelotonia Fellowship Review Committee to support their cancer-related research in a variety of fields from biomedical engineering to computer science and engineering.

For Donald Belcher, a graduate student in chemical and biomolecular engineering, who has family and friends currently fighting cancer, the challenge is personal.

“Motivated by their battle, I am constantly looking for ways to implement techniques or materials from my current research to increase the effectiveness of cancer therapeutics,” he said.

Belcher’s research revolves around increasing the oxygen delivery to solid tumor tissue. By doing this, anti-cancer therapeutics such as chemotherapy can be drastically improved.

“New therapies that can increase the response rate of chemotherapies represent an urgent unmet clinical need,” Belcher said.

The three other graduate students who received fellowships are: Alex Avendano (mechanical and aerospace engineering, and biomedical engineering), who will study how cancer-associated fibroblasts lead to pancreatic tumor growth; Chia-Wen Chang (chemical engineering), who will study the role of the lymphatic vessel in tumor microenvironments and Hanyang Huang (biomedical engineering), who hopes to develop a smartphone-based whole slide scanner for faster and improved tumor identification and cancer diagnosis accuracy.

The four undergraduate student recipients are Jonathan Chang (biomedical engineering), Nicolas Grosenbacher (computer science and engineering, Ivan Pires (chemical engineering) and Griffin Spychalski (biomedical engineering).

Chang will use three-dimensional models to analyze how pancreatic cancer-associated fibroblasts contribute to tumors, while Grosenbacher will study a previously untested combination of drugs on endometrial cancer in the uterus.

Additionally, Pires will utilize, and aims to improve, photodynamic therapy to treat triple-negative breast cancer. Spychalski will measure how both fluid forces and biochemical signals influence the leakiness of blood vessels to influence tumor growth.

The eight Buckeye engineering awardees are among a group of 42 Ohio State students who received 2017 Pelotonia Fellowships. Graduate recipients will receive two years of funding support and undergraduate awardees will receive one year.

More than $13 million of the money raised through Pelotonia has been awarded to students conducting cancer-related research through this program since 2010.

Pelotonia is an annual Columbus cycling event founded in 2008 to fund cancer research at The Ohio State University. It has raised more than $130 million for cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.

by Zach Konno, College of Engineering student communications assistant