April 26, 2017
Among the approximately 100 undergraduate students to present research at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting were not one, but two Hampden-Sydney students. In order to be selected, Brant Boucher '17 and James Lau '17 had to submit abstracts to present their work as well as be nominated by two AACR members.
More than 20,000 cancer researchers attended, making it one of the largest cancer research meetings held to date. Highlights of the meeting included leading cancer research from investigators all over the world and featured cutting-edge technologies and advances in cancer prevention and therapy, as well as panel discussions on topics such as cancer advocacy, and policy.
The melanoma research that James and Brant have been conducting in small-town Virginia with Elliott Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristian Hargadon '01 is a significant addition to the conversation. According to Hargadon, "Their work was well-received at the meeting, particularly as it provides new insights into FOXC2 function that have not been previously reported and describes a novel strategy for interfering with FOXC2 specifically in melanoma, but not healthy, cells."
James and Brant's research focuses on the FOXC2 protein, which is overactive in many aggressive cancers. James' work has shown that FOXC2 in melanoma cells promotes the ability of these tumor cells to migrate and invade tissues, which relate to the capacity to metastasize. By understanding more about how the protein furthers these metastatic behaviors, this work could potentially identify new targets for cancer therapies designed to inhibit the spread of melanoma. In this regard, Brant's work involved a preliminary investigation of a treatment strategy that aims to block FOXC2 function in melanoma cells. Though it is in its very early stages, the idea is that the ability to shut down FOXC2 in melanoma cells specifically could inhibit tumor progression without altering the normal function of FOXC2 in healthy cells.
Medical school is in the future for both young men. James will attend Eastern Virginia Medical School and Brant will attend medical school at Virginia Commonwealth University following graduation this spring.