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Hilldale Fellowship 2016

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Students and DHO Faculty Mentors Awarded Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowships

Rachel Orbuch from the Deric Wheeler lab.
The Department of Human Oncology at the University of Wisconsin is dedicated to providing research opportunities for undergraduates, an arrangement that benefits the students and their mentors.

When undergraduate research goes well, students gain hands-on laboratory experience, learn to think like scientists and gain in-depth knowledge of the processes and intricacies of the subject they’re studying. They contribute to the laboratory by conducting experiments and analyzing data and may coauthor papers.

In recognition of undergraduate research that is going well, two undergraduates and their DHO mentors have been awarded Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowships, which provide each student with a $3,000 stipend and each adviser $1,000 to help offset research costs, giving these students the opportunity to continue their research uninterrupted over the summer.

Deric Wheeler, associate professor of human oncology, works with Rachel Orbuch, a rising senior biology major, on her work on overcoming acquired resistance to cetuximab, an antibody that blocks EGFR protein from signaling a cell to grow and divide in non-small cell lung cancer.

“Like other undergraduate researchers in the lab, she works hand in hand with me and my scientists,” Wheeler says. “Ultimately, her goal is to perform high-quality research and generate publications that will help advance science and help her career move forward.”

Orbuch, who hopes to attend medical school, has found the work in the Wheeler Lab invaluable and feels fortunate to receive this fellowship.

“I really love working in the lab and learning about everything that goes on in the background that leads to scientific discoveries,” Orbuch says. “My experience in the lab has given me a greater appreciation for all the work that goes into finding cures and just how complicated cancer is.”

Anirban Chatterjee, a postdoctoral research associate in the Kimple Lab, mentorinig Michael Fisher.
Dr. Randy Kimple, assistant professor of human oncology, is working with Michael Fisher, a rising senior majoring in molecular biology, on research that investigates the role of mutations in a protein called Ras in head and neck cancer and whether those mutations drive resistance to radiation treatment.

The fellowship is a continuation of Fisher’s relationship with the department. As a high school student he volunteered for several DHO fundraiser, which left an impression that shaped his research interests.

“I met some amazing people at these events, cancer patients and survivors. I also came to appreciate the work of clinicians, scientists and everyone else behind the scenes in the fight against cancer,” Fisher says. “Remembering these experiences from high school, I contacted some of the investigators in the department, and after meeting with Dr. [Randy] Kimple, I knew I wanted to get involved in cancer research.”

Fisher’s work in the lab will be the focus of his senior thesis, and if all goes well he will present his work as a poster session at the American Association for Cancer Research in the spring, and hopefully to research papers thereafter.

“I mentor and help guide him in designing experiments, but over the years he’s become pretty independent in terms of his day-to-day work in the lab,” Kimple says. “He does all the actual lab work and data analysis and interpretation. I help make sure he stays on the right path.”

Fisher, who also hopes to attend medical school, considers biomedical research an integral part of his career path. “As a physician, I intend to act as a bridge between the bench and the clinic, helping to translate scientific advancements into improved prognoses for patients.”

The Hilldale Fellowship has helped him move closer to this goal. “The Hilldale Fellowship has enabled me to pursue an independent project in which I have a deep personal interest. It has also facilitated my engagement in an intensive research experience that will guide my ambitions for success in the field of cancer research. Through this work, I have gained an appreciation for the complexity of cancer research and the enormous potential for meaningful discoveries.”