January 6, 2017

Cancer Biology's John Diedrich wins NIH F31 training grant for prostate cancer research

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Wayne State University School of Medicine graduate student John Diedrich its coveted F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award for Individual Predoctoral Fellows. Diedrich will use the grant to study how tumor cells use lipids provided by fat cells to survive in bone marrow and become resistant to therapies.

The competitive grant from the National Cancer Institute provides promising senior students like Diedrich with supervised research training while conducting dissertation research, and pays for a portion of student tuition, fees and training-related expenses such as travel costs, health insurance and equipment.

"I was extremely excited that all of our hard work paid off," said Diedrich, a fifth-year doctoral candidate in WSU's Cancer Biology Graduate Program.

He is mentored by Associate Professor of Pharmacology Izabela Podgorski, Ph.D., and will use the first-time funding for the project "Bone marrow adipocytes alter the metabolic phenotype of metastatic prostate cancer cells through the activation of HIF-1a."

The application examines how fat cells in bone marrow influence growth and progression of metastatic prostate cancer, or PCa, cells, and could uncover new therapeutic agents and lead to improvement in patient outcomes.

"Although many strides have been made for treatment of localized PCa, metastatic disease remains incurable. The major site of PCa metastasis is bone, and tumor cells that spread to skeletal sites depend on various components of bone marrow for their growth and survival," he said. "Previous studies in our laboratory have shown that metastatic cells are particularly influenced by the fat cells, which are abundantly present in bone marrow space. The number of fat cells in bone marrow increases overwhelmingly with age and obesity, but their impact on metastatic disease is not understood. Our studies show that fat cells alter metabolism of the tumor cell in bone in a way that helps the tumor thrive and survive. It is imperative that we study this mechanism to understand how to treat the metastatic disease."

Diedrich, a native of Shelby Township, Mich., now resides in Livonia. He received the NIH's T32 Training Grant Fellowship for the 2015-2016 academic year, and has also been awarded the Cancer Biology Undergraduate Research Fellowship and the Cancer Biology Director's Award.

"I would not be where I am today without the mentoring that I have received from Dr. Podgorski. She has always been there for me whenever I have questions and to bounce ideas off of, and she has been extremely patient with me throughout my development as a Ph.D. student, always pushing me to be better," he added. "Her passion for research and mentoring is evident in the success of her students. I am extremely fortunate to have Dr. Podgorski as my graduate mentor."

In addition to Dr. Podgorski's mentorship, Diedrich is quick to acknowledge the support and guidance provided throughout his training by co-mentors Larry Matherly, Ph.D., who directs the Cancer Biology Graduate Program, and Associate Professor Maik Huttemann, Ph.D., as well as his dissertation committee members Karin List, Ph.D.; Manohar Ratnam, Ph.D.; Elisabeth Heath, M.D.; and Sokol Todi, Ph.D.; lab technicians Mackenzie Herroon and Erandi Rajaburubandara; fellow graduate student and lab member Rebecca Farr; and the entire team of the Cancer Biology Graduate Program, including program Associate Director George Brush, Ph.D., and Program Manager Nadia Daniel.

"I chose the Cancer Biology Program at WSU because it is ranked as one of the best cancer biology programs in the nation, and its close affiliation with the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute allows us to see the impact of our research first-hand. I chose this program because of its outstanding reputation among graduate schools and its unyielding support for its graduate students, both financially and through an invaluable mentoring experience," he said.

For more information about the Cancer Biology Graduate Program at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, visit http://cancerbiologyprogram.med.wayne.edu/index.php

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