September 24, 2019

National Institutes of Health awards Cancer Biology doctoral students Allison Mitchell and Adrianne Wallace-Povirk

The National Institutes of Health has awarded two Wayne State University School of Medicine graduate students F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellows.

Allison Mitchell, left, and Adrianne Wallace-Povirk, received independent fellowships from the National Cancer Institute.

Allison Mitchell and Adrianne Wallace-Povirk are doctoral candidates enrolled in the Cancer Biology Graduate Program at Wayne State University and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute.

An F31 is an independent fellowship for a doctoral student that supports the trainee’s stipend, benefits and provides 60% of tuition.

“It establishes a trainee’s ability to critically design a research project and articulate his/her science along their career goals to a senior scientist who objectively evaluates the merit. By any measure, this fosters skills that will serve the student well in his/her future career, whether it be academics, the pharmaceutical industry or other professional pursuits,” said Program Director Larry Matherly, Ph.D., the Eunice and Milton Ring Endowed Chair for Cancer Research and Professor of Oncology at WSU.

Nationally, the National Cancer Institute funds one in four applicants, often requiring more than one submission. “In the Cancer Biology Graduate Program, our doctoral students have been quite competitive for these prestigious awards, and currently three of our trainees hold F31 fellowships. This is a testament to our strong research culture, our high-quality faculty and the outstanding trainees who matriculate into the Cancer Biology Graduate Program,” he added.

Allison Mitchell

Mitchell is a fifth-year doctoral candidate mentored by Associate Professor of Oncology Guojun Wu, Ph.D.

“It was, of course, such an honor to be selected for this fellowship. It felt very validating to know that the reviewers at the National Cancer Institute thought highly of my work,” she said.

Her thesis is focused on a gene named FOXQ1, which the Wu lab identified as a critical driver of metastasis and drug resistance in certain types of breast cancer.

“My work essentially takes this a step further by looking into the mechanism of how FOXQ1 accomplishes this by recruiting an enzymatic complex to certain genes and epigenetically turning them on,” she said. “The goal of understanding this process is that if we could prevent FOXQ1 from binding to this enzymatic complex, we could stop the cancer cells from spreading throughout the body and increase drug sensitivity.”

Mitchell is a native of Lake Orion, Mich., and has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Northern Michigan University.

She selected WSU for her graduate training and specifically, the Cancer Biology Program, “because it has a great national reputation and a track record of alumni graduating with employment at prominent institutions.”

Adrianne Wallace-Povirk

Wallace-Povirk is in her fourth year of doctoral study. She is mentored by Dr. Matherly, and feels honored and humbled to receive the F31 award. “Honored, because this is a testament to my research abilities and the training I’ve received from the Cancer Biology Program. Humbled because the design for these drugs and the delivery mechanism is built upon years of efforts by other scientists and patients who willingly participated in trials to understand how to better treat ovarian cancer,” she said.

Her thesis seeks to identify a drug directly delivered only to ovarian cancer cells through a uniquely expressed receptor on the tumor, and that targets a biochemical pathway often up regulated in tumors, called one-carbon metabolism.

“Standard treatment for ovarian cancer still includes chemotherapy, which is non-selective, meaning healthy and malignant cells will receive the drug. This leads to patients experiencing undesirable side effects,” she said.

Wallace-Povirk is a native of Caro, Mich., a small town in Michigan’s thumb area, and has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Oakland University. She started working with Dr. Matherly as his research assistant after graduation. The project she worked on was a drug development effort, with a strong focus on ovarian cancer.

“Coincidentally during this era, a woman who was influential in my life passed away from the disease. I believe this experience marked a critical moment in my career trajectory, as I realized the impact drug development research could have on patient outcomes,” she said. “It was this experience that convinced me to apply to the Cancer Biology Graduate Program, where I could focus my research interests on clinically translated therapeutics for ovarian cancer.”

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