Courtesy of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania
Understanding T cells, antitumor immunity and chimeric antigen receptors are some of the many critical areas of study to discovering effective therapies that can turn cancer into a curable disease. It is where science and medicine meet, and where Cheyney students have recently had the opportunity to be on the frontline of cutting-edge research.
Through a partnership with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania (PICI@Penn), Cheyney students have been interning in labs alongside the nation’s top immunotherapy cancer researchers and clinicians. Faculty members recommended Michael Ikpe, Natalie Brown and Ositadimma Ugwuanyi last year to be part of the internship program. The students were selected based on their enthusiasm for experimentation in the lab and academic performance. They also completed the LSAT Hub trainee program before beginning their internship in January 2022.
They worked 10-20 hours throughout the spring semester and have been working 40 hours a week throughout the summer. Each is assigned to a lab under the supervision of post-doctoral researchers.
According to Dr. Adedoyin Adeyiga, professor and chair of the Department of Natural and Applied Sciences at Cheyney, Penn Medicine prepped the students by engaging them in onsite training throughout the spring semester. The students were paid for the semester of training and onboarded full-time as soon as classes ended in May.
All three students major in Biology with a concentration in pre-med and plan to graduate Spring 2023. Ikpe works in the Wherry labs where they specialize in T cell exhaustion which is a consequence of cancer.
“I’m learning concepts as well as techniques involving T cell exhaustion with respect to the disease,” said Ikpe. “I’ve been very excited about the work being done by PICI and my participation.”
Brown works with a researcher in evaluating ways to restore antitumor immunity in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, which accounts for more than 90% of pancreatic cancer cases and is notoriously difficult to treat. While Brown has not committed to a career path quite yet, she stated, “I have a great support system with Cheyney and Penn Medicine.”
Ougwuanyi works in an immunotherapy lab where he focuses on using chimeric antigen receptor T cells, which are T cells that have been genetically engineered to produce an artificial T cell receptor for use in immunotherapy. His research focuses on finding cures for various leukemia/lymphoma, from culture and expansion to cell transformation.
“I’m also learning to work with new technology for cell imaging and avidity measurement,” said Ougwuanyi. “I am interested in the medical route and also medical research. I plan on attending medical school.”
The current program is one year with the possibility of extending to a second year, according to Vanessa Atkins, Director of Cheyney’s Life Sciences and Technology Hub. PICI funds the program that is run in the labs of Penn Medicine researchers. Dr. Adeyiga was contacted by Avery Posey, an Assistant Professor at Penn Medicine, to establish the program last summer.
The internship program expands Cheyney’s STEM opportunities through its on-campus offerings and the many partnerships it established over the last four years with organizations and institutions. It also builds the university’s commitment to providing students with more internship opportunities and real-life experience.
PICI@Penn was established in July 2015 as a consortium member of preeminent academic and medical research institutions to work collaboratively in the field of cancer immunotherapy. Through the generosity of the Parker Foundation, PICI@Penn has established collaborative cancer immunotherapy programs in the areas of Adoptive Cell Therapy, Tumor Microenvironment, T Cell Pathways, and Vaccines.