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Department of Defense Funds Cancer Research at UAlbany

UAlbany School of Public Health doctoral students Don Matthews and Jan Baumann at work in the lab. (Photo Mark Schmidt)   

ALBANY, N.Y. (February 10, 2011) -- The University at Albany Cancer Research Center announced today that two doctoral students in Biomedical Sciences at the School of Public Health have won three-year fellowships to support their investigations into breast cancer. Jan Baumann, a native of Hameln, Germany, and Don Matthews of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, have been awarded highly competitive Department of Defense (DOD) Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs fellowships.

Baumann is using metabolomic analysis to examine whether the growth of breast cancer cells can be altered through nutritional limitations. "We hypothesize that especially vitamin B5 plays an essential role in HER2/neu positive breast cancer," said Baumann. He will receive $124,929 to conduct research in the lab of his mentor, Associate Professor Douglas Conklin.

Don Matthews, standing, and Jan Baumann, seated, have won highly competitive fellowships to conduct cancer research.

UAlbany's Don Matthews, standing, and Jan Baumann, seated, have won highly competitive fellowships that further both the field of breast cancer research and their medical research careers. (Photo Mark Schmidt)

"The UAlbany Cancer Research Center is an ideal environment for my project," said Baumann. "The faculty is engaged in many different aspects of breast cancer research and there are many opportunities for interdisciplinary input and collaborations."

Matthews is a graduate student in Empire Innovations Professor JoEllen Welsh's lab, studying the effects of vitamin D on breast cancer. He will receive $117,294 to study the genomic changes induced by various metabolites of vitamin D in relation to the growth of breast cells.

"Numerous epidemiological studies have shown a correlation between low levels of vitamin D and an increase in breast cancer incidence, so it would be very interesting to me to determine exactly why that is," said Matthews.

"The Department of Defense awards fewer than 100 fellowships a year," noted Cancer Research Center Director Martin Tenniswood. "It is a remarkable achievement for one institution to receive two awards in the same cycle. I think this speaks highly of the graduate students and their mentors."

The awards will help the researchers begin their medical research careers with a proven track record, producing results that will help further the field of breast cancer research. The fellowships include salary support and also cover the cost of tuition, workshops and attendance at the DOD "Era of Hope" conference, where they will present their progress and network with other breast cancer researchers.

Baumann plans to integrate his previous research in immunology with his current research on cancer, with the goal of becoming an independent investigator in the field of tumor immunology.

Matthews wants to run his own lab one day to focus on breast cancer development and progression, with the goal of developing new strategies for prevention and treatment.

"This opportunity at the University at Albany is a necessary step in my development as a researcher — not only to acquire a Ph.D., but to learn as many cutting-edge experimental techniques as possible and to learn how a productive lab operates," Matthews said.