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WSU student wins cancer research award

Mon., Feb. 17, 2014

Two years ago, Washington State University biochemistry student Brianna Berg wanted to get involved in some sort of research project on campus. She didn’t really have a preference, she just kept her eye out for something that seemed interesting.

She came across Jonel Saludes’ chemistry lab, where she got started on a project researching prostate cancer. She came in without any expectations but soon found the work engaging.

“It’s grown into something I really enjoy,” the junior said.

Fast forward to last week, and Berg is now one of only 10 undergraduate students nationwide to receive the American Association for Cancer Research’s annual Thomas J. Bardos Science Education Award. The award recognizes students for their academic achievement and for partaking in competitive and relevant cancer research, Saludes said. It is intended to encourage students to enter cancer research fields.

With more than 34,000 members, the AACR is one of the largest, as well as oldest, scientific organizations in the world focused on cancer research. Berg is the first WSU student to win the award.

She applied for the award through a process that required her to send in a personal statement stating her career goals and a summary of her research.

When she received the email confirming she had won the award, she almost couldn’t believe it.

“I was really shocked,” Berg said.

She’ll receive a stipend to attend the annual AACR meeting in April at San Diego, where she will present her research. She said thousands of scientists will attend the meeting. She hopes to make connections with some of them, and hopefully bring home new ideas for future research projects.

Berg’s current research revolves around a protein that’s commonly found in all stages of prostate cancer. The protein is part of a biomarker scientists use to identify the cancer cells.

Saludes said the biomarker is well-known among scientists, but no one has investigated the particular protein Berg is studying.

While there is still some mystery behind what this protein does, Berg said it becomes active in cases of prostate cancer. She said if scientists find a way to prevent it from becoming active, they could use that information to develop better treatment for patients.

Saludes said further understanding of the biomarker could also improve diagnosis of the disease.

Saludes called Berg a “very dedicated and meticulous” student whose work has put WSU on the AACR’s radar.

Berg, who plans to attend medical school after graduating, is an Honors College biochemistry and chemistry major.


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