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Coming Full Circle
Student Receives National Scholarship Award for Research Conducted in CHORI's Summer Research Program

"I eventually got a degree in business and I'd started my own business, as well," says Mr. Cox, "but after a while I just decided it wasn't where my heart was."

Sacramento State junior and 2007 CHORI Summer Research Program participant Christopher Cox is not your typical pre-med student, though adjectives like committed, dedicated, persistent and responsible – all of which have been used to describe Mr. Cox – could be applied to many a would-be MD.  What makes Mr. Cox unique, however, is that he found his way to CHORI’s research program through an unusual avenue: He called his old doctor to find out if he knew of any research opportunities in the cancer field.

“When he was about ten years old, Chris was diagnosed with leukemia, and he was treated here at CHRCO by our own James Feusner,” explains CHORI scientist Julie Saba, MD, PhD, who served as Mr. Cox’s mentor last summer, and hopes to do so again this coming one as well. “It was Dr. Feusner who got Chris connected with the program.”

After Mr. Cox's successful treatment with James Feusner, MD, now the director of oncology, Mr. Cox had gratefully returned to the business of living and gone on to tackle other things besides cancer.

"I eventually got a degree in business and I'd started my own business, as well," says Mr. Cox, "but after a while I just decided it wasn't where my heart was."

Instead, Mr. Cox found it in the idea of medical school, enrolling at Sacramento State as a pre-med student, and coming full circle back to CHRCO, not as cancer patient, but as a budding cancer researcher.
"I had no clue what research was about," says Mr. Cox, "but I thought it would be a good idea to get research experience before going to med school, and if was going to do research, I wanted to do it in the cancer field."
Mr. Cox was lucky enough to find a fitting mentor in Dr. Saba, who has been pioneering research on the role of sphingolipids in cancer for the last decade and was happy to introduce Mr. Cox to the world of laboratory research.

"I had no idea that there was a connection between clinical work and research work, and that there are oncologists who are often doing both at the same time," says Mr. Cox of his initial perceptions. Now, however, he's found his passion. As Mr. Cox says, "Research is amazing, it opens up more new doors every time you find some new results."

In Mr. Cox's case, the results have been quite exciting. Under Dr. Saba's tutelage, they conducted a variety of experiments with a natural sphingolipid molecule similar to that found in the fruit fly that seems to work against a variety of different kinds of cancer cells. Dr. Saba hopes to publish the results in the near future. In the mean time, both Dr. Saba and Mr. Cox are looking forward to CHORI's 2008 Summer Research Program, when Mr. Cox can resume his training under Dr. Saba.
"It was very motivational to have someone who actually survived cancer come into the lab and share with our researchers the urgency and importance of what we do," says Dr. Saba.

"We're all working at the signaling and cellular levels and here we have someone who is walking around as the result of people's research efforts from years ago."

CHORI is pleased to announce, in fact, that Dr. Saba is not alone in finding inspiration in Mr. Cox's return to the world of cancer in this capacity. Working Against Cancer, a national organization that aims to assist young cancer survivors move beyond their experience with cancer to lead productive and fulfilled lives, has just awarded Mr. Cox one of only 5 highly competitive scholarships to help him achieve his academic and career goals.

"The essential idea behind the scholarship is to help cancer survivors who are doing something now to benefit others who are currently fighting cancer," says Mr. Cox.

Mr. Cox certainly fits that bill, and thanks to his experience with CHORI's Summer Research Program, Mr. Cox continues to follow his heart's direction, aspiring to becoming one of tomorrow's most dedicated clinical researchers.

As Mr. Cox says, "The most exciting part of all of this is knowing that at some point when I finally become a doctor, I'll have the opportunity to do research and further the field, to examine ideas that I get from treating patients and to create better treatments as a result."

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:19 AM

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