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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2018 / June 

Medical student awarded grant to work on research to develop treatment for pediatric brain cancer

June 27, 2018

VTCSOM student Farah Shah in lab at VTCRI

Farah Shah
Farah Shah is the fourth Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine student in as many years to be awarded a summer research fellowship by the St. Baldrick's Foundation.

Farah Shah, a third-year student at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, has been awarded a grant from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to continue her research into developing more effective ways of treating pediatric glioblastoma, a brain cancer that is one of the most deadly and hardest-to-treat cancers in children.

She is conducting her research under the mentorship of Zhi Sheng, assistant professor and National Institutes of Health-funded oncology research team leader at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

Shah’s research is the fourth St. Baldrick’s summer fellowship awarded to Sheng’s students in as many years. St. Baldrick’s is a national organization established to find cures for pediatric cancers. Shah is one of 21 researchers across the country who received grants from the organization this summer.

Glioblastoma is the most aggressive brain cancer in children; however, most pediatric patients are not suitable candidates for surgery to remove the cancer because their brains are still developing, making the procedure much riskier for children. In addition, pediatric tumors often develop resistance to temozolomide, the standard chemotherapy agent for brain tumors.

Findings from Sheng and his team, including contributions from Shah, have shown that a combination of a P1K3CB inhibitor, a Cx43 activity modulator, and the chemotherapy drug temozolomide destroy glioblastoma cells in adults with limited side effects.

Shah’s research will use this combination therapy on cancer cells to determine its effectiveness on childhood brain cancer.

“We’d like to see if we can get those same results in pediatric glioblastomas,” Shah said. “If we do, that could really lay the groundwork for a novel therapeutic combination to treat pediatric glioblastoma and improve quality of life and prognoses in those patients.”

Sheng and his lab team are dedicated to developing new and effective cancer therapies with particular focus on glioblastomas.

“Farah is an outstanding student researcher,” Sheng said. “She has been very diligent, devoting most of her spare time working in the lab to test this combinational therapy.”

Shah also received the 2018 Alpha Omega Alpha Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship, whose mission is to foster the development of the next generation of medical researchers.

Shah said she plans to make research part of her career as a physician.

“Regardless of what specialty I choose, one thing that will stay constant is research,” she said. “I think it’s really important to apply basic science findings through research to clinical needs. In that way, research and clinical practice go hand in hand.”

Like many students, she was drawn to the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine because of its rigorous research requirement in which all students participate in an intensive, longitudinal four-year research program that culminates in development of a paper of publication quality for submission to an academic journal.

“It’s important for us to grow as learners and as medical students,” Shah said. “Being able to come to a school that fosters an environment where they give you time for research and where they help you find a research mentor and support you in those endeavors really meant a lot.”