Jenny Pattison experienced the debilitating effects of cancer first-hand as her father battled with colon cancer for five years before passing away in 2009. The profound sadness and the deep hatred for cancer that followed created in Pattison a passion for finding a cure for this disease. This passion has not only shaped her future career, but her whole life.
As an undergraduate at BYU, Pattison noticed an advertisement for the Summer Research Fellowship Program at the BYU Simmons Center for Cancer Research (SCCR) and was intrigued. Although she initially felt inadequate to contribute to cancer research, she reached out to Dr. Julianne Grose, a member of the SCCR and associate professor in the Microbiology and Molecular Biology Department, and started work in her lab.
“[Grose] trusted me,” Pattison said. “She had confidence in my ability to do cancer research, and through that I was able to apply for the fellowship and have the research background I needed to contribute in the way that I wanted.”
The SCCR Fellowship Program began in 1998 and has funded over 200 students to research cancer through the generous support of numerous donors. These students are able to work full time on cancer research projects during BYU’s spring and summer terms. The ultimate goal of the SCCR is to train the next generation of cancer researchers and clinicians.
The fellowship program enables undergraduates and graduates to solely focus on their research projects. This allows them to be much more productive with their time in the lab and accelerates the rate at which they are able to conduct their research.
“The fellowship is really what allowed Pattison to become more like a graduate student,” Grose said. “She was able to work 40 hours a week and contribute and really take on her own cancer research project.”
Along with other students in the Grose lab, Pattison is studying PAS kinase, a molecule that regulates respiration. Due to the fact that cancer cells grow abnormally fast, they have abnormal respiration. They hope that their research of PAS kinase will help them better understand respiration in cancer cells and provide a specific therapeutic target for cancer treatment.
Through Grose’s mentoring and the support of the SCCR fellowship program, Pattison has grown in her capabilities as a scientist. She went from struggling to understand scientific terminology in research papers to ultimately writing her own scientific paper that is soon to be published.
“[Pattison] has been a huge benefit because she is naturally a very careful and independent worker, which is what it really takes to be a good scientist,” Grose said. “She always has the right controls with her experiments and thinks about the project herself. It is just really rare to have that level of care and thoughtfulness in a student’s research. It is the sign of an excellent scientist.”
Pattison also had the opportunity to participate in the 2016 Rex Lee Run for a Cure. Each year this race is sponsored by the SCCR and by members of the BYU student service organization, Cougars vs. Cancer, to raise money for cancer research fellowships. The proceeds go to student researchers.
By participating in this race, Pattison was able to see the many people who care about the cause and are anxious to make a difference in the fight against cancer.
“When you see hundreds of people around you that have gone through the same thing, it’s uplifting and helps you know that we are fighting for a cause and all these people are coming together to help,” Pattison said. “I felt the responsibility on my shoulders. I recognize that all these people want a cure and they want to help their family. For the first time in my life, I felt like that responsibility was mine.”
The excitement and passion for cancer research is growing rapidly on BYU campus and Pattison is grateful to be a part of it all. There are currently 17 summer cancer research fellows and two year-round fellows all working to contribute in the fight against cancer. Additionally, the Cougars vs. Cancer group is expanding their reach to include branches of two other organizations, Be the Match and Global Oncology. Students and faculty are excited to contribute in a significant way to find a cure for cancer.
To observe first-hand the cancer research that is taking place at BYU’s Simmons Center for Cancer Research, please schedule a tour by either emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 801-422-3913.
Writer: Emily Sorensen