BME PhD Student Wins Melanoma Foundation Award

By Mark Dwortzan

Research Assistant Professor Mario Cabodi and Associate Professor Joyce Wong, Zhang's BME co-advisors; JMNMF Secretary Denise Safko; BME PhD student Chentian Zhang with 2012 Research Scholar Award certificate; and JMNMF President Gregory Safko
Research Assistant Professor Mario Cabodi and Associate Professor Joyce Wong, Zhang's BME co-advisors; JMNMF Secretary Denise Safko; BME PhD student Chentian Zhang with 2012 Research Scholar Award certificate; and JMNMF President Gregory Safko

The Joanna M. Nicolay Melanoma Foundation has named BME PhD student Chentian Zhang as a recipient of the 2012 Research Scholar Award (RSA). The $10,000 award recognizes the potential of Zhang’s research to produce significant outcomes for the academic, scientific, clinical and patient communities seeking new treatments for melanoma, a malignant cancer tumor responsible for the majority of skin cancer deaths. An official award ceremony was held on March 27 at BU.

Zhang is one of nine graduate students chosen from among 42 applicants at 28 leading cancer research centers across the U.S, including medical institutions based at Cornell University, Dartmouth College and Yale University. Among other things, candidates were evaluated on the innovativeness, feasibility, applicability and scope of their research.    

“Receiving this award gives me encouragement and confidence for carrying out my research,” said Zhang, who is developing a microfluidic chip to determine the molecular triggers that enable the metastasis, or spread of melanoma—knowledge that could improve clinicians’ ability to predict secondary cancers in melanoma patients and lead to new drugs formulated to stop the metastasis. “By incorporating novel biomaterial design and microfluidic technologies, cancer metastasis could be studied on a chip, potentially a more physiologically relevant and cost effective approach than the current ‘gold standard’ of cancer research, animal models.”

“Chentian is an extremely focused and dedicated researcher who is not afraid to take risks as he pushes forward the development of his model melanoma system,” said Associate Professor Joyce Wong (BME). “Among his co-advisors—myself, [Research Assistant Professor] Mario Cabodi (BME) and [Boston Medical Center Dermatologist-in-Chief] Rhoda Alani—we are so proud of Chentian’s accomplishments.”

Now in its six year, the Joanna M. Nicolay Melanoma Foundation’s RSA program was the first in the nation to give recognition and support to outstanding graduate students actively involved in melanoma research. A non-profit public charity founded in 2004 to foster education, advocacy and research, the Foundation has become an influential voice in the melanoma community in pursuit of “prevention, detection, care and cure.” 

“Our Foundation’s ‘Research Scholar Awards’ are invaluable at the grassroots level, to specifically grow interest in melanoma research, at qualified cancer centers across the country,” said Robert E. Nicolay, JMNMF Chairman. “If we can attract the brightest minds that are considering, or are already within, the nation’s cancer research pipelines, to pursue a career in melanoma research, we’re that much closer to better understanding the disease, identifying the means for effective treatments and, most importantly, finding a cure for this deadly and very prevalent disease.”

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