Student working to solve cancer’s resistance to therapies earns NRSA grant

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Jeremy Meier in lab

M.D./Ph.D. student Jeremy Meier sees research as a puzzle.

“I think what is exciting about every research endeavor is the opportunity that it provides to delve into the unknown and try to put the resulting pieces together,” he said. “Often during the course of research you are led into new areas based on your results, and while challenging, it necessitates that you remain open and willing to explore alternative ways to think about the project at hand.”

Meier is studying at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine for his M.D. and at the VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research for his Ph.D. His concentration at the CCTR is in cancer and molecular medicine.

The most recent puzzle Meier is working on aims to address a novel molecular mechanism that cancer cells may take advantage of to evade death and even to become chemo- and radio-resistant. Results may provide insight into a new strategy for improving cancer cell killing.

As a result of this ongoing research, Meier was awarded in August the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award – a three-year National Cancer Institute grant totaling $123,000. The grant will mainly support Meier’s remaining thesis work in the lab with Andrew Larner, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the VCU School of Medicine and Martha Anne Hatcher Distinguished Professor in Oncology and co-leader of the Cancer Cell Signaling research program at VCU Massey Cancer Center.

“In particular, the grant will fund our research efforts in exploring the potential role that mitochondria play in cancer progression and therapeutic resistance,” Meier said. “We are especially interested in the function of STAT3 in this context, a protein that traditionally has been thought to exert its effects largely at the nuclear level, but recently has also been shown to have an important role in mitochondrial regulation.”

To this end, Meier and Larner are investigating how STAT3, through association with another protein, may be important for cancer cell survival.

“Our hope is that we may provide further insight into another dysregulated pathway in transformed cells that could potentially be targeted for therapeutic purposes,” Meier said.

Meier’s is a puzzle that he said will only be finished through the interdisciplinary teamwork that VCU fosters.

“One of the greatest aspects of research is that no matter the obstacles that may confront you, the collaborative nature of science ensures that you will always have a wealth of support behind you,” he said. “By working together it is the ultimate goal and sincerest hope that what you uncover will provide further insight into better understanding and approaching human health and disease.”