C*STAR Cohorts

Funded by the University of Illinois and the Carle Cancer Center, the C*STAR graduate program was initiated in the fall of 2015. The program fosters translational research and was developed to encourage near-term benefits to patients served by Carle and the greater Champaign-Urbana community.

The program offers students with up to three years of funding for their research and matches the students with an Illinois faculty mentor and a Carle physician mentor.

C*STAR Students and Mentors

FALL 2015

The fall 2015 cohort of C*STAR students includes Elizabeth Awick, Mahdieh Jadaliha, and Evijola Llabani.

ELIZABETH AWICK

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(left to right) Edward McAuley, Elizabeth Awick, Janet Iverson, Kendrith Rowland
  • Research Project: Relationships among physical activity, quality of life, and cognitive function in breast cancer survivors
  • Illinois Faculty Mentor: Edward McAuley, Kinesiology and Community Health
  • Carle Physician Mentor: Dr. Kendrith Rowland
  • Project Overview: A lot of research out there has suggested that individuals who go through cancer, not only the diagnosis but also the treatment for cancer, have reported some sort of loss of mental acuity after treatment. It’s the phenomena now known as “chemo brain.” For this particular study, we looked at female breast cancer survivors between the ages of 30 and 60. In our study the women came in and actually did a graded exercise test and that gave us an objective measure of their cardio respiratory fitness so that we could also investigate how fitness might play a role in that relationship. After they gave us a VO2 max test, they came in on two separate occasions that were counterbalanced to prevent any sort of “cheating” on the cognitive tasks. In the first session, they performed cognitive tasks then walked on the treadmill for 30 minutes. As soon as they finished walking, participants completed the cognitive tasks again, then rested and completed them a third time exactly an hour after the exercise was finished. On their second visit, participants did the cognitive tasks and then rested for 30 minutes and then they did the cognitive tasks again. So we were comparing the effects of one bout of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise on “chemo brain” cognition.

MAHDIEH JADALIHA

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(left to right) Partha Ray, Kannanganattu Prasanth, and Mahdieh Jadaliha
  • Research Project: Characterization of IncRNA to identify markers and drug targets
  • Illinois Faculty Mentor: Kannanganattu Prasanth, Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Carle Physician Mentor: Dr. Partha Ray
  • Project Overview: In our lab we are working in the context of breast cancer progression. We’ve screened several long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs), of which the role in breast cancer progression is largely unknown. Among them, there is a lncRNA called MALAT1 that we studied further, and observed it going up in metastatic breast cancer cell lines, as well as in patients. It is a cancer biomarker. We observed when MALAT1 is not present, metastasis and tumor progression decrease. We studied different patients from several different databases and we observed a specific group of patients called lymphoma negative patients, triple negative subtype. We observed that in these patients with a higher level of MALAT1, survival decreased dramatically. So in this study, we proposed that MALAT1 could be a potential marker for these patients. And it is of great clinical importance because it is important to know who should get chemotherapy—and who should not—among lymphoma negative patients.

EVIJOLA LLABANI

(Left to right) Paul Hergenrother, Maria Grosse Perdekamp, Janet Iverson, Evijola Llabani
(left to right) Paul Hergenrother, Maria Grosse Perdekamp, Janet Iverson, Evijola Llabani
  • Research Project: Fluorometric microculture cytotoxicity assay for personalized medicine
  • Illinois Faculty Mentor: Paul Hergenrother, Chemistry
  • Carle Physician Mentor: Dr. Maria Grosse Perdekamp
  • Project Overview: I work in an anti-cancer, small molecule development lab group interested in screening the library of compounds that are really complex and diverse into different types of cancer cell lines. For my research, I conducted a phenotypic screen and tried to figure out which compounds would cause the most toxicity to cancer cells. Once I had a lead compound then I would do what we call structure activity relationship where we try to understand a little more of the parts of the molecule and what is needed for activity. I have tested the lead compound on colon, ovarian, pancreatic and breast cancer cells and it shows great activity and toxicity in all. Mainly for the past year I have been focusing on identifying the target—why this lead compound is so toxic to cancer cells. We have tested the compound in mice as well; so we inject cancer cells in mice (as a model) and see how treatment with the compound retards cancer cell growth.