UT student’s research on brain cancer recognized at national conference

June 13, 2013 | News, Research, UToday, Medicine and Life Sciences, Natural Sciences and Mathematics
By Brian Purdue

Glioblastoma is the most common and most malignant of brain tumors with an average survival rate of only 14.6 months after diagnosis.

Jacob Justinger continues working in the Biochemistry and Cancer Biology Department this summer on Health Science Campus.

Jacob Justinger continues working in the Biochemistry and Cancer Biology Department this summer on Health Science Campus.

Understanding these aggressive tumors is critical to developing therapeutic drugs, and research conducted by Jacob Justinger, a senior majoring in biology, is working toward that understanding.

The Sylvania native recently was recognized for his research efforts at the Sigma Xi 2013 Student Research Showcase, a nationally organized competition for graduate, undergraduate and high school students.

Justinger’s presentation, “Role for the GTPase Human Guanylate-Binding Protein-1 (hGBP-1) in Glioblastoma Prognosis,” was awarded second place for the undergraduate competition in the category of cellular and molecular biology. Justinger’s ranking placed him among students from some of the country’s most prestigious institutions, including Brown University and Cornell University.

“It was very exciting to place on the national level. It was great to see the hard work and many hours Dr. [Deborah] Vestal and I put into the project pay off,” Justinger said. “This experience showed me that UT offers excellent research opportunities to its undergraduate students, an experience I feel has been immensely valuable to my education.”

His research examined how the levels of the protein hGBP-1 in glioblastoma tumors were correlated with patient prognosis. Higher levels of the protein are linked with a decrease in patient survival time, leading to the hypothesis that the protein may cause the tumors to become drug resistant, although this has not been shown yet.

“The ability of pre-med and other pre-professional students to perform undergraduate research is an important part of what makes a university competitive for these types of students,” said Dr. Deborah Vestal, associate professor of biological sciences and Justinger’s adviser. “It is really satisfying when your investment in a student bears such tangible fruit as it has with Jacob.”

Sigma Xi was founded in 1886 to honor excellence in scientific investigation and encourage a sense of cooperation among all fields of science and engineering. There are nearly 60,000 Sigma Xi members in more than 100 countries around the world, and more than 200 of its members have won a Nobel Prize.

Justinger, who is in the UT Baccalaureate/MD Program, will begin medical school at the University this fall.

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