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Sacramento, Calif.- Jeff Chen, an environmental toxicology major at UC Davis, has won the 2011-12 Thomas J. Bardos Science Education Award for Undergraduate Students from the American Association for Cancer Research, (AACR).

Chen is one of 17 college students chosen from the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico to win the two-year award. Another UC Davis student, Orli Kadoch, a cell biology major in the College of Biological Sciences,  received the award in 2010. Both students will attend the AACR 102nd annual meeting in Orlando, Florida in April; Chen will present his research in a poster session.

Established by AACR member Thomas J. Bardos, the award aims to inspire science students at the undergraduate level to enter the field of cancer research.

Chen’s research focuses on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, examining the genetic programming that allows pancreas cancer to start and progress. Specifically, he is studying a rare subpopulation of pancreatic cells known to have progenitor-like properties. Chen isolated the cells, an important step in identification of the mechanism by which pancreatic cancer cells can continue to renew and avoid differentiation.

Chen said he hopes to go into academic medicine, researching cancer immunology to develop new methods to target cancer cells.

Kadoch researches non-small cell lung cancer and the role of a gene called OCT1 in how well the chemotherapy drug oxaliplatin is taken up by lung cancer cells. The drug currently is used to treat colorectal cancer, but is not the first-line treatment for lung cancer. Because studies have shown it is   less toxic than other chemotherapy drugs, oxaliplatin may hold promise for lung cancer.

Kadoch, who plans to study medicine and continue to conduct clinical research, said the AACR meeting is an excellent opportunity to interact with peers and to meet leading cancer researchers.

“You realize that people your own age are discovering amazing things,” she said. “It’s great to know you are competing among those brilliant people.”

The AACR, founded in 1907, is a professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. Membership includes 33,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health-care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the U.S. and throughout the world. The organization publishes seven major peer-reviewed journals, and its annual meeting attracts more than 18,000 participants.

Designated by the National Cancer Institute, UC Davis Cancer Center is leading the way in identifying the molecular pathogenesis of carcinoma of the prostate, enhancing therapeutic response and identifying chemopreventions. For more information, visit the Cancer Center Web site.

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