Cardinal to study cancer treatments in Philadelphia

Cade Johnson

Lamar University sophomore Cade Johnson of Lumberton will join researchers at Children’s Hospital Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania to study cancer treatments during the summer thanks to his selection as a 2016 David J. Beck Fellow at Lamar University.

Johnson, a double major in biology and in exercise science and fitness management, is one of two undergraduate recipients of the prestigious Beck Fellowship. The scholarship endowed by David J. Beck covers all expenses for one year of education at LU, including tuition, fees, books and on-campus room and board, and provides up to $10,000 for a summer project. 

The 20-year-old has a personal interest in his summer cancer research — at age 11, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. His struggle to overcome cancer and the care he received from Texas Children’s Hospital inspired him to pursue medical studies and to join the research efforts for cancer treatments. After graduating from LU, Johnson wants to continue his education at medical school then work as a pediatric hematology oncologist in a major hospital.

“To find my research opportunity, I actually called one of the nurse practitioners that used to treat me at Texas Children’s Hospital. She now works at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia— she moved there towards the end of my chemotherapy regimen. I called her and asked if there was anybody doing research on leukemia, and she said, ‘Well, of course there is!’ I talked to the head of research and from there, it really took off,” Johnson said.

Johnson explains that in his research, he will study signal transduction inhibitors to treat cancer and look for improvements in this method of treatment. “Minimizing the toxicity to the body with that medicine is the real problem. They know they have one (treatment) that works pretty well, but they’re looking at the problem from multiple angles to see if they can find a way that it works better,” he said. “It would be a dream to find a cure for cancer that’s guaranteed to work with minimal side effects.”

To prepare for the complexity of drug research on a cellular level, Johnson is buckling down and studying up. He already has mastered the basics and is working extra hours under his mentor, Ashwini Kucknoor, to master the topics necessary before his summer project.

“I’ll be spending a lot of time with Dr. Kucknoor to really ensure that I have a deep understanding of molecular biology, immunology, and maybe a little of genetics. I’ll be spending my free time self-teaching and working in her labs here at LU to get used to the equipment. When I start the research, I should be well equipped to speak the language,” Johnson explained.

Johnson says he is extremely grateful for the people and influences that have helped him come this far. He has not always been aware of his capabilities, and he is thankful for a college experience that has opened his eyes to the difference he can make in the world.

“I’ve always felt that there’s nothing that you’ve ever done completely by yourself. My family, my community, teacher and professors … There has always been someone who has helped me to learn the skills necessary, so I’ve always felt that it’s really important to give back,” Johnson said.

“I’d like to start an annual or semiannual event that raises money for some charitable foundation or maybe even start a foundation that supports a good cause. I know those events take time to build up, but I hope I can create something that eventually will be even bigger.”

Johnson’s philanthropic ideals are strengthened by his involvement in service through LU. He participated in the Beaumont Arc Buddy Walk and the Cattle Baron’s Ball with his fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega. Johnson is a founding father of the ATO chapter at LU, and the fraternity has helped other sororities to put on various charity events since its establishment. He also helps represent the university as a Lamar Ambassador. Johnson hopes to volunteer at a hospital to advance his medical experience while helping those in need.

Besides the Beck Fellowship, Johnson receives the university’s Mirabeau Scholarship, which provides support for eight full semesters of school. The scholarship will be paused while he studies under the Beck Fellowship and resume the following academic year. Johnson feels especially fortunate to have such support with the financial burden of higher education, especially as he faces future expenses of medical school. What’s more, he believes the accessibility of LU has afforded him the involvement and opportunities necessary for a competitive resumé for his future endeavors.

Prior to receiving this award, Johnson has taken around 18 hours of classes every semester and 10 hours during the summer, so he is grateful that the fellowship affords him an extra year to slow down and better focus on his two majors. He plans to graduate from Lamar University in May 2019.

— Lamar University press release

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