Shelly Peyton, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is one of 22 researchers who have been named by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The scholarships provide flexible funding to early career scientists researching the basis of perplexing health problems—including diabetes, autism, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer.
Pew’s scholars program awards recipients $240,000 over four years to pursue their projects without direction or restriction. To be considered, applicants must demonstrate excellence and creativity in their research. This year, 179 institutions were invited to nominate a candidate, and 134 eligible nominations were received.
Peyton says her research under the Pew program involves investigating how stem cells contribute to the metastatic spread of breast cancer. She says other scientists are also investigating this, but primarily from the standpoint that stem cells might hijack the immune system, helping to protect cancer cells from being detected by the body.
“We, on the other hand, presume that stem cells may alter the mechanical properties of the target organ, by remodeling it, before the arrival of cancer cells,” Peyton says. “In essence, they are forming hospitable soil that will support and nurture the growth of the spreading cancer cells.”
Peyton says her research work relies heavily on previous training in stem cell biology with Linda G. Griffith, professor of biological engineering and mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her biomaterials training at both MIT and the University of California, Irvine, and her UMass Amherst lab’s growing expertise in cancer biology.
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