Penn State MD/PhD candidate Alexandre Bourcier spent time this summer shadowing neurosurgeons and cancer patients and learned how devastating the effects of malignant nerve tumors — and, in some cases, the chemotherapy treatments used to combat them — can be.
The Schreyer Honors Scholar also conducted research on how to treat those kinds of tumors that yielded some encouraging results.
After making his presentation “Alisertib, a new hope for the treatment of malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors,” to the Penn State College of Medicine’s Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium in August, Bourcier made the same presentation at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Tampa, Florida, in early November and received an award that included a monetary prize to be put toward future research.
Working with James Connor, a distinguished professor and the vice chair of Penn State’s Department of Neurosurgery, and MD/PhD candidate Oliver Mrowczynski, in Hershey for 10 weeks during the summer, Bourcier injected cancerous cells into mice and treated them in four-week cycles with three different treatment regimens — a control (saline), the current standard treatment (Doxorubicin/Ifosfamide), and Alisertib, a drug most commonly used for breast and lung cancers.
In just three weeks, the mice who had received the Alisertib treatments experienced decreased rate of tumor cell growth compared to the other two treatments.
“We’ve seen that our drug worked pretty well,” Bourcier said. “The next step would be to try multiple cycles with the same set of mice. If it’s still working, then to rats, dogs and then humans.”
Bourcier decided to go to school some 8,000 miles away from his home and family in Bordeaux, France, specifically to study in an MD/PhD program, which integrates medical and graduate education. Initially intent on studying neuroscience, the sophomore said his experiences in Hershey this summer increased his interest in cancer biology and helped him more clearly define his career goals.
“I not only want to be a doctor, but I also want to innovate my field,” he said. “I just don’t see myself being trained for four years and then keep on doing it for 40 or 50 years. I want to have the tools to be able to innovate my field and just make progress. That’s how medicine works.”