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Featured student: Lucas Lebbin '15

Lucas Lebbin is only a sophomore, yet already he is researching treatments for an especially deadly form of infant leukemia.

Last summer, the biology-chemistry major from South Bend worked alongside groundbreaking pediatrics researcher Ashish R. Kumar, M.D., Ph.D., at the Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. They studied MLL, mixed lineage leukemia, which researchers have puzzled over for more than 20 years of clinical trials. Kumar is targeting one of the genes that make it hard to kill the cancer.

“Researching at the nation’s third-ranked children’s hospital allowed me to go beyond studying textbooks,” says Lebbin. “I wasn’t an intern. I was a research fellow. I was able to become part of the cure for leukemia.”

He plans to return to Dr. Kumar’s lab next summer. Dr. Kumar knows that blocking the gene (MEIS1) also blocks the leukemia from developing in mice. That may indicate MEIS1 would be a good target for drug therapy.

The work is far from finished, however. Lucas is looking forward to helping the Kumar Lab with the daunting task of researching genetic mouse models grafted with human MLL tissue. The Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute is a leader in such mouse model grafting.

“Being at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital allowed me to attend cutting-edge presentations given by leading researchers in their fields and meet with the members of the Cincinnati College of Medicine Admissions Committee,” says Lebbin. “I had the opportunity to shadow orthopedic-pediatric surgeries, I had lunch with research staff and attended departmental outings and parties, and the head of my lab went out of his way to bring me a birthday present.”

The fellowship is opening other doors for Lebbin. During January session this year, he participated in a health sciences practicum in Zambia, Africa, where he assisted in hospital laboratory work. “I quite literally was shown to the lab, placed in front of a COBAS INTEGRA 400 Plus multi-analyte analyzer and started culturing patient samples,” he says. “Without my laboratory background gained from my time in Cincinnati, I would have been clueless (in Zambia).”

Lebbin can’t wait to get back into the cancer laboratory with his new mentor, but he’s also eager to learn all he can as an MU undergraduate. “It was an experience that gave me a greater appreciation for my classes and showed where I can be when I make my dreams a reality. As I move forward at Manchester and take more advanced classes like Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Physics and Organic Chemistry, I have a deeper knowledge of not only what my education is building on but also building toward.”

“It has been an honor to be able to help provide a significant contribution to research of childhood leukemia.”

By Kyle Lahman ’15


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