Research Communications

From China to cancer research: One graduate student’s scientific journey 

By Kathryn McFadden - Nov. 20, 2013

Qian Yanrong
Yanrong Qian at the Edison Biotechnology Institute (Photo: Kathryn McFadden)

To suggest that Yanrong Qian is committed to her research would be an understatement.

Qian left her home in China four years ago to pursue a doctoral degree in Ohio University's molecular and cellular biology program and in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. She was inspired by Xiaozhuo Chen, an associate professor of biomedical sciences at Ohio University's Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine involved in diabetes and cancer research.

Deeply involved in her scientific studies in Athens, Qian didn't return home to visit her family until last September. During that time, she received several awards for her research and exceptional teaching skills, including the American Cancer Research Scholar Award for Women in Cancer Research awarded by the American Association for Cancer Research. Last spring she received the Donald Clippinger Graduate Fellowship to fund her research during the current academic year.

"I really wanted to spend more time doing what I'm supposed to do. When I left China I didn't have any achievements, in my own definition," Qian says. "I wanted to make sure I would graduate on time and be qualified to be a Ph.D. candidate."

The Clippinger fellowship has allowed Qian to discontinue teaching and focus solely on her research on a new cancer research project, under the direction of Chen at the Edison Biotechnology Institute.

"This fellowship is service-free and it supports my daily expenses while I am pursuing cancer research," Qian says. 

Her research concerns the glucose transport and glucose metabolism in cancer cells. Cancer cells have "sweet teeth," Qian says, and use more glucose than normal cells do to thrive. Qian and her fellow researchers are trying to determine whether they can inhibit cancer cells' growth by blocking their access to glucose and other energy nutrients.

"My part of the work is to screen novel compounds, because not every compound we've studied has the ability to block the glucose transport," Qian says.

Chen and his chemistry collaborators originally discovered WZB117, a small and effective small-molecule compound in inhibiting cancer cell proliferation, but it was not chemically stable. Qian has screened a new generation of novel glucose transport inhibitors, and with her team, identified WZB173, which so far has proven to be much more stable and potent.

Now Qian is investigating the compound and comparing the differences between the effects of WZB173 on cancer cells and noncancerous cells. Her ultimate hope is to find an effective anticancer therapy. 

"I think I'm a person with a lot of sympathy," Qian says. "I really want people in this world to live happier and healthier."

Editor's Note: Ohio University's Graduate College awards five Named Fellowships each year. For more information, visit: http://www.ohio.edu/graduate/fellowships.cfm.