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To find a cure
Cancer studies at Edison Biotechnology Institute inspire student computer wiz to delve into medical research

June 6, 2005
By Kelee Riesbeck

Anthony Schwartz was known in high school as a computer whiz. He planned to coast through a computer engineering degree at Ohio University and pursue a lifelong career in the business.

Anthony Schwartz. Photo by Rick Fatica"I never thought I would want to do anything else," says Schwartz, a third-year computer engineering major at the Russ College of Engineering and Technology,

Building on his computer know-how, Schwartz founded XTELL Networks, a Parkersburg, W.Va.-based high speed data services and electronic medical records software company, during his senior year in high school. XTELL designs and manages Ohio University's Diabetes/Endocrine Diseases Database and Biorepository, located in the Edison Biotechnology Institute, where human serum, plasma, cells and DNA are stored for research.

While visiting the Institute last December, Schwartz toured the research lab of Distinguished Senior Research Scientist Leonard Kohn, who is leading a study on ways to stop the spread of cancer. It was a turning point for the student.

"I was looking for a research project when I first came here to see what Doug Goetz and Leonard Kohn were doing, and I was just amazed," he says. Schwartz, a co-founder of the national organization American Cancer Society Teens, was already invested in helping to find a cure for the disease. His enthusiasm about the research landed him a place within Kohn's lab as an undergraduate researcher.

Researchers at Kohn's lab are working on a substance found on a cell's surface called Toll-like receptors, or TLR. TLR are a family of receptors that allows cells to recognize different microbes such as bacteria, viruses, their RNA and DNA, or molecular signatures.

The lab focuses on the TLR3 receptor, which recognizes the double-stranded RNA of a virus but does not recognize bacteria, much in the same way a certain lock can only be opened by a specific key. When such a virus enters into a cell, it activates an immune response within the body, which is the body's way of protecting itself, says Schwartz. Researchers in Kohn's lab have discovered a connection between the body's autoimmune system and cancer. TLR3 can be abnormally expressed not only in autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, but also in cancer, they report.

The Edison Biotechnology Institute scientists are developing a compound that would diminish TLR3's ability to function and, researchers hope, prevent cancer from developing or progressing in cells that have the TLR3 receptors. As an undergraduate researcher, Schwartz is evaluating TLR3 expression in different types of cancer and is monitoring the effect, growth, mobility and migration of cancer in mice once the compound is administered using different techniques.

"In theory, if TLR3's signaling function is compromised, this will stop other cells from becoming cancerous," explains Schwartz, who presented his work at the Ohio University Student Research and Creative Activity Fair in May.

The student now plans on pursuing his new-found passion of biomedical engineering as a graduate student once he completes his undergraduate degree.

"Working here has offered me a real challenge. I would spend all day and night up here if I could," Schwartz says.

For more information about the Edison Biotechnology Institute, visit the Web at www.ohio.edu/biotech. For more information about Schwartz's work on the biorepository, visit www.xtellnetworks.com/2005/biorepository/.

Vision Ohio

This story features applied research and distinctive undergraduate research.

Kelee Riesbeck is a freelance writer. 

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