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Taking Cancer Research to Capitol Hill

Talking with members of Congress about National Institutes of Health funding outcomes and presenting original research at an NIH conference were only a portion of the summer internship tasks assigned to Emporia State University senior Chris Alderman of Emporia.

Alderman, who is majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, was chosen as an intern for the NIH in Washington, D.C., as the Midwest’s student representative and cancer research presenter. The experience reinforced his determination to continue the type of cancer research that brought him a Boe Award from the Great Plains Honors Council earlier this year.

This opportunity was developed for him to talk specifically on the outcomes of the NIH’s Institutional Development Award (IDeA) through which he has received more $20,000 in cancer research funding. Alderman, who is the Kansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (K-INBRE) Network Steering Committee’s Student Representative, presented at the National IDeA Symposium of Biomedical Research Excellence (NISBRE).

K-INBRE and the National Association of IDeA Principal Investigators (NAIPI) helped support his efforts with travel grant funding. Alderman was also able to represent the Midwest states for NAIPI on Capitol Hill.

“I am more confident that I want to do research, and I now realize the importance of lobbying,” Alderman said. “It showed me how to make relationships with the budget- and decision-makers in government.”

He had been surprised at the simplicity of arranging meetings with both U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran of Kansas, and learning their perspectives on cancer research and funding. Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas was also open to let Alderman meet with him, shown at right. Alderman and two women from New Hampshire also met with staff members of the New Hampshire delegation.

“I think it just really gave me a good understanding of how it is important to keep in communication with the senators and congressmen that are writing out what grants are for medical research and staying in contact with them so they can continue to understand what’s going on,” Alderman said.

Alderman also explained the general results of the IDeA program at Emporia State and the anti-cancer effects of his MicroRNA-15A research. The IDeA program broadens the geographic distribution of NIH funding for biomedical research to geographic areas that traditionally have been underserved by grants.

He presented the results of his MicroRNA-15A study at the NIH’s NISBRE conference, and hopes to continue his research in graduate school in the fall in preparation for eventual clinical trials with different kinds of RNA and immunotherapy for a variety of cancers.

Collaboration among research institutions to best use grants and share will be key to finding cures, he said.

“Even internationally, I think it will be important as well to collaborate,” Alderman said. “We’re all nations that have the same diseases, especially with cancer. That attacks people from all places.”