A tumor is harmful, but it is the growth of that tumor that makes it dangerous.
Nam Hoang, a chemistry doctoral candidate, is researching that tumor growth. He recently presented his findings during the Graduate College’s 2019 Rebel Grad Slam, a weeklong thesis competition that challenges graduate students to present their research using only three minutes and one PowerPoint slide.
“It’s not the tumor that is going to kill you, it’s when it spreads that it becomes dangerous. My work is trying to stop that process, trying to stop that progression of tumor growth,” Hoang said.
Hoang’s research focuses on the protein signal called hypoxia-induced factor 1 alpha and its function in cancer and tumor growth.
The protein signal is released by cells that the human body creates and destroys. However, if there is a tumor in the body, the tumor sends out a signal, to which factor 1 alpha responds. Instead of the body destroying factor 1 alpha, it provides the tumor with nutrients that allow it to grow.
“Technical science and biochemistry is very hard. Nothing turns out right the first time. Nine times out of 10, I am going to fail. But that 10 percent, when it works, is a fantastic feeling,” Hoang said.
Hoang and associate professor of chemistry Hui Zhang were unable to find success for nearly a year with the factor 1 alpha experiment.
“It wasn’t until we went back to the textbooks that we found that we had the wrong experimental conditions. We were able to move forward quickly once we figured out [the problem],” he said.
Hoang’s interest in cancer research stems from his desire to help people and improve their lives. Hoang hopes to develop a novel therapy that can target factor 1 alpha and slow tumor growth. This kind of FDA-approved drug or therapy has yet to be achieved.
“Growing up, I’ve always wanted to help people,” Hoang said. “I’m interested in how cancer works and how we can stop it. We can make people’s lives better, reduce their pain.”