IUSM students named Wright Scholarship winners

January 8, 2015

The IU Simon Cancer Center’s William J. Wright Scholarship was awarded earlier this year to a pair of IU School of Medicine students -- Tony Brown and Katie Meyer -- who are keen to make a difference in critical health care areas such as women’s health and brain cancer. Criteria for earning the $7,890 scholarship includes potential for pursuing cancer-related research, clearly defined professional goals, and outstanding character. Third- and fourth-year medical students, physicians in post-doctoral programs, and/or medical doctors employed by IUSM who are involved in cancer-related fellowship training are all eligible for the scholarship.

Meyer, 24, hails from Columbus, Ind., and is in her third year of studies at IUSM in Indianapolis. As an undergraduate at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., she majored in biology and Spanish, graduating in May 2012 with a 3.96 GPA. Meyer expects to receive her M.D. from IU in May 2016.

Katie Meyer, left, and Tony Brown are recipients of the 2014 Wright Scholarship.

News of the scholarship came as a bit of surprise, said Meyer, because she’s only just beginning her foray into academic medicine and doesn’t yet have a lot of research work to her name. However, she spent summer 2013 in the lab of Daniela Matei, M.D., as part of the Student Research Program in Academic Medicine, where she studied the behavior of ovarian cancer cells -- an experience that changed the way Meyer looked at her future in medicine.

“The biggest thing that draws me to medicine is the personal relationship side of things,” Meyer said. “I will always want to have a good portion of my time spent as clinical time, with patients, but I’m excited to be able to incorporate research into that, and oncology is a great field to be able to do that. You can be treating patients and helping them but at the same time looking into new therapies, clinical trials, and other new innovations in the field that will impact a lot more patients than just your pool that you’re able to treat. If I were to go into oncology, I would hope to be able to have a good balance of both those.”

Students who receive the Wright Scholarship are expected to devote at least two months to a cancer-related project during the school year. Such projects can range from lab experiments to health outcome research and cancer awareness programs. Meyer said she plans to fulfill this requirement by spending additional lab time under the tutelage of Dr. Matei, who has since become her faculty mentor, to help her clarify what research area she’d like to focus on during her career. 

“It will be a great experience to get to work in Dr. Matei’s lab again and see more of what she does, and learn more about oncology because it wasn’t really on my radar until a few summers ago,” Meyer says.

“At this point,” Meyer added, “I haven’t narrowed down my interests too much. I am really interested in women’s health, so I’ve thought about doing gynecologic oncology, but also really like hematology, so I could see myself working with leukemias, lymphomas, things like that. I’m leaving my options open. I want to explore different fields.” 

Brown, 25, is much more assured of his career path. Growing up in Noblesville before moving to Wabash, the lifelong Hoosier knew he wanted to go to medical school in Indianapolis and study neurology and cancers of the brain, and he enrolled as an undergraduate at IUPUI with that goal in mind, graduating in 2012 with a degree in biology and a perfect 4.0 GPA.   

“It was my plan since starting college,” said Brown, who, like Meyer, expects to receive his M.D. in May 2016. “IUPUI helped tremendously with that. With the surrounding hospitals and research areas, it was a very obvious choice.”

He said the Wright Scholarship will help him pay for lab expenses and travel that will contribute to a cancer research project supervised by renowned neurosurgeon Aaron Cohen-Gadol, M.D., an associate professor of neurosurgery at IUSM.

“The goal will be to get a publication out of this project,” Brown said. “Aside from the funds, being a William J. Wright Scholar is a great honor because it will help me reach my fullest potential as a physician-scientist, and I hope to represent the program well.”

He said he’s aiming to present findings from his project -- which will likely be on the topic of neuro-oncology, specifically the aggressive type of brain tumor known as glioblastoma multiforme -- at the IU Simon Cancer Center’s Cancer Research Day in May 2015.

“Neurology always caught my attention because of its complexity and uniqueness,” Brown said. “The brain is not like any other organ in the body. It defines a person and makes them who they are -- that’s always been appealing to me. As well, cancer is a disease that everyone has probably dealt with, either directly or indirectly, at some point in their life. A family friend of mine was diagnosed with brain cancer when I was a freshman in college. I am grateful for the mentors, research projects and internships that I have been a part of over the course of these last six years, and each experience has built on the other and led me to the path that I’m on today.” 

Brown -- who credits Dr. Cohen-Gadol and Brad Bohnstedt, M.D., a recent neurosurgery chief resident at IUSM, as well as IUSM faculty members Brittney-Shea Herbert, Ph.D., and Brenda Grimes, Ph.D., as inspiring and supporting him -- sees that path leading to a career in neurosurgery with a focus on cancer research. 

“That’s basically what I’ve been interested in since starting college. Everything in medicine is exciting to learn about, but neurology and cancer have always been my foremost interests and concerns. I hope I’m a competitive candidate for neurosurgery programs. IU has a great one. But my goal is to take it one step at a time and become the best physician-scientist that I can be.”