Baylor students conducting cancer research receive Folmar Awards

Recipients of Baylor Folmar Awards celebrate their achievements in research. Photo courtesy of Baylor University.

By Braden Murray | Broadcast Reporter

Baylor’s biology department has awarded six students with Folmar Awards, which are awards up to $1,000 given yearly to fund student research projects, including several projects conducting cancer research.

According to a Sept. 9 press release, research fields varied but all fell under the biology department’s motto of “Understanding our world – Healing our world.” The student research grant is given through the Jack G. and Noma Jean Folmar Research Fund, and recipients work out of a biology professor’s lab while pursuing their projects.

San Ramon, Calif., junior Alagu Subramanian is one of the six recipients of the grant. He said his research is based out of Dr. Joe Taube’s lab and is focused on the role certain small molecules play in treating cancer.

“Anytime I approach a problem, I want to understand what’s going on,” Subramanian said. “That’s what drove me toward cancer. My project is based off of looking at different molecules, different compounds or drugs that can selectively target a specific type of cancer.”

Subramanian said he is primarily looking at breast cancer, which he said has affected him personally via family and friends. The molecules he is looking into would provide a less toxic alternative to typical chemotherapy, which he said could reduce the chance of hair loss in cancer patients.

“The idea of a cancer therapeutic is to try to make a therapeutic that would affect the healthy tissues the least and target the cancer tissues and try to kill it,” Subramanian said. “So that’s the whole goal behind the project.”

Subramanian said he began the project in February 2021 and hopes to submit his research to publications in March or April 2023.

Another recipient of the grant is Garland senior Isaac Montgomery. His research is based out of Dr. Leigh Greathouse’s lab and is focused on the impact biofilm can have on colorectal cancer and gut health in general.

“What we know is that what’s going on in your microbiome is really important to the way that your immune system functions, and it’s important to the way that the cancer cells function,” Montgomery said. “There’s a bunch of important interactions there, so my lab as a whole is asking questions about that.”

Montgomery said biofilm is any clumping of bacteria, such as dental plaque. The problem occurs when this biofilm finds its way to the gut, where it’s not supposed to be.

“You get tons of bacteria, and they get sticky and they all sort of clump together,” Montgomery said. “Then they’ll start sending out a bunch of different signals. Not a big deal on your teeth — because your mouth is prepared to deal with foreign bacteria — but when those same species get in your gut and start doing the same thing, it can be kind of messy because your gut isn’t prepared for that a lot of times.”

This is Montgomery’s first semester working on the project, and he said it is on track to be completed by May 2023. Overall, Montgomery said he spends anywhere from eight to 15 hours per week on the project.

Outside of the lab, Montgomery is a CL at Martin Hall and the editor-in-chief of The Phoenix — Baylor’s literary magazine. He also said he hopes to go to medical school.

“I love to write,” Montgomery said. “I love to write all sorts of things. I love to write fiction, nonfiction, poetry, prose, essays, whatever. And I figured you only get one chance to be in college really. At Baylor, I’m going to be surrounded by people who are experts in their field, and I don’t want to let that opportunity go.”

According to the press release, in addition to Subramanian and Montgomery, grants were given to Sinchana Basoor, Caleb Hemphill, Samuel Rivera and Lianzijun Wang for research projects ranging from gene editing to invasive mosquito populations in Texas.

Braden Murray is a junior from Cypress, with a major in History and a minor in news-editorial. This is his third year on the LTVN staff, and his first as Sports Director. He is excited to take on this new role and all the responsibilities that come with it. In his free-time he likes to read and go on hikes in Cameron Park.