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Rebecca Burkhalter, a doctoral student in the MU School of Medicine, completed a 12-week summer internship at Eli Lilly, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies.

Doctoral Student Gains National Recognition, Internship for Ovarian Cancer Research

Burkhalter focusing on treatment at Eli Lilly, while her research looks to prevent cancer's spread

Rebecca Burkhalter, a doctoral student in the MU School of Medicine, was one of two students nationwide to be offered a paid summer internship at one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies without even applying. The medical pharmacology student interned at Eli Lilly for giving the best presentation at a national research conference.

Burkhalter won first place competing against more than 100 other graduate students at a research conference hosted by the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers. She was one of two students nationwide to receive this type of 12-week internship at the pharmaceutical company.

"Rebecca is representing our lab, our department and our university at Eli Lilly. It's a fantastic opportunity to make contacts with industry," said Sharon Stack, PhD, Burkhalter's research mentor, a professor of pathology and anatomical sciences, and a Margaret Proctor Mulligan Distinguished Professor in Medical Research. "In addition, it will help her decide in the future if she wants a career in the biotech industry or in academics."

Burkhalter's project at Eli Lilly was related to the development of small-molecule drugs that target cancer, but the company's proprietary information policies prohibit her from sharing specifics. Burkhalter hopes the research will relate to at least one of the three research projects she is continuing at MU.

Before ovarian tumor cells morph into invasive cells that latch onto the abdominal lining, the cells float more benignly in abdominal fluid. Burkhalter's research mission at MU is to discover what causes the cells to change and lead to more deadly secondary tumors. To extend her current research, she will investigate the signaling events that take place during the metastasis process, which allow the cancer cells to break apart and more easily invade the abdominal lining. In addition, she will research the effect that physical force has on the cells as they float through fluid in the abdominal cavity. Past research indicates that physical force contributes to changes in cell behavior.

"Local ovarian cancer is more treatable and curable," Burkhalter said. "Spreading cancer is more likely to be fatal. That's the focus, stopping the spread so treatment of the primary tumor can be a cure."

Burkhalter is a native of Kansas City. She completed her undergraduate degree at Dillard University in New Orleans.

MU Health Magazine


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