This summer, Nobel Laureates in the sciences gathered in Lindau, Germany to meet informally with 570 doctoral students from 80 countries – the 61st such assembly.
Among those selected for the highly-competitive U.S. delegation to Lindau was Emily Corcoran, a Ph.D. student in Chemistry and a Northeastern University Excellence Fellowship recipient.
Corcoran's research uses molecular probes to identify how certain sub-populations of cancer patients respond to drug treatments and fit ideally into the focus of this year’s meetings: physiology and medicine.
"There are many different types of cancer," Corcoran explains, "and one of the biological processes that can go wrong has to do with a certain family of proteins that we're trying to target. There are drugs for them that are FDA-approved, but the problem is that only certain, smaller populations of patients respond to those drugs."
Rather than the traditional method of taking a biopsy, which is invasive, the Northeastern team uses molecular probes to obtain images of cancerous cells. By administering probes that resemble drugs used in cancer treatments, scientists are able to identify and label the presence of certain proteins in a tumor, and their presence gives doctors an idea if a patient will respond to a certain treatment.
Corcoran came to the University straight from her undergraduate studies to research the clinical applications of organic chemistry, but found her way into her current project through collaboration with her advisor, Dr. Robert Hanson.
"I really like the school because of the translational research that goes on," Corcoran says, "and one thing I noticed right away is the faculty. There's easy, open access." She plans to continue work on the project during the remaining two years of her program before continuing to one day become a Principal Investigator.
The Lindau Meetings were not Corcoran’s first conference abroad. In September 2010, she presented her research at the International Symposium on Technetium and Other Radiometals in Chemistry and Medicine (TERACHEM), a highly specialized meeting in Bressanone, Italy.
This trip took her to a similarly scenic location: Lindau is an island-city in the eastern side of Lake Constance near the German-Swiss border.
Despite its picturesque setting in the Alps, Corcoran was most excited to meet with Dr. Ei-ichi Negishi, the Japanese chemist and 2010 Nobel Prize winner best known for his discovery of the Negishi coupling. "You learn about him in class," Corcoran says, "and to be able to see him in person is pretty awesome."
The 25 Nobel Laureates in attendance offered lectures and small-group sessions on their research, on how to generate cutting edge ideas and, as Corcoran says, on "how to pattern your life and career on how to make an impact on the scientific community."
Though her research is still in beginning stages, Corcoran recognizes that it - and that of other meeting attendees - is contributing to and fortifying what she calls the "ongoing investigation in to how to personalize medicine and cancer treatment."
The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings aim to "provide a globally recognised forum for the transfer of knowledge between generations of scientists." More information can be found at www.lindau-nobel.org.
Northeastern University's Department of Chemistry and Biological Chemistry offers programs leading to the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, as well as an interdepartmental program leading to the M.S. in Biopharmaceutical Regulatory Science. Details are available at http://www.northeastern.edu/chem/graduate_studies/.
Submitted by Beth Giudicessi, June 2011