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Walter Jackson III, Ph.D. Candidate in IID, Received Award for Innovative Research

Posted: July 12, 2013

The Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences (VBS) Department and Huck Institutes’ Immunology and Infectious Diseases (IID) Program are proud to announce that doctoral candidate Walter Jackson III has received the 2013 Robert T. Simpson Graduate Award for Innovative Research. The Robert T. Simpson Graduate Award honors the legacy of renowned Penn State faculty member, Dr. Simpson, who passed away in 2004.
Jackson has been instrumental in furthering research into how breast cancer metastasizes to bone.

Jackson has been instrumental in furthering research into how breast cancer metastasizes to bone.

The Robert T. Simpson Graduate Award was created in 2005 to recognize innovative research by graduate students who have made important contributions in forwarding the research in their selected areas of study. The candidate also must work in the laboratory of a faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State. Walter Jackson has received the 2013 award for his work in Dr. Mastro’s laboratory, which examines the process by which breast cancer cells colonize bone, in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences.

Jackson received this award for his thesis work entitled, “The Role of Megakaryocytes in Breast Cancer Metastasis to Bone.” Megakaryocytes are known for their role in platelet production. However, there has been little research on how these specialized bone marrow cells affect metastasis of cancer cells, in spite of the fact that many cancer patients die of thromboembolism, i.e., blood clots. Jackson is working to fill this void by studying the process by which breast cancer cells influence the development of megakaryocytes in bone marrow, and how this increase in megakaryocytes might influence the subsequent degradation of bone caused by cancer cell activity. 

His thesis work thus far has shown that there was a correlation between metastatic tumor burden and the increase in megakaryocytes. There also may be an increase in extramedullary hematopoiesis due to the imbalance in bone cell production caused by the presence of the cancer cells. Jackson’s studies highlight a previously undeveloped area in breast cancer research that may prove important in preventing its transition to bone.

Dr. Mastro wrote in Jackson’s letter of nomination that his work indeed qualifies him as an innovative researcher; “… what seemed to be a novel project with high risk is turning out to be just that, but with unexpected twists and turns. Nevertheless, Walter is dedicated and committed.  He has taken charge of the project...”

Jackson, a native of Shreveport, Louisiana, obtained his Master’s degree in Biological Sciences from Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi, and was accepted into Penn State’s Ph.D. program through the Bridges to the Doctorate Program. He has been a member of Dr. Mastro’s lab for the past four years.

Jackson will be defending his thesis in the spring of 2014. He plans to continue his training as a postdoctoral student in another laboratory. Jackson explains, “The old adage ‘hard work pays off’ is fitting in this case. The research project that I’m doing should receive the bulk of the credit. My only hope is that we are contributing something to the fight against cancer. I feel so blessed to achieve this award. I would like to acknowledge my mentor, Dr. Andrea Mastro, our Senior Lab Assistant, Donna Sosnoski, and the entire Mastro Laboratory for their help.”