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Experiences with cancer point medical student toward career in immunotherapy research


Ogochukwu Ezeoke is excited about advances in cancer treatment, especially the idea of using a patient‘s immune system to fight disease. Many breakthrough drug approvals in the past year have been immunotherapy medications, and the first-year medical student at Upstate wants to assess the clinical trial process that leads to those approvals.



Gary Brooks

Gary Brooks, who holds a doctorate in public health, is a mentor to Ezeoke.

This summer, Ezeoke and her mentor Gary Brooks, an associate professor in the College of Health Professions, will research racial and ethnic disparities among patients who enroll in clinical trials for new drugs.

“As cancer therapeutics evolve toward more directed drug activities, the investment in knowledge of histology-specific genetics will become even more necessary,” Ezeoke writes in her grant application. The duo received funding from the American Medical Association Foundation and the American Society of Clinical Oncology Conquer Cancer Foundation.

Born in Nigeria, Ezeoke came to United States in 2004 and studied at Binghamton University, graduating in 2011 with a degree in cell and molecular biology. She worked four years as a research study assistant in New York City, coordinating clinical trials at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

“It was inspiring getting to meet patients,” she says of her time there. “They were so positive despite the disease. It makes you want to do things to help them.”

Ezeoke‘s career path is guided by her family‘s experience with cancer. Her grandmother had breast cancer and died from an embolism after a mastectomy. Her father is a prostate cancer survivor.

She says cancer research and clinical trials represent necessary behind-the-scenes work in the fight against cancer, and she hopes to contribute to the effort.

cancercaresummerThis article appears in the summer 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine.