By Abigail Allen
With excitement, Allie Blount, junior biology major, hopped off the plane at LAX last November—no doubt with a dream and a cardigan—with months of research and experimental data she had gathered in a laboratory.
She was on her way to present her findings to a panel of medical experts and biologists at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists research conference. Blount became the first Trevecca student to win the “Research Excellence Award for Cancer Biology” for her research.
“I have never won an award like this. This is my first time doing research on a national scale,” said Blount.
Blount was among seven undergraduate students in a summer research program who were selected to present their research at the conference. She was the only researcher in her program who won an award.
“I did research at Meharry Medical College,” said Blount. “I had signed up online and applied for multiple different summer undergraduate research programs, and Meharry was the one that I chose to go with.”
According to the Meharry Medical College website, the program is a 10-week cancer research experience for undergraduate students where they spend time in a laboratory and are exposed to different types of cancer research.
Blount spent many of her days in the program gathering materials for experiments, measuring substances, double and triple-checking calculations, viewing live cells under a microscope and trying not to break any glass test tubes. Blount recalled the feeling of holding cancer cells in a petri dish for the first time on the second day of the program.
“It was very surreal,” said Blount. “I thought it was really cool to be able to actually hold a disease in your hand in a little plate.”
Blount spent countless hours and late nights studying and targeting breast cancer cells, specifically triple-negative breast cancer cells. She experimented with two drugs that could potentially control the cancer’s ability to spread throughout the body.
“For triple-negative breast cancer research, the common standard treatment is not good at controlling metastasis and the cancer’s movement throughout the body,” she said.
By using two drugs that no one had used before on triple-negative breast cancer, the cancer’s ability to move throughout the body and invade the organs slowed, said Blount.
“This is important because if we can figure out a way to slow it down, we can then use some type of targeted drug to eradicate it earlier,” said Blount.
After winning the award, her research data was sent to labs to be tested further and could possibly be used to open the door for more research in cancer biology.
“This award, in a lot of ways, validates the kind of work I produce within a lab,” said Blount. “So not only did I present at a national conference, but I won. I can tell that it carries a lot of weight.”
Her passion for cancer research began when she took a cancer biology class at Trevecca.
“I realized when I took the cancer biology course in the fall of my sophomore year that I really liked cancer biology,” said Blount.
Blount came to college with the intention of working with patients after her schooling. After taking the cancer biology course, Blount decided that she wanted to pursue research in the field.
“I admire that she was willing to take what she always thought she wanted to do and realize that there was another avenue, that there was something else that was exciting and interesting,” said Alisha Russell, associate professor of biology at Trevecca and the instructor for the cancer biology class.
In the future, Blount hopes to continue spending time in a lab, as well as with patients, to better understand the cancer from which her patients are suffering.