Friday, May 14, 2010
K-STATE STUDENT USES OWN BATTLE WITH CANCER TO FUEL HIS PASSION FOR CANCER RESEARCH, FINDING A CURE
MANHATTAN -- As a cancer survivor, Kansas State University student Andrew Satterlee says he feels a responsibility to study cancer and make the experience easier on others than it was for himself.
Satterlee, senior in chemical and biological engineering, Overland Park, has always had an interest in medical research. In high school he was diagnosed with celiac disease, or gluten intolerance. He had been planning on doing a research project on celiac disease in college, but in the fall semester of his sophomore year at K-State, Satterlee was faced with an experience that changed his research focus.
At 20 years old, Satterlee went to see a doctor about his chronic headaches and dizziness. He was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Satterlee had what is known as a germ cell tumor, about the size of a ping-pong ball, in the very center of his brain.
Satterlee said his interest in medical research helped him to understand and seek out various forms of treatment, which led him to the University of California-San Francisco and a doctor who has become well known for performing brain surgeries using a process called continuous brain scanning.
"My doctor pioneered all of this new brain mapping," Satterlee said. "They can actually do a continuous brain scan during the surgery so they know what they're looking at inside of your brain by more than just the little camera on the end of the knife."
Through this procedure, Satterlee's doctor was able to remove the whole tumor. After undergoing four sessions of chemotherapy and 30 days of radiation in spring and summer 2008, Satterlee is now on the road to recovery.
"I did tons of research on the type of cancer that I had and was really fascinated to learn about it -- even though it was me that it was happening to," Satterlee said. "That's what really got me thinking that maybe this is something that I want to spend the rest of my life researching -- trying to make cancer easier for others than it was for me."
So, he gathered up his two roommates, who are mechanical and nuclear engineering majors, and went to work on creating a cancer-related research project.
To find funds, Satterlee looked to K-State's Johnson Center for Basic Cancer Research. He and his roommates were awarded the center's Cancer Research Award, which provided each of them $1,000 toward their research, along with financial assistance for their faculty mentor to guide them along the way.
"The Cancer Research Awards are the only reason we have any money at all to do this project," Satterlee said. "We were able to go from a 'what if' scenario of just writing a research paper to actually being able to get in a lab and find tangible results, thanks to the Johnson Center and its generosity and commitment to K-State students."
The group's project is focusing on a process called boron-neutron capture therapy. Satterlee said that when a cancer patient receives radiation, neutrons or other particles are shot through a beam, hit cells, destroying the weak cancer cells if successful. The problem is that healthy cells become damaged in the process; the use of boron could decrease this risk.
"Boron has a very large neutron capture cross section, meaning the boron appears bigger than it really is to the neutrons," Satterlee said. "So, there is a much higher probability that the neutrons will hit the boron."
When a neutron hits boron, the boron explodes into two pieces. These pieces then damage any cells they are close to, which is where the idea comes from of placing boron in or next to tumor cells in order to destroy them, Satterlee said.
"By putting boron in these tumor cells or next to them, you can spare all your healthy cells," he said. "This idea has been around for many years, but nobody has figured out how to get enough boron to those tumor cells to be effective."
The mission of Satterlee's research is finding a way of attaching boron to a stem cell or defensive cell so that it can migrate to the tumor. Although the research has resulted in several dead ends, Satterlee sees some promising results ahead.
"When you're trying to make an organic compound with boron in it, there's not a whole lot to choose from because people and animals don't usually have boron in them," Satterlee said. "However, we've just recently found the key compound we've been searching for, so I'm really excited about the results going forward."
Satterlee plans to graduate in spring 2011 and would like to attend graduate school to study biomedical engineering. In the future, he sees himself doing cancer research at a medical research firm as well as doing motivational speaking to tell people about his personal battle with cancer.
"As someone who is going to become a professional in the medical research field, I think it helps you find purpose for what you're doing when you've experienced the disease that you're fighting to destroy," Satterlee said.
Satterlee, a 2006 graduate of Shawnee Mission South High School, is the son of George and Susan Satterlee, Overland Park.