CORVALLIS - An Oregon State University student from Corvallis has earned an honor society research grant that could aid in understanding the body's immune response to cancer.

Sigma Xi has awarded Amy Weatherill, an OSU doctoral candidate in microbiology, the grant to support her project titled "Uncovering the Mechanism of OX40 Costimulation in T Cells." Weatherill's research will be supervised by Anthony Vella, an OSU assistant professor of microbiology.

The human body's T cells, also known as T lymphocytes, are critical in the regulation of human immune response. Once activated, T lymphocytes can kill cancer cells, but they need at least two critical signals to become fully activated and functional. The first is the recognition of a foreign "invader" through the T cell receptor and the second is signaling or "stimulation" through a co-stimulation receptor system. If the first signal - recognition - occurs in the absence of the second co-stimulation signal, then T cells are not able to kill the cancer cells. Most tumor cell types do not express these essential co-stimulation receptors.

Some scientists believe that the lack of co-stimulation by the tumor cells may represent an important mechanism whereby these tumor cells escape recognition and killing by the immune system.

In studies, the protein OX-40 has been shown to activate T cells.

Sigma Xi is an international honor society of scientific and engineering research. For more than 75 years, Sigma Xi's grants have helped foster original investigations in all areas of science and engineering. Weatherill's Sigma Xi grant application was one of nearly 1,000 received by the society from all 50 states and 18 countries. Less than 35 percent of the applicants received funding.

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Anthony Vella, 541-737-1861