Browser warning

Summer Cancer Research Keeps UT Senior on Career Path

Published: July 07, 2016
Christian Pilot ’17 is working on cancer research this summer with Dr. Greg Behbehani, assistant professor of internal medicine at The Ohio State University.
Christian Pilot ’17 is working on cancer research this summer with Dr. Greg Behbehani, assistant professor of internal medicine at The Ohio State University.

Christian Pilot ’17 has shadowed at least 500 surgeries since he was in high school. A biology/pre-medicine student with a minor in chemistry, he wants to be a brain cancer surgeon.

“The complexity of human anatomy and physiology and how intricate biochemistry works at the molecular level are fascinating,” said Pilot, of Sea Girt, NJ.

This summer he is a working with Dr. Greg Behbehani, assistant professor of internal medicine, division of hematology, at The Ohio State University, utilizing a technique known as flow cytometry for analysis of hematologic malignancies.

“Specifically, I am working with Dr. Behbehani to find a way to characterize an abnormal cell state when compared to a healthy cell,” Pilot said. “This will hopefully allow for a more targeted anti-cancer therapy.”

Pilot spends his days conducting experiments under Behbehani’s protocol using a flow cytometer to study how certain antibodies interact with cells, as well as a software program known as Cytobank.

“I would say my memorable moment so far has been learning the flow cytometer,” said Pilot, explaining the steep learning curve on the equipment that uses special lasers inside a closed machine. “I load the cells that I have prepared into the machine, and the cells flow one by one past the laser. The antibody on the cells gives off a unique fluorescence after the laser hits it, which allows it to be detected.”

Pilot isn’t new to cancer research. For the last two years, he has been working as a research student at Moffitt Cancer Center with Robert Gillies, vice-chair of radiology, on writing a manual and website on buffer therapy as a guide to help patients understand the treatment. The oral buffer therapy, which involves regulating the acidity surrounding a tumor, is undergoing clinical trials in patients.

“This unregulated acidity leads to the breakdown of tissue surrounding the tumor, which in turn allows local invasion and metastases of cancer cells to nearby tissues,” Pilot said. “A buffer is a specific solution that resists changes in pH, upon the addition of small amounts of acid and base. Through addition of oral buffer compounds in mouse models in the lab, significant reductions in tumor growth and metastasis have been observed.”

In addition, by using different techniques, specifically acid-base titration and different software, Pilot has generated data regarding specific compounds and their relative buffering capacities.

“From this data, Dr. Gillies and I have been able to create a patient-tailored diet,” Pilot said. “This diet focuses on the correct intake of buffering compounds based on patient information, as well as providing a diet that will have a high rate of compliance based on factors such as taste and quantity.”

Pilot, who is academic chair in UT’s Sigma Chi fraternity, received funding for the summer research experience through the Honors Program, UT’s College of Natural and Health Sciences, and the Evan Chipouras Biology Student Award Fund. He is hoping to pursue his doctoral degree at an Ivy League medical school.

“In our understanding of both the brain and cancer, there is so much that has yet to be discovered and this paves the way for future research,” said Pilot, who loves “the challenge that medicine provides and the ability to help those in need the most.”

Have a story idea? Contact Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
Sign up for UT Web Alerts