Quillen medical student receives award to support leukemia research


JOHNSON CITY (August 27, 2013) – A medical student at East Tennessee State University's James H. Quillen College of Medicine has received an award from the American Society of Hematology to support his research aimed at finding better treatments for leukemia.

Ko Maung is one of only 19 medical students chosen for the 2013 Hematology Opportunities for the Next Generation of Research Scientists (HONORS) Award. A fourth-year student at Quillen, Maung is collaborating with his faculty mentor, Dr. K. Krishnan, on a new treatment for leukemia that marries a specific type of vitamin E with a drug typically used to treat heart conditions. Krishnan, the holder of the Paul Dishner Chair of Excellence in Medicine, is chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology in the ETSU Department of Internal Medicine.

Maung is investigating a treatment combining tocotrienol – a form of vitamin E – with statins, a class of drugs often used to lower cholesterol levels, especially in people with cardiovascular disease. The work by Maung, a native of Myanmar, a country in Southeast Asia also known as Burma, will build on previous studies by Krishnan.

"Dr. Krishnan's past research has suggested that tocotrienol can be effective in killing prostate cancer cells, and by combining that with statins, we hope to see a combined, synergistic effect when treating leukemia cells," Maung said. "We'll also be focusing on the minimum dose needed and the minimum duration of treatment, to reduce side effects as well as the damage to healthy cells."

Maung will continue his research project while also fulfilling his obligations as a student, which will undoubtedly mean frequent nights spent in Krishnan's lab. Fortunately, perseverance is one of Maung's attributes.

Were it not for the political instability of his native country, Maung might have completed his medical education in the mid-2000s. He was set to start medical school for the first time in 2000, in Myanmar.

"I was accepted into medical school," Maung said, "but before I could start, the medical school closed because of the political situation in Burma."

Maung moved to the United States and enrolled at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor's degree with a double major in mathematics and economics. He then moved to Tennessee and, not having forgotten his goal of becoming a doctor, took basic science courses at Tennessee State University and earned a master's degree at Middle Tennessee State University. His path came full circle when he was accepted at Quillen.

Maung is already planning a career in oncology when he graduates from medical school.

"I'm interested in oncology," Maung said. "Oncology is a mystery.  Everyone's trying to solve cancer, and I want to be part of trying to find solutions."

The American Society of Hematology is the world's largest professional society of hematologists dedicated to furthering the understanding, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disorders affecting the blood. The organization, which gave 11 HONORS awards to medical residents, is online at www.hemtaology.org.

The Quillen College of Medicine is online at www.etsu.edu/com.

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