A cornerback on the Albion College football team, Matt Lozier, '12, is used to tackling opponents. This summer, the Clarklake native found himself tackling cancer – one of the most menacing opponents some people ever face – as an intern at the Owensboro Cancer Research Program (OCRP).
The OCRP, under the direction of Dr. Keith Davis, '79, is devoted to unlocking the potential of plant-based pharmaceuticals and antiviral proteins. Lozier was modifying lunasin, a protein isolated from soybeans that has been suggested to possess anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, with materials that would allow lunasin to bind specifically to integrins on cancer cells. The hope is to find a treatment that would directly target cancer cells while allowing good cells to live.
"The other day Doctor Davis mentioned that every morning when we walk into work, we walk by the patients lined up for their chemotherapy treatment and how it's pretty incredible that we are looking into the faces of the people that we would ultimately like to help in the future," Lozier said. "I hadn't really noticed that room was the waiting room for the cancer patients until he said that. Now these last two weeks when I walk into work, I make sure to acknowledge those people because they are going through a pretty tough battle of their own." Lozier spoke of this being one of the most rewarding experiences of his summer internship.
The grandson of an oncologist, Lozier became interested in cancer research after shadowing oncologists from his hometown and being able to sit in on doctor-patient consultations two years ago. The next winter he worked hard to submit 33 applications to universities offering summer internships dealing with research. He received rejections from 32 out of the 33 applications he submitted, but his hard work and persistence paid off as he was awarded a research position with the University of Michigan, the last of the 33 summer 2010 internship applications he completed.
Landing the opportunity at the OCRP was less stressful as biology professor Dale Kennedy encouraged Lozier to apply. After completing his application essay during spring break, Lozier focused on studying for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), which he took on May 26. The experiences of waiting to be accepted into an internship and waiting to receive an MCAT score have given Lozier some perspective.
"The MCAT was definitely the most challenging test I have ever taken in my life," Lozier said. "My experiences say something about perseverance. They have made me realize that if I stick things out it will be well worth it in the end."
Lozier's football career has also provided an example of perseverance. A member of Lumen Christi High School teams that advanced to the Michigan High School Athletic Association finals in 2005 and 2007, his playing time in college has been limited by talented teammates – All-American Chris Greenwood plays cornerback for the Britons – and the demands of his academic work. Lozier has had to arrive at practice late – and sometimes miss it altogether – at least once a week every season.
"I don't do as much research [in the fall], but the running from lab to practice is definitely true and I thank Head Coach Craig Rundle for looking out for my future by allowing an absence or two every week," Lozier said. "Coming from playing high school football and having my chances to make an impact on each game to being surrounded by all these talented players at Albion and having All-Americans on your team has really been a humbling experience for me, and at times even frustrating. And same with research, you might think you're smart until you get in a room with a bunch of doctors and students that have already gone through graduate school. All around they both taught me that there is always someone out there with more talent or that knows way more than I do, but I have come to see these people as mentors or people that I could learn from.
"I've found that even though it is hard to make time for everything, I do better in school when I am playing a sport and busy," Lozier added. "Football allows me to let out some of my energy daily and stay focused when I am studying at night for my classes."
With a résumé that includes two off-campus research experiences in addition to his work as a teaching assistant for biology professor Doug White, Lozier will balance his academic course load and football while finishing the application process for medical school this fall. Lozier says that while his dad is encouraging him to follow his grandfather's trail as an oncologist, he has yet to choose a specialty.
"I think that this summer will act as a stepping stone of furthering me along on my ultimate goal of becoming a physician," Lozier said. "The experience helped me to realize that in my own life I would desire a situation that involved more direct interactions with people as might be found in a clinical situation working as a physician. In my prior working situations—such as lifeguarding, working as a laboratory teaching assistant, and mentoring children at the local elementary school—I enjoyed the direct relationships that I formed with others.
"Being associated with cancer research has really helped put things into perspective for me," Lozier added. "This summer has helped me realize that whatever I am going through is not nearly as bad as what those chemotherapy patients are battling, and it has really made me thankful for everything the Lord has blessed me with, including good health."