Bastyr University made history 18 years ago as the first school of naturopathic medicine to receive a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Now it's making history again with the award of a Poncin Scholarship to Katie Strobe, the first naturopathic medicine student to receive the prestigious medical research award.
The Poncin Scholarship, which awards her $24,145 throughout the 2012-13 academic year, is a medical research scholarship trust created by the will of Cora May Poncin to aid worthy and ambitious young people who are engaged in medical research as a part of any recognized institution of learning within the state of Washington.
“Receiving this award is a pioneering step for alternative and complementary medical research to be further accepted and fiscally funded,” says Strobe, who is in her fourth year of the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (ND) program.
In addition to bringing attention to the Bastyr University Center for Student Research, the scholarship highlights Strobe’s innovative research collaboration with the University of Washington, which investigates how mushroom extracts may strengthen antitumor immune responses to improve cancer therapies.
Previous research has shown that an extract from the “turkey tail” mushroom, Trametes versicolor, activates immune responses and has anti-cancer effects. Strobe explains that the extract is recognized by a receptor called toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) that is found on many types of immune cells. It is related to a family of receptors that recognize foreign particles in the body such as cancer cells or bacteria.
“My research aims to learn more about the effect of activating the immune system response using these toll-like receptor agonists,” Strobe says. “Because of my focus on using the body’s own immune system to fight cancer, the research could potentially lead to novel combinatorial therapies for treating cancer.”
Strobe is in a unique position to study integrative medicine: Even before starting at Bastyr, she was studying TLRs as a research assistant at the Institute for Systems Biology, a nonprofit research organization in Seattle. That experience led her back to studying TLRs upon entering Bastyr’s naturopathic medicine program, this time as part of her first complementary, integrative and alternative medical research.
“The Poncin Scholarship allows me to continue this project,” says Strobe, who also received a T-32 pre-doctoral training grants from the NIH in her third year at Bastyr. “It also will help me pay for supplementary coursework that I am interested in, and help me attend an integrative medical conference where I will learn more about current research and treatment options for cancer care.”
After Strobe graduated from the University of Washington, she considered pursuing a PhD or MD, “but it never seemed to fit,” she says.
“Through the years, I studied on my own learning about botanical herbs, Chinese medicine and spiritual healing,” Strobe says. “Eventually, when the time was right, I decided I wanted to study in a more formal academic setting. I researched all the accredited schools and found that Bastyr was the right fit.”
After she graduates in spring 2014, Strobe says she hopes to obtain a post-doctoral research position and intern in a naturopathic clinic.
“In the future, I ultimately would like to be involved in conducting clinical research and working directly with patients,” Strobe says.
In the meantime, she will remain involved with the Bastyr Student Research Society, which she recommends to other students interested in research. Strobe adds that if you’re interested in following a similar path to hers, the Center for Student Research awards funds for independent student research projects each year.
“My scholarship gives me the chance to find future mentors with like-minded interests,” she says. “This opportunity gives me a chance to collaborate and meet researchers and clinicians I may not have met otherwise. It also gives me an opportunity to directly contribute knowledge to the scientific community.”