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CEM Scholar Visits NIRS in Japan

Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, Chuck Yurkon always wanted to be a veterinarian. “At that time, I did not know the full extent of what was involved in veterinary medicine,” he said, “but I knew I loved it.” Yurkon is currently a second-year student in the Master of Science in environmental health program, and in the process of applying to veterinary school. This summer, he also is one of the Center for Environmental Medicine’s student scholars who will be visiting the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan.

Yurkon joined the master’s program for two reasons. One reason was to provide proof to his veterinary school applicants that he could excel in a difficult program. The second reason was to learn as much as he can to be a better practitioner later. “For me, this experience is something that I would have never been able to be a part of if it were not for the toxicology program,” Yurkon said.

Although Yurkon did not have any toxicology experience before entering the program, he is excited to learn about radiation in Japan. “Japan is looking to practice more advanced and progressive medicine; in the future I may end up on the education front as a teacher, traveling to different countries to lend experience to help advance veterinary medicine,” he said.

Yurkon will be traveling to Japan with two other CEM Student Scholars, Petra Fuierer and Lauren Farrington, where they will be using the HIMAC (heavy ion medical accelerator in Chiba) to evaluate effects of different types of radiation on cancer cells. Specifically, Yurkon will be examining effects of different doses of radiation on DNA and measure each cell’s ability to repair itself. “The presence of more aberrations indicates insufficient repair mechanisms,” he explained.

“It is a unique situation for CEM scholars because we are all schooled in toxicology but here we are doing research with radiobiologists,” Yurkon said. But in a short amount of time, he believes he has already improved his cell culture and microscopy techniques.

Yurkon hopes to learn as much as he can about radiobiology at NIRS so that he can integrate it with his existing toxicology base for his thesis next year. “[For my thesis] I will be studying radio-resistance in cats, because they seem to have better repair mechanisms and therefore are able to recover quicker from trauma (including irradiation) than other species,” Yurkon said. His research will compare a feline fibroblast cell line to other lines to investigate the validity that cats are radio-resistant.

Yurkon is excited to be a part of an opportunity that few people are awarded. “To be in a place like this that is full of so much brainpower directed toward radiobiology is overwhelming and intoxicating,” Yurkon said. “Many of these researchers are at the pinnacle of their field and it is an honor just to listen to them.”

Aside from science, Yurkon would like to learn more about Japanese culture.  “I am excited for sushi and to experience a different world and learn different customs,” he said. “The people here have been extremely nice and accepting of us.”

After the program, Yurkon plans on entering veterinary school and potentially specializing in critical care and emergency medicine. “I know the hours are long and the work is exhausting but there is something special, a kind of high, that you feel when you truly make a difference in an animal’s – and the owner’s – life,” Yurkon said.

He believes that what he will learn at NIRS will assist him in his future career aspirations. “The applications of radiation in cancer treatment will probably be the most helpful given my career goals,” he said.

Want to hear more about Chuck’s experiences working with the NIRS in Japan? Read about them on the CVMBS Life blog!

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