Research by a Missouri Southern State University graduate is helping science take another step toward understanding cancer.

MSSU alumnus Joshua “Josh” Mason, who grew up in Carthage, is presenting his research at the National Graduate Student Symposium (NGSS) this week, March 20-24, at St. Jude’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Mason graduated summa cum laude from Missouri Southern in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. He was named an outstanding graduate in the MSSU Chemical and Physical Sciences Department and was an Honors Program graduate.

He is now in the latter stages of completing his Ph.D. in Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

His research there is specifically interested in understanding how the most aggressive cancer cells – the ones with the capacity to spread throughout the body and result in death – survive.  That understanding can help identify potential targets for therapies.

Mason says the killer cells have to promote sufficient energy production to be able to spread through the human body.

“One way they do this is through activating essential survival pathways that allow them to take up nutrients from the environment to use as an energy source,” he says. “We have identified a unique protein, SGK1, that is required by many different types of cancer to promote energy production and survival. SGK1 is only required when cancer cells are in environments that mimic those faced during their spread.”

He says studies suggest that targeting SGK1 may be one way to shut down the energy production ability of the most aggressive cancer cells, thereby helping patients with cancer.

The National Graduate Student Symposium is held each spring on the St. Jude campus in Memphis. The competitive events offer an opportunity for students to present their work while learning about the exceptional research and facilities at St. Jude.

Mason’s research was conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Zachary Schafer, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and Coleman Foundation Collegiate Chair of Cancer Biology, and member of the Harper Cancer Research Institute.

“I am very proud of Josh’s work in the lab and his growth as a scientist,” Schafer says. “His selection to participate in the NGSS at St. Jude is a much deserved and tremendously prestigious honor that serves as a testament to all he has accomplished during his time at Notre Dame.”

Mason says his interest in science started early.

“I have always been interested in science and fascinated by how the world works,” he says. “During my high-school education, I was taught how to think, test ideas and challenge myself to explore the unknown.”

He says his goal is to become a professor at a liberal arts college.

Mason and his wife, Marcie, who graduated from MSSU in 2013 with a degree in education, and their children reside in the South Bend, Ind., area while he finishes his degree.