Written by: John David Powell | Updated: February 04, 2019
The discovery of an effective treatment for a rare form of bone cancer in children is on Brittany E. Jewell’s expanding bucket list. The PhD candidate at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences is also serving a term as Student Regent on The University of Texas System Board of Regents.
Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, MD, UTHealth President and Alkek-Williams Distinguished Chair, recommended Jewell to Governor Greg Abbott, who appointed the Houston native for the one-year term that began on June 1, 2018.
Jewell works in the lab of Dung-Fang Lee, PhD (’08), at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth to find a treatment for Rothmund-Thomson syndrome, a rare genetic condition that affects the skin and other parts of the body. It can increase the risk of cancer, particularly a form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma. Individuals with Rothmund-Thomson syndrome typically develop a rash on the cheeks between the ages of three months and six months.
“As a little kid, I always said I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist, a cancer doctor,” Jewell explains. “It’s a really funny thing for a 10-year-old to say, but I had a neighbor who had leukemia when she was two, and it tore me up.”
“Brittany has the qualities of a good researcher,” says Lee, a bone cancer researcher. “She is very determined.”
Jewell uses reprogrammed stem cells from the skin to develop a model for studying bone cancer formation. Researchers could use findings from these studies to test promising treatments for osteosarcoma.
“We hope that we can use these stem cells as a platform for studying drugs already on the market,” Jewell says. “I think that the extra care that we’re going to take in using these stem cells may speed up the approval time for new therapies and get them on the market faster than the normal 10-year period.”
When Jewell is not in the lab, she serves as Executive Co-Director of UTHealthCares, a student-driven initiative that uses community engagement and interprofessional collaborations within UTHealth schools to address the health concerns of Houston’s underserved population. Outside of the university, she is a member of the American Academy of Cancer Research and other professional organizations.
She also is President of Tee Time for Autism, a nonprofit organization she founded in 2010 to benefit individuals with autism spectrum disorder in the Greater Houston area. Proceeds from golf tournaments have raised more than $200,000 to fund grants to help provide care to more than 100 children.
“I started Tee Time for Autism after I graduated with my bachelor’s degree,” Jewell explains. “My cousin has an autism spectrum disorder, so I knew firsthand that typical autism therapies were not covered by all insurance. We wanted to help the people of the Houston area, and it’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”
Jewell is fellow of the Training in Policy Studies program (part of the American Osteopathic Association) and of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. After her expected graduation in 2020, she plans to pursue a post-doctoral fellowship. A career in administration is also on her bucket list. “I have ideas and, hopefully over the next few years, I will learn skills to turn those ideas into realities.”
The way things are going for her, it looks like she will need a bigger bucket.