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Bush of Mount Gilead earns cancer research fellowship

Ohio State Marion junior biology major Wesley Bush was recently named a Pelotonia Undergraduate Scholar by The James Comprehensive Cancer Center at Ohio State. The award is the seventh such honor since 2018 for Ohio State students working with Ohio State Marion faculty research mentors.

The Pelotonia Undergraduate Scholars Program provides a one-year research award to the best and brightest Ohio State University undergraduate students who want to help cure cancer. The scholarship pays Bush $12-14k through the upcoming academic year to continue his research.

Bush shared that he is researching the fundamental mechanisms of cancer cells, providing a better understanding of how they operate that will allow the development of better drugs and therapies. 


“My recent work examines how DNA damage repair machinery is altered or impaired in cancers,” said Bush. I use large databases of many human tumor samples to identify patterns of damage. By determining these patterns, we may better understand mechanisms of cellular transformation and immortalization,” he explained.

“My Pelotonia project expands upon this, looking for patterns across 600+ cancer-relevant genes in 20 animals over 1 billion years of evolutionary time. We know that some parts of a gene (e.g., certain amino acids) are resistant to change across evolutionary time, and we want to test if mutations appearing in cancers follow these trends,” said Bush. 

“If cancers mutations follow evolutionary patterns, then it challenges the assumption that mutation in cancer cells is totally random," he said. "This will also help better identify unusual mutations or patterns that can lead to further research or treatment development." 

The Edison, Ohio native, who completed his high school requirements online through Ohio Connections Academy due to COVID19 school closures, said that taking part in innovative cancer research was not something he saw himself doing coming out of high school.

“I did not know that a career in research was even an option. I became fascinated with this subject once I learned to think of genes as instructions for molecular machinery, as opposed to abstract letters in a Punnett square,” said Bush. 

“I plan to pursue cancer research not only due to its massive humanitarian importance,” said Bush, “but also due to its unique character because of multicellular life. There is still so much to learn about how our own cells work, even when healthy, and the understanding gained through the fight against cancer will almost certainly benefit other fields of science and medicine.”

Bush went on to explain how he got involved in research through Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics, Dr. Ruben Petreaca and Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Dr. Renee Bouley at Ohio State Marion.

“I expressed interest in the subject during my first-year biology course. After speaking with the professor, she suggested I apply to Dr. Petreaca’s lab. For the first few months there, I did bench work and assisted in other projects, but it wasn’t long before I was given my own project to focus on,” he said. 

According to Petreaca, Bush is an outstanding undergraduate student and a developing scientist with a passion for research and discovery.

“His drive to do science is easily in the top 5% of the students we have worked with,” Petreaca said.

“One of Wesley’s strengths is initiative. He does not require much mentoring; rather, our interaction with him is more like the one between a fourth-year graduate student and their advisor,” he added. 


Bouley and Petreaca have trained several past Pelotonia awardees all of which are also co-authors on papers, some of them first authors and some authors on multiple papers. 

“Wesley also has a paper in revision and will undoubtedly publish more. Thus, Wesley is continuing in the finest tradition of previously funded Ohio State Marion Pelotonia funded undergraduate students,” said Petreaca. 

According to Bush, working in the lab has allowed him to do complicated research, as opposed to an emulation of it in a classroom setting. 

“This gives me a glimpse into what a career in this field will be like,” he said, “which has solidified my choice in major. I better understand how to write papers, grants, and the process of peer review. I have gained a lot of experience in talking about my project through posters, presentations, conferences, and applications. I have also changed my course schedule to allow for classes that are more closely relevant to my area of study.” 

Bush thinks Ohio State Marion has had a recent history of success with the number of Pelotonia Fellowships awarded to students because of the combination of people, facilities, and availability of equipment. 

“The principal investigators and staff at the campus are very patient and helpful, serving as excellent mentors for those who are new to research. The facilities are also excellent, allowing cutting-edge research to be performed in-house,” said Bush. 

Not only that, Bush added, “the field of molecular genetics is rapidly developing as sequencing technology becomes cheaper and more powerful. Machine-learning tools are becoming increasingly intelligent and accessible, predicting driver mutations and protein structures. Many students are increasingly tech-savvy, allowing them to flourish in this environment of big data and heavy computing.” 

Ultimately, Bush shared that undergraduate research can provide a valuable opportunity to interact with and contribute to professional academia. 

“Students can use this experience to help them decide what career path they wish to pursue, as many undergraduates are still unsure. Even if a student decides to go down a different path, they will still benefit, as many of the lab techniques and underlying theory are shared across various disciplines of life science and medicine,” said Bush. 

He went on to share that his decision to choose Ohio State Marion had to do with the campus having a good 4-year biology program, its proximity to home and the overall value of the educational product.

“The small class sizes make it easier to communicate with professors and staff, providing a helpful and low-stress environment. The facilities are also excellent, he added.

Research opportunities like the one Bush is taking part in, he believes, will strengthen his graduate school application and be useful in the job market.

“I am likely to publish a few articles on my work,” he said, “which will be very helpful when I apply to graduate school. I also would likely not have sought out a Pelotonia scholars award if I had not been working as a researcher beforehand. This award will be also be immensely helpful in my future career, and the process of applying for it provided useful experience similar to applying for a grant.” 

Bush’s plans include working towards a PhD and could see himself also working as a college professor because of his love for many elements of the job. 

“At the moment, said Bush, “I am aiming in the direction of bioinformatics, as computational methods will become more and more necessary as technology advances and datasets grow monstrous, I hope to be able to do research for most of my life, but I am not opposed to working as a professor, as I enjoy giving presentations and tutoring students.” 

He said he plans to remain in the public sector, researching the fundamental mechanisms of cancer and cellular life so that others may use these findings to develop drugs and treatments.