Tulane Community Aids Medical Student with Cancer

March 6, 2004

Kate Dearing, <i>Hullabaloo</i> staff writer

Tulane organizations have helped raise upwards of $30,000 for third-year medical student Andy Martin, who was diagnosed with a rare form of sinus cancer in July 2000. Now in his third round of radiation treatment, Martin is devoting most of his time researching sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma, or SNUC, at the Tulane School of Medicine.

SNUC makes up a very small percentage of the cancer cases in the United States and is incurable. "SNUC is one of the truly rare cancers of which we know, with fewer than 100 cases reported in the scientific literature," Martin said. "It is also one of the most malignant cancers, with few surviving past five years."

While Martin was diagnosed in 2000, he has attempted to continue his work at the medical school, moving to researching his own disease for this academic year.

"The first time [I had radiation], I took a year off from medical school to get treatment; the second time I got treatment during my second year of medical school," Martin said. "Now I am doing research during my third year of medical school while I get the treatment."

In order to pay for supplies and space for Martin's research, organizations and individuals within the Tulane community are attempting to raise money through various drives and events. Last December, Chief of Hematology and Medical Oncology at the Tulane School of Medicine Tyler Curiel dribbled a basketball while running 108 miles for 24 hours in an event called Bounce for Life, on behalf of Martin.

Medical students, along with Curiel, wanted to raise money for Martin's research in Curiel's lab, so the $28,000 in donations from the event went to Martin and SNUC research. "[Martin] has been courageous in allowing us to use his name to raise money," Curiel said after the event Dec. 15. "The next few years we'll see our discoveries go into human clinical trials," Curiel said. "This is a very exciting time for cancer research at Tulane."

The Bounce for Life Organization along with the Tulane Club Hockey team have set up a program called Score Against SNUC for this semester. The program is headed by goalie Edwin Wu, a research technician in pharmacology who hopes to start medical school soon. Through the hockey website, participants in the program are able to donate a dollar or more per goal scored by the team.

The total amount of the donation will be determined at the end of the season based on the number of goals the team has scored. So far, the team has scored 26 goals, and the proceeds will go to Martin's research. In his research, Martin wishes to find out more about his very rare cancer because little is known about it at this time.

"We have established a cell line of SNUC, which is the first in the country to our knowledge," Martin said. "There is a lot more that we can learn now that we have gotten the line started, like which cancer genes are being expressed or not expressed by the tumor cells."

Because of his current condition and the support from Curiel, Martin was able to sidetrack from the normal path of a third-year medical student. "I am at a unique point in both my personal struggle with the disease and in my education as a medical student," Martin said. "This point allows me to sidestep the clinical duties of a typical third-year student and, under the mentorship of Dr. Tyler Curiel, learn how to do the type of research that will further our understanding of SNUC. This work involves not only learning how these cells look and behave, but assessing them as targets for some new, novel cancer treatments."

After completing medical school, Martin plans to become a head and neck surgeon. "I think that head and neck surgery is one of the most interesting fields in medicine with a great balance of technically challenging surgeries balanced with the need for good cosmetic outcomes, and good functional outcomes because of all the important structures, neural and otherwise, that lie in the region," Martin said. For now, Martin recognizes his ability to research SNUC would not be possible without the aid and support of the Tulane family.

"Tulane is a truly remarkable community, and the amount of support I have received for this effort has been incredible," Martin said.

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