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Long Shots Come In

Reed Salmons talks about his recent journey

Photo by Christian Payne.

Reed Salmons '14's student-faculty research efforts come full circle

by Tony Moore

About one in every 500 people who participate in a Be the Match bone-marrow registration drive will be a match and then actually go on to donate. Through last year’s drive, Reed Salmons '14, biology major and Red Devils lacrosse midfielder, became one of them.

Be the Match is an annual event that collects DNA samples for a national registry in hopes of matching donor DNA with that of more than 12,000 patients nationwide awaiting a transplant. After Salmons received word that he was a match, he took the steps to undergo the procedure to donate his peripheral blood stem cells to someone he’s never met.

"This procedure that Reed went through scares many of us," says Dave Webster, head men's lacrosse coach, "but nobody who knows Reed was surprised by his willingness to proceed. He is very giving and even enthusiastic about the opportunity to help someone, and I cannot think of anyone else who better represents what we hope our young men and women at Dickinson will achieve.  "

Salmons says that he was nervous, but mostly about the effect the procedure could have on his lacrosse season, which was on the horizon. "There was definitely a little bit of nervousness when I was told I was a match," Salmons says, "but in my mind the good outweighed the bad, and it was a no-brainer to donate." In the end, the side effects were marked chiefly by fatigue, but Salmons took to the lacrosse field as scheduled.

Another connection 

Although chances are slim that matches outside of family members will be found, Salmons’ donation shows that long shots do pay off. But another long shot emerging from the experience is one that stems from Salmons' academic endeavors: The patient who matched up with Salmons' DNA sample suffers from the same kind of cancer Salmons has been studying in a Dickinson research lab.

“In the lab, it's sometimes hard to step back and say, "We're doing what we're doing because we're trying to understand this disease that kills people,’ ” says Michael Roberts, associate professor of biology, who has worked closely with Salmons. “So for him to have that link between the molecular biology he's doing in the lab and a personal understanding of how that impacts patients, where his donation is going to potentially save the life of somebody who has the disease he's been studying, I think that is pretty amazing.”

In his research, Salmons has determined that a specific gene, one overactive in leukemia cells, is "turned off" as the cells are induced to behave normally in culture, and he's testing an inhibitor of this gene to see if it will cause the leukemia cells to stop growing. As amazing as the connection is between his research and his DNA match, the serendipity of it all may pale in comparison to how emotional it's been for Salmons.

"The only thoughts I ever had leading into this year concerning my bridging the divide between cells and patients were my thoughts and dreams of becoming a doctor," says Salmons, who plans on pursuing medical school after graduation. "When I found out about this connection, I was ecstatic! The donation was by far the most powerful experience that I have had to date."

One of few 

This Friday, while Red Devils football hosts this year’s Be the Match drive, Salmons will be heading to San Diego for the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research with Roberts and classmate Rizwan Saffie ’14. He'll be presenting results of research he carried out with Roberts, Saffie, Juliana Schneider ’15, Mansoor Ghoto ’15 and Assistant Professor of Mathematics Jeff Forrester. The meeting hosts about 18,000 cancer researchers from all over the world, and as Roberts says, of the thousands of presentations, there won't be “more than a few” on undergraduate student research.

Sometimes, though, the odds are there to be beaten.

This year’s Be the Match bone-marrow registry drive will be held on April 4. So if you’re an adult between ages 18 and 44 and want to donate, head over to the HUB between noon and 4 p.m. this Friday. It’s quick, it’s painless, and maybe you’ll be the next long shot to come in. If you have any questions, here's Be the Match's Q-and-A page.

You can also donate financially at the Be the Match Red Devils football page.

Learn more

Video by Christian Payne

Published April 1, 2014