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ACC’s Off-Court Competition: 3-Minute Theses

Event in DC helps students learn to communicate their research in a clear, concise manner

ACC’s Off-Court Competition: 3-Minute Theses
Duke graduate student Christopher Bassil talks about his doctoral research on drug-resistant tumors.

Your assignment: Give us your doctoral thesis on drug resistant tumors in just under three minutes.

Duke graduate student Christopher Bassil met the challenge at the first ACC Academic Consortium Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition & Research Forum, held July 22 in Washington, DC.

The event featured a student from each of the 13 Atlantic Coast Conference schools who communicated their wide-ranging research in a clear, concise and thought-provoking presentation to a lay audience and a panel of four judges.

The University of Queensland in Australia started the 3MT in 2008 as a way to help students explain their research. More than 600 universities in over 65 countries now participate.

Bassil, an MD/Ph.D. candidate who studies drug-resistant tumors, kicked off his presentation with the Greek mythology narrative, Achilles the warrior and his one vulnerability, his “Achilles heel.”

Bassil drew inspiration from this story in his doctoral research on drug-resistant tumors. Equally tough and seemingly invincible, both Achilles and drug-resistant tumors appear impossible to defeat. 

“We believe that drug-resistant tumors, the tumors which ‘come back’ after someone has initially been treated, are actually quite similar to Achilles,” Bassil said during his presentation. “Just like Achilles, they’re bigger, badder and harder to beat than most other tumors.

“But we’ve also discovered that the very way they became so big and bad in the first place endows them with a hidden vulnerability -- just like Achilles’ Heel.”

Through his research, Bassil found that tumors treated in hospitals that have become resistant to drug treatments often have multiple vulnerabilities.

Despite how unbeatable these drug-resistant tumors appear when they return to a patient, through the Achilles story Bassil finds hope that nothing is entirely invincible.

Bassil and his mentor, Duke professor Kris Wood, an assistant professor of pharmacology and cancer biology, are working to discover as many of these Achilles heels as possible, and develop them as strategies for treating drug-resistant tumors in the future. This research offers a bright future for the success of cancer treatments that can help patients with cancer get better and stay better. 

Though a graduate student from Notre Dame won this year’s event, Bassil’s trip to DC proved beneficial beyond the competition.

Bassil met with several staff members of the North Carolina congressional delegation to discuss his research and thank them for the federal support that makes it possible.