News and Research


Fundraising Success at the 2018 Hope Starts Here Challenge

Two student researchers on bikes and Wildcat Willy at Hope Starts Here ChallengeCommunity support and generosity will allow research to continue on Northern Michigan University's campus. 

Final fundraising numbers from 2018 Hope Starts Here Challenge are in! More than $25,000 was raised at the Hope Starts Here Challenge, a fundraiser held on May 12, 2018 to support research efforts at the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center (UMBTC).

The Hope Starts Here Challenge raised funds through a combination of generous donations, mile-marker sponsorships, and more than 200 participants in the leisure walk, kids' run, 5k, 10k, half-marathon and duathlon. Funds raised at this year’s event will be split within the lab to support two areas of need: equipment updates and research projects.

Research that takes place in the UMBTC requires specialized equipment, including high-powered microscopes to examine cells, chemical fume hoods to safely handle materials, and extreme low-temperature freezers to preserve cells for future research. Maintenance of this equipment is estimated to require $15,000 this year, with funds from the Hope Starts Here Challenge covering a considerable chunk of that cost.

Remaining Hope Starts Here Challenge funds will support several exciting research projects. Research projects, led by Northern Michigan University Graduate and Undergraduate students, require an estimated $10,000 of funding. These projects pair exceptional students with talented faculty and staff of the UMBTC. Students will work to characterize patient-derived brain tumor cells to help tailor therapies to each patient, and will also spend time investigating the role of two proteins involved in how tumor cells use energy, which could be used in future treatments that “shut off” the growth of tumors.

Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center Faculty and student researchers would like to thank everyone for their generous support of the 2018 Hope Starts Here Challenge. Each dollar raised will directly support a student researcher, and their work to better understand brain tumors to help improve patient outcomes.

The Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center is a collaboration between Northern Michigan University and Upper Peninsula Health System – Marquette working to provide advocacy, education, treatment and research to cancer patients, as well as their family and friends. Contact with any questions, wishes to tour the lab, or for more information about the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center.



What the Hope Start Here Challenge means to Delight Hill

Delight Hill holding fundraising award Delight Hill, Director of Just Believe!shares why she makes sure to attend the annual Hope Starts Here Challenge 

To Delight, the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center’s Hope Starts Here Challenge means hugs, reconnecting with old friends, and coming together as a community. The Hope Starts Here Challenge (HSHC) serves as the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center’s primary fundraiser, and includes a walk, 5k, 10k, half marathon, duathalon, and kids’ run. This event financially supports research at the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center (a collaboration between Northern Michigan University and Upper Peninsula Health System - Marquette) that works to bring cutting edge research to the area. Happening annually in May at Lakeview Arena, HSHC funds provide resources for Northern Michigan University students who commit their time to better understanding how brain cancer works. By better understanding how these tumors interact with the human brain, improved patient outcomes are possible.

In May of 2011, Hill’s daughter Jodi was diagnosed with advanced-stage melanoma. During this challenging time, Jodi and Delight met Dr. Richard Rovin and other Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center members while undergoing treatment at Upper Peninsula Health System - Marquette. Dr. Rovin, co-founder of the UMBTC, shared information about the Hope Starts Here Challenge, and Hill decided to attend to see what it was all about. Unfortunately, Jodi never had the opportunity to take part in the event, but Delight has been an avid HSHC supporter and always-smiling-face since 2012.

Others that learn of the HSHC may see it just as a fundraiser, but Hill now knows it is something much more. Besides being a chance to spend the day with other caring community members, the HSHC is an opportunity for people from all walks of life to rally behind a good cause. To Hill, the Hope Starts Here Challenge is synonymous with a yearly hug from Dr. Rovin, reconnecting with old friends and local residents, and the chance to support brain tumor research right in our backyard. Because of that, Delight returns year after year, and hopes you’ll do the same.

The Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center is a collaboration between Northern Michigan University and Upper Peninsula Health System – Marquette working to provide advocacy, education, treatment and research to cancer patients, as well as their family and friends. Information regarding the Hope Starts Here Challenge can be found at



International Brain Tumor Awareness Week: What is it?

UMBTC hosts multiple International Brain Tumor Awareness Week Events to inform public on research being done to fight brain cancer

Written by: Jordan Howell

The word ‘Cancer’ comes from the latin word for crab, and was first discovered by ancient Egyptians. Cancer is something everyone knows about; it has numerous forms and can occur all over the body, most commonly in your lungs, breasts, kidneys, and even in your brain. Brain cancer, the focus of the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center, can occur at any age. There are over 140 types of brain cancer, with IBTAW16 Lecture many different unique subtypes. More than any other cancer, brain tumors in particular can have lasting and life-altering physical, cognitive, and psychological impacts on a patient’s life. The average survival rate for all malignant brain tumor patients is only 34.7%. It is estimated that, in 2009, a total of 47,631 years of potential life was lost due to brain tumors in children between under the age of 19 (Cancer Society of America). 

The International Brain Tumor Alliance created International Brain Tumor Awareness week in 2005 to help create more worldwide awareness of this disease, using activities and events to help educate people. They work with over 100 countries across the globe in order to help create, advance, and learn more about brain tumor treatments. Their goal is to establish facilities to help treat the tumors, improve overall health, and create policies that promote quality care. Cancer mortality rates have fallen from 215 deaths per 100,000 people in 1991 to 172 deaths per 100,000 people in 2010 (International Brain Tumor Alliance), and as treatments for cancer improve and the more knowledge we gain, this number will continue to drop. Through work being done in the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center, the more we are able to understand how brain tumors operate, and the easier it will be to combat this disease. In honor of International Brain Tumor Awareness Week, held October 21st through 28th, the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center will be hosting both a lecture series and open house. Lectures will be given by experienced professionals with expertise in brain cancer. Following an open house of the UMBTC (room West Science 1620 on NMU's campus) at 5:30 on October 26th, Dr. Amber LaCrosse will speak at 7 pm in West Science 2710. Dr. Richard Rovin will speak on October 27th at 4 pm in Jamrich Hall 1320. This event is free and open to the public, in hopes that the research being conducted in the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center may be shared with the community to increase awareness for the issue that brain cancer presents. 



NMU Student Researches Cutting-Edge Immunotherapy Treatment through UMBTC/UCLA Collaboration

The Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center (UMBTC) provides student cancer research opportunities at Northern Michigan University and across the country.

Written by: Jordan Howell & Allison Opheim

The UMBTC is a collaborative research organization between Northern Michigan University and Upper Peninsula Health System - Marquette, where undergraduate and graduate students conduct research on a deadly form of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). GBM is an aggressive form of brain cancer that accounts for 15% of all brain tumors diagnosed, and is notable for its ability to quickly attack a variety of cells within the brain - making tumor removal nearly impossible. Motivated students have the opportunity to begin research projects with UMBTC during their freshman year though the Freshman Fellowship program. Students that enjoy laboratory research can work alongside knowledgeable faculty, staff, and peers, and experience numerous research opportunities outside of the MarquetteShortreed Leaning area if enthusiasm and commitment are shown.

Nick Shortreed, a junior at NMU, is one such committed student. This past summer, Shortreed conducted research alongside Robert Prins Ph.D. and Horacio Soto (NMU Alumni, B.S./M.S. 2003 & 2006) at the University of California - Los Angeles on a project designed to improve cancer treatment outcomes using a patient's own immune system to fight cancer. Soto, the Senior Research Associate at the Prins/Liau Immunotherapy Lab at UCLA, invited Shortreed to work with him this last summer (and for possible future work, as a part of the new Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center and UCLA collaboration) to improve adoptive T-Cell therapy. Adoptive T-Cell therapy is on the cutting edge of cancer research and treatment; Shortreed used T-Cells collected from the lymph nodes and spleens of mice to better understand how these cells reacted to three different chemotherapeutic drugs. Shortreed, after collection of cells and application of the three separate drugs, monitored cellular changes in hopes of the cell rejuvenation prior to return to the mouse. If rejuvenation took place, these cells would be able to combat cancer cells within the body much more effectively than current treatments, providing hope for future applications in humans.

Shortreed was awarded the UMBTC’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, and the Rich and Anna Lundin Summer Research Fellowship, giving him the resources to travel to Los Angeles and conduct research. Shortreed feels his time spent in the UMBTC with support from Dr. John Lawrence, Chris McMahon, Dr. Rob Winn, and Dr. Robert Belton allowed him to work alongside students and faculty at UCLA with ease. During his freshman year, Shortreed worked in the UMBTC lab to refine a method for creating an artificial 3-dimensional structure for culturing early stage cancer cells, known as cancer stem cells. This experience provided the skills and confidence to explore more challenging research projects, resulting in the formal collaboration with UCLA that has come from Shortreed’s efforts.

Shortreed and Horacio at flow cytometerFor Shortreed, the discovery of his passion for cancer research was made possible by his involvement with the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center. The drive to better understand cancer and create effective treatments has taken Shortreed across the country, and it’s safe to say this excitement for research won’t disappear anytime soon. He hopes all students find something they care deeply enough about to dedicate their work to; “Once you find your passion”, Shortreed says,” you must be dedicated to it, learn everything you can about it, and take pride in what you are doing”. In the face of something as frightening as cancer, Shortreed, UMBTC Student Researchers, and the numerous members of the field that work daily to improve patient outcomes serve as beacons of hope and catalysts for future improvements in the oncology field.

The UMBTC welcomes highly motivated students to join their laboratory group. For those interested, contact Dr. Robert Belton (UMBTC Research Director) at



NMU Alumnus Credits Time at UMBTC As Starting Point For Career In Cancer Research

Written by: Lexi Wieringa, Edited by: Allison Opheim and Dr. Lawrence

Dr. Don Shaffer with UMBTC faculty and staff
Pictured left to right: Chris McMahon M.S., Dr. Robert Winn, Dr. Don Shaffer, Dr. John Lawrence, and Dr. Robert Belton
In light of International Brain Tumor Awareness week which took place on October 22 - 29, Dr. Don Shaffer, a Northern Michigan University (NMU) alumnus, returned to speak on an up-and-coming treatment for cancer: immunotherapy. His first talk, which sported a full house and standing room only was entitled, “Immunotherapy: A New Hope for Long-term Cancer Regression”. The following day, Shaffer did a follow up presentation for the more scientific audience on “Engineering CARs for Cancer Immunotherapy.”

Excited to be back in Marquette and on NMU’s campus, Shaffer described his time working in the research laboratory in a positive light. He highlighted the tight-knit group of faculty, staff, and students and the camaraderie that existed among them. His research outside of class and the support from those involved in the lab were what gave him the experience and confidence to pursue his interests.


During his time as a student, Shaffer began to develop an interest in cancer research after studying dendritic cells with Dr. Winn, the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center’s (UMBTC) Co-Founder and NMU’s Interim Assistant Provost of Graduate Education and Research. After receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from NMU, he continued on to earn his PhD from the Baylor College of Medicine. He then conducted a fellowship in collaboration with Harvard University before starting his current job as a Senior Scientist at Jounce Therapeutics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For Dr. Shaffer, being part of the evolutionary process of an idea becoming a drug that will ultimately improve the outcome of cancer patients is what draws him to industry research instead of academia.


Since starting at Jounce Therapeutics, he has been able to watch one of their products start as an idea and then develop from small laboratory experiments into a clinical trial three years later. In his current role as a Senior Scientist, Shaffer oversees a team that investigates new and more effective immunotherapies. Testimonials and interactions with those whose lives have been changed as a result of what scientists have discovered is what motivates Shaffer to strive for results.


Shaffer’s advice to current students is to position yourself for success. Just like he did in his time at NMU, he suggests getting involved and taking advantage of what NMU has to offer and to not be afraid of new adventures.

Dr. Shaffer is proud to have been a Wildcat.

The UMBTC welcomes highly motivated students to join their laboratory group.  For those interested, contact Dr. John Lawrence (UMBTC Laboratory Director) at



UMBTC Undergraduate is Driving Force Behind New NMU - University of Michigan Collaboration

Written by: Allison Opheim, Edited by: Lexi Wieringa 

Melanie Flaherty putting her cells in liquid nitrogen

Not knowing the answer to a question has never been an option for Northern Michigan University senior Melanie Flaherty. As a freshman at NMU in 2013, Flaherty walked into the office of Dr. Robert Belton, the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center’s (UMBTC) Research Director, in hopes of having the opportunity to get her hands dirty (or clean, rather, to prevent contamination during any experiments) in the UMBTC. The rest, as members and faculty of the UMBTC say, is history.


Flaherty, a German and Biology double major, has spent the entirety of her undergraduate career with the UMBTC. Over the past three years, she focused on blocking the function of two metabolic proteins in glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) cancer cells using CRISPR/Cas9, a new technology that allows researchers to specifically target certain genes and make them nonfunctional. In this research, Flaherty and her lab partner were hoping to find an effective and cost efficient way to utilize GBM’s own metabolism against itself. The skills gained at the UMBTC, as well as her drive to discover more answers, ultimately led her to another adventure in research - a fellowship at the University of Michigan.


After being accepted for a 10-week fellowship, Flaherty had to make a choice - work with a researcher already in an oncology field (something she had become familiar with at the UMBTC), or undertake something completely foreign. Taking a leap of faith, Flaherty decided to work alongside Dr. Jose Diaz to study deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT is a clot found within the deep veins of the legs. Current treatment for DVT is anticoagulation medication, however, only a third of patients experience a complete resolution of the clot after treatment. Her work this past summer involved targeting DVT from another angle - inflammation - with hopes of developing a new treatment. As the summer progressed she learned not only about the factors that contribute to DVT, but proposed the mechanism of action for a new anti-inflammatory molecule. Throughout the summer, the concept of cancer associated thrombosis (CAT) continued to present itself. CAT is a well documented condition in which a patient who is diagnosed with cancer has an increased chance of developing DVT and vice versa. This phenomenon has been attributed to a number of different factors, but a clear understanding of the underlying mechanism that links these two diseases is lacking. Flaherty, intrigued by the connection between these diseases, began studying them during incubation periods, after work, and over the weekends. CAT gave her the opportunity to use all of her knowledge from the UMBTC and combine it with her new understanding of vascular biology.


At the end of the 10-week fellowship at U of M, Flaherty was not ready to be done with her newfound interest and love for vascular health. After mountains of paperwork, and the go-ahead from both the UMBTC and the Conrad Jobst Vascular Research Laboratory at the University of Michigan, an official collaboration was formed. Using the resources within both laboratories, Flaherty will continue her research with the purpose of studying the link between cancer and DVT. While the UMBTC is a collaboration between Northern Michigan University and the Upper Peninsula Health System, this exciting new addition symbolizes the continued efforts to advance the health, well-being, and treatments available to both Michigan residents and those across the country.


Following graduation from NMU in May, Flaherty plans to go medical school and ultimately become a physician; but the experience Flaherty gained at the UMBTC and the forever curious nature she brought to the lab will live on for years to come. When posed with the question as to what research means to Flaherty, she says, “research is a mindset; you have to be able to admit what you don’t know and then take the next steps to find the answers.” And for up-and-coming researchers, like Flaherty, the mindset requires courage, hard work, and an undying determination, especially in the face of scientific mysteries.


Past UMBTC student, Nick Cook, is making a difference in Detroit!  He is hoping to have an "impact on clinical care, patient education and life style changes, food access and more."  He plans to specialize in Hematology/Oncology after graduation in 2018. To see the whole press release by the Michigan Health Council, click on the story below.

Nick Cook