Mercer University Junior Receives $5,000 Research Award from Joshua’s Wish


MACON – Rising Mercer University junior Rachel O'Keefe was recently presented a $5,000 Undergraduate Summer Student Research Award in Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Giloma (DIPG) from Joshua's Wish, a local nonprofit organization.

Joshua's Wish was formed in 2010 after Trent and Labrina Solomon's son, Joshua, passed away at the age of 5 from DIPG, an inoperable brain tumor. The organization is dedicated to funding national medical research efforts to find a cure for pediatric brain tumors, to support families of children in Georgia who have cancer and are undergoing treatment and to raise awareness of childhood cancer.

O'Keefe will research current treatments of DIPG with Dr. Mariko DeWire, co-principal investigator for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium, at Cincinnati Children's Hospital this summer.

“This disease is ruthless, with only 10 percent of those diagnosed surviving past two years of diagnosis,” said O'Keefe. “Being able to work on such a severe disease is an honor. I am privileged to be working with some of the foremost researchers in the DIPG field to strive to cure those affected by such a grave illness.”

This is the first year Joshua's Wish has presented its research award to a Mercer student. Past award-winners have come from institutions such as Duke University and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

Dr. Kevin Bucholtz, associate professor and director of undergraduate research at Mercer and a member of the Joshua's Wish Medical Advisory Board, recommended O'Keefe based on her academic credentials and research experience. O'Keefe's experience includes working with her research adviser, Dr. Garland Crawford, to determine the functional characteristics of an enzyme called OGA. She is also a participant in the University Honors Program.

“Rachel is one of Mercer's brightest rising students. She is an intelligent, articulate and driven student with the maturity and the focus for this type of summer program. Rachel will do an excellent job representing Mercer at a world-class research institute,” said Dr. Crawford, assistant professor of chemistry.

“It is important that a Mercer University student received this award because it will help Joshua's Wish raise awareness of this disease in Georgia,” said Labrina Solomon, president of Joshua's Wish and a library assistant at Mercer's Walter F. George School of Law. “There are no labs in Georgia doing DIPG research. Most labs in Georgia center their research on the most diagnosed forms of childhood cancer such as leukemia, which now has an 80 percent survival rate. DIPG is so devastating that children rarely live more than a year after diagnosis. The survival rate is zero.”

“I look forward to my time in Cincinnati, and I aim to contribute to reaching the goal of the Joshua's Wish Foundation,” said O'Keefe, who begins 10 weeks of research on May 19.

Kyle Sears
Kyle is the director of media relations at Mercer. In addition to being the primary media contact for most academic and administrative units of the university, he coordinates hometown and university news releases and serves as editor of the News@Mercer e-newsletter and Reach magazine.​