Graduate on the Fast Track Toward Career in Cancer Research

Twenty-year-old biology major enters Ph.D. program

Twenty-year-old Rutgers University in Camden graduating senior John Crespo knew he wanted to go into medicine while watching his grandmother experience chronic pain from cancer. After graduating from the Camden College of Arts and Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Crespo will pursue a Ph.D. in cancer immunology to improve therapeutics for patients.

 A first-generation college student, Crespo was able to graduate two years ahead of schedule through an early college program offered by LEAP Academy Charter School in Camden. As a LEAP Academy high school student, he completed enough college courses at Rutgers–Camden to begin as a sophomore.

Nathan Fried, assistant teaching professor of biology and assistant director of the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, has overseen Crespo’s research since 2020.

“As a high school student, John reached out to work on a ‘lab in a box’ project during the pandemic,” Fried said. “We sent fruit flies to his home so he could conduct cancer research. This initial project launched him into research that eventually led to his recruitment into MARC. I knew he was on his way to excellence.”

Nathan Fried, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of Biology; assistant director & program coordinator of the Rutgers–Camden MARC program

Nathan Fried, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of Biology; assistant director & program coordinator of the Rutgers–Camden MARC program

While at Rutgers–Camden, Crespo continued to work with Fried on his research examining the connection between sleep and chronic pain. Once again, Crespo utilized the common fruit fly to determine how sleep and pain affect one another. His work confirmed that fruit flies, like humans, experience changes in pain when they lose sleep.

Crespo also worked on research to improve T-Cell therapy for blood-related cancers. He presented the project at this year’s Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity as well as the Annual Biomedical Sciences Conference for Minority Students, which he counts among his favorite Scarlet Raptor experiences.

“Attending a global conference to share my research was an unforgettable experience that taught me the value of perseverance and hard work,” Crespo said.

Crespo credits the Department of Biology with his development as a scientist. In the Fried Lab, he developed the skills necessary to overcome research challenges and effectively present findings.

“John doesn't just focus on his strengths,” Fried said. “Instead, he always wants to know how he can improve. He buckled down, put on his lab gloves, and got to work discovering new connections between sleep and pain. He has allowed my research to thrive, and through his Ph.D. program, he will eventually become Dr. Crespo.”

Creative Design: Karaamat Abdullah

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