Biomedical Sciences grad helps fight pediatric brain cancer

Davis Witt in the lab with his colleagues at CU Anschutz
Davis Witt (far left) and his colleagues at CU Anschutz.

CSU alumnus Davis Witt is working to help figure out how certain immunotherapies may fight an aggressive form of pediatric brain cancer. In pediatric ependymoma, traditional therapies often fail and can come with undesirable side effects. Immunotherapies, which are gentler and utilize the body’s immune system, have come to play an increasingly important role in cancer treatment.

“We’re hoping to see more immunotherapies developed that not only really work but are also a lot more tolerable for the kids,” said Witt, a professional research assistant at CU Anschutz whose research on pediatric ependymoma is now being tested in clinical trials.

Witt, who earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences with a minor in Biomedical Sciences in 2013 and a Master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences with a concentration in human anatomy through the one-year MSpro program in 2014, heads to medical school in the fall. While not yet sure which school’s acceptance offer he’s going to accept, he knows he wants to stay involved in meaningful research throughout his medical career, whether he ends up working in pediatric oncology or internal medicine.

“The MSpro program gave me the skills and confidence to go out and try different things and figure out what I wanted to do,” Witt said. “Going to medical school was something I always thought I might do, but I knew I wanted to try other things first. The work I do now is so translational that it’s inspired me to pursue medicine.”

The best of both worlds

After graduating from CSU, Witt worked as a microbiologist at LABS Inc. testing donated human tissues and organs. While this position gave him a feel for what it’s like to work in a lab, he missed the scientific inquiry that he experienced in graduate school. His current job working with clinicians and researchers at Children’s Hospital Colorado studying different types of pediatric brain tumors allows him to do both. Witt also volunteers at the DAWN Clinic in Aurora, where he serves as coleader of the diabetes education team and helps underserved and uninsured patients with type 2 diabetes adopt new lifestyle choices to manage their disease.

Witt, who hails from Arvada, Colorado, always loved science and first grew interested in medicine while taking human anatomy and playing sports in high school. As an athlete, Witt suffered his fair share of broken bones and injuries requiring stitches, experiences that caused him to develop an appreciation for doctors and physical therapists.

“Back then, I was simultaneously drawn toward the classroom side of medicine as well as the real life side of it,” Witt said. “The physicians I interact now have shown me that you be a clinician at a great facility like Children’s Hospital, and also run an academic research lab and stay connected to science. I see now that doing both is an option, and that’s a really cool job to have.”