Dr. Mark Santos
By Jack Mazurak
In receiving his Ph.D. in pathology, Dr. Mark Santos quickly credits his mentor for deepening his interest in science.
“He’s actually the one who got me interested in immunopathology,” Santos said of Dr. Julius Cruse, Guyton Distinguished Professor of pathology, medicine and microbiology. “We had a sit down where we discussed a Ph.D. and where it could take me.”
Though his relationship with Cruse stretches back to when Santos was an undergraduate, his journey to the UMMC commencement stage started an ocean away.
Santos and his family moved from the Philippines to New Orleans when he was 12. A year later, his father’s job brought the family to Clinton, where Santos graduated high school in 2007.
“I went to Hinds Community College for two years and I knew at the time I wanted to do something in the science field,” he said.
He points to his year-long presidency of the college’s Biology Club, during which the group studied marine life on the Mississippi Coast.
Entering Mississippi College, Santos majored in biology with a chemistry minor. Between his junior and senior years, he participated in UMMC ‘s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience. SURE is a pipeline program by the University
of Mississippi School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, which paired him with Cruse.
“His lab really exposed me to immunopathology research,” Santos said. “It was very helpful.”
Cruse said he was impressed from day one.
“He had all As from Mississippi College, came here for graduate school and got all As,” Cruse said. “He’s wonderful and has a great attitude. We’re very proud of him.”
Santos focused his dissertation on immune-system function in metastatic breast, prostate and colorectal cancer patients.
When cancers metastasize, tumor cells circulate in the bloodstream and the body’s immune system tries to keep up. Using a flow cytometer, Santos counted the number of circulating tumor cells in each patient’s sample while the patients were undergoing treatment.
Clinicians currently use that metric to determine patients’ progression. But Santos went further by measuring the effectiveness of each patient’s immune system and correlating the two data columns.
“What we found validated our hypothesis. The higher the number of circulating tumor cells, the more diminished the patients’ immune system was. That affects a person’s ability to fight off cancer,” he said.
The method could help clinicians more accurately gauge metastasis and more finely tune treatment regimens.
As he graduated, Santos was in the middle of interviewing for postdoctoral fellowships.
“I want to try different areas of immunology,” he said. “I might consider (biotechnology) industry after my post doc, but I’m not set on it yet. I’m not sure about academics either, but I’ve really enjoyed teaching and tutoring.”
On any path he ultimately chooses, his deepened interest in science, research abilities and support from his mentor – in addition to his new degree – will provide the momentum he needs.