TCOM dual degree student elected to APSA executive council

Luke CooksieIt was the summer of 2015 and Luke Cooksey had just begun a research internship at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston as an undergrad student. Each day he rode the bus to work. It was there he met a man from Georgia, the same age as Cooksey, who was getting treatment for Leukemia. The man had beaten cancer once before, but it came back again, and M.D. Anderson represented the last-ditch attempt to save his life.   

“I remember thinking, ‘That could be me, my brother, a close friend and by the luck of the draw, it’s not me,’” Cooksey said. “ 

That experience solidified his desire to go into medicine. Following his first year at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth’s Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2019, Cooksey returned to M.D. Anderson for a six-week research internship. There he realized he wanted to be involved in academic medicine as well.  

His time in Houston spurred Cooksey to enter HSC’s D.O./Ph.D. program, and now he is making waves of his own. Cooksey was recently elected to the American Physician Scientist Association’s executive board as the Vice Chair of Partnerships Committee. He is the first student from HSC elected to the APSA’s Executive Board.  

Cooksey has a special motivation for wanting to be part of the APSA. Osteopathic Medicine is in his blood. His father, Dr. Robbie Cooksey, is a 1989 TCOM graduate. Luke Cooksey wanted to see more D.O. representation within the association.  

“I would say that really what drove me is I think we are getting to a point where the M.D./D.O. barrier shouldn’t matter because both meet the competencies of training,” he said. “I think that the bias or chasm between the groups is going away, and I want to see it continue to go away in the context of physician-scientists. I hope this is a small step to bridge that gap that D.O./Ph.D. students have and increase our representation on a national stage.” 

Dr. Michael Smith, TCOM’s Year-1 curriculum director recruited Cooksey for the D.O./Ph.D. program, and after his time at M.D. Anderson, was sold.  

“I had great exposure there and saw a ton of things, from the cutting edge of cancer research to physicians at the top of their game,” Cooksey said. “I wanted to do what they were doing, and I learned they all had dual degrees. Right now, I would like to be a true dual degree person. I want to be a true clinician-researcher. I do see myself seeing patients and treating them, but then going back and running a lab and doing research and trying to keep moving forward and add what I can to advancing the research.” 

Cooksey is now in the second year of his Ph.D. work in the School of Biomedical Sciences. He is working with his mentors Dr. Porunelloor Mathew and Dr. Stephen Mathew in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics.  

His research project, “Natural Killer Cell-Mediated Immunotherapy for the Treatment of Glioblastoma Multiforme,” focuses on Glioblastoma, one of the deadliest and most aggressive forms of cancer with survival rates of less than 15 months in most patients. Cooksey wants to change that.  

“Essentially, we try to use the immune system, and in this case natural killer cells, to basically get them to attack cancer,” Cooksey said.  

While he grows as a scientist, he will also have the chance to grow osteopathic medicine within the APSA community, which has an overwhelming M.D. majority.  

His role on the executive board will give him the opportunity to build and maintain relationships in multiple specialties, while also working to give D.O.s with dual degrees more representation.  

“I think this is a small step, but somebody has to do this to increase our representation,” Cooksey said. “I didn’t know it would be me, but why not? if someone is going to break through the barrier, we have to do it.” 

He will be one of 16 members on the Executive Council, and his term will last for a year.  

“This achievement is an outstanding recognition for Student-Doctor Cooksey, TCOM, HSC and the dual degree programs at HSC,” Smith said. “He is the first (and certainly not the last) student who will take on a leadership role within this prestigious national organization.  He epitomizes the spirit of a physician-scientist student: He is driven to define new scientific evidence that will serve himself and his colleagues in providing the best medical care possible for future patients.” 

Cooksey is tentatively slated to rejoin TCOM next summer for his rotations with a graduation date set for 2025. When he does enter the profession, Cooksey wants to make a difference and doesn’t have to look far for motivation.   

“That personal experience with cancer patients and the touch they have had on me, thinking about it, I never want to forget about them,” Cooksey said. “Even if I can’t help everyone I want to be able to say that I’m trying to help them in the clinic or the lab.”  

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