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Students research cancer

Students may think they understand what it’s like to do research when they work in the lab during the school year, but according to Kelsey Stark ’14, it doesn’t compare. “I didn’t know what research really was until I got in this (summer research) program,” Kelsey said.

Kelsey is one of five students working with Biology Professor Kate Marley on a variety of projects studying cancer. “I am generally interested in the characteristics of gene expression that occur in cancer development,” Marley said. “All of my projects tend to target that topic.” The students that do research with her sometimes work in pairs, but generally work independently.

For Kelsey’s research, she is looking at three different types of cancer cells: breast, ovarian and prostate. Within each of these types of cancer cells, she is looking at genes for cell attachment, specifically a cadherin cell attachment gene in which the gene makes a protein that lets cells stick together. By studying cell attachment, Kelsey can see what might affect cancer spreading.

“I really enjoy research and it swayed my interest to go to grad school instead (of medical school),” Kesley said.  “I think that it’s a chance to really gain a lot a knowledge in something that not a lot of people know about.”

Other students working with Marley this summer are Kylee Perniceck ’14, Mariah Morgan ’14, Zach Wordekemper ’14 and Kurt Harders ’14. Kylee, Mariah and Zach are researching natural dietary substances to see if some are better than others at interfering with tumor formation.

Kylee is studying resveratrol (commonly found in red wine and grape juice), Mariah is studying Vitamin D and Zach is studying the main components of green tea. The students use a tumorsphere assay to get cells to form small tumors, which they then treat with their designated substances.

“It is interesting because (the research) can show if our diet can prevent or keep tumors from becoming large and aggressive,” Marley said. Marley said that participating in research can benefit students by giving them real-life experience. “Direct experience is just so informative in terms of applying what it takes to have a career in the (biology) field,” she said. “Even if (students) don’t stay in biology they will be citizens who vote and they will have a better understanding of science research and the scientific community. That’s huge for them and society.”

PHOTO: Nate Knobel '14