Tag: cancer research

Cross-Class Plans

by gwilson on May.05, 2009, under A Day in the Life...

07260307Today I met with Hyunshun Shin, our Organic Chemist and Molecular Biologist Heidi DiFrancesca to discuss a research proposal the two are putting together.  While collaboration among scientists is not unusual, I have to say that this partnership has some unique qualities.  In the end, it may mean an exciting breakthrough in cancer research, productive research for the two scientists, and some incredible experiences for their students.

The project centers on a discovery made by Dr. Shin of a chemical that has shown activity against cancer cells.  Though it has been proven to be potent, its toxicity has not proven to be useful (efficacious, I believe clinical folks would say).  Still, previous work suggests the potential for a derivative of the compound to exhibit the Holy Grail of selective toxicity seems high.  She will use part of the second half of the regular Organic Chemistry course she teaches to have her students synthesize derivatives for testing.  At the same time, Dr. D’s class will test the toxicity of the derivatives against breast cancer cells and normal tissues.  So, this represents students in two normal classes taken by all BIMS majors collaborating across class lines to work together in cancer research.  Every BIMS major, then, will have participated in the synthesis and testing of anticancer drugs before their senior year in college.  Somehow, my Organic class’s synthesis of isoamyl acetate pales in comparison!

Such use of regular classes as the stage for involving students in research is a strong reason for McMurry’s BIMS program to be recognized as one that represents the future of science education.   Is this an approach you’d see at UT or MIT or Stanford?  More and more, these cross-class connections will be used to teach our students through participation in science, rather than teaching them about science.  We’re committed to science as a verb, rather than science as a noun! 

Stay tuned for updates on how the Organic-Molecular Biology partnership is going, and on other collaborations as they develop.

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Poky Little Puppies

by gwilson on Apr.10, 2009, under A Day in the Life...

poky-little-puppy-by-janette-sebring-lowreyOne of the most popular children’s books of all time is about a puppy with a mind of his own – The Poky Little Puppy.  No matter what he was supposed to do, the puppy did its own thing in its own time.  Students in Dr. Heidi DiFrancesca’s capstone research course have been experiencing a similar phenomenon with the cells used in their research.

Dr. D’s students decided to spend the semester testing chemicals reported to influence the growth of cancer cells.  However, the breast cancer cells purchased for use have made this difficult – they have been poky little puppies that have grown slowly and unpredictably, making experimentation impossible.  It is hard to plan out experiments when the cells to be used have “a mind of their own”. 

For several weeks, the faculty here in Abilene, suppliers of the cells, and experts elsewhere have puzzled over how this could be – the medium used, the atmosphere supplied, the conditions used have all been exactly as prescribed.  Recently, however, we replaced the CO2 incubator’s tank and found the problem in the regulator reading and the amount of CO2 provided in the initial tank purchased.  Now the cells are growing well and students are able to proceed in their work.

What have they learned this semester?  Don’t take anything for granted.  Research doesn’t always go smoothly.  What you read in a paper often only tells a fraction of the work and problem-solving that makes for good research.  Good thinking and persistence win out over tough problems.  These are often as important lessons as any learned in conducting research.  I can guarantee that their graduation into research labs or biotech/forensic labs  or health professions programs will be met with fewer frustrations and surprises than those students who have never been asked to do more than canned lab experiments.

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