Medical breakthroughs don’t occur overnight; they take years of research, ingenuity and thousands of people working toward a common goal. One of the most baffling mysteries facing scientists today is the search for a cure for cancer. Although research continues, the basic understandings of cancer and tumor-related research starts at a biological level, and this research is similar to that being done in labs at Elizabethtown College by undergraduate students.
Dr. Jane Cavender and her biology students have spent the last six years conducting experiments on T-antigens, or tumor-causing proteins found in the cells of primates. The proteins are created when a cell in primates is influenced by the simian virus 40 (SV 40). Although these cells are not harmful to humans, they are a good viral model of how tumors develop in other species’ bodies, including humans, according to Cavender.
“I’ve always done viral/tumor-related research,” Cavender said. “I think everyone has been touched by cancer; it’s something students can relate to.”
The research focuses on hypotheses that have been explored throughout several years of experiments done by Cavender and her students. The different aspects researched include how the proteins cause the tumor to grow, and how, once infected, ribosomes (the protein-building parts of a live cell) produce too many proteins for the cell to handle at once, resulting in a tumor.
Another area of research involves how the proteins interact with the development of T-antigens within the cell. Another protein examined in Cavender’s research is nucleophosmin, also known as Protein B23. Students have been working alongside Cavender to discover how its production either aids or inhibits the growth and spread of the tumor in the cell.
Although this research is basic, Cavender said it is important to understand the fundamentals of cellular tumor production — in order to complete other in-depth research on prescriptions to stop tumor growth, for example.
“I like to be on the ground level with my students,” Cavender said, “so that my students can have the information to go on to graduate school or jobs.”
The tumors that Cavender and her students have been observing are not unlike those that result from human viruses such as Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
“People now understand the relationship between viral cells and tumors,” Cavender said. “However, for a while this was a mystery, as well.”
One student who contributed to Cavender’s research was junior Kevin Bloh, who is also a biology tech major. “We’re taking cells, and we put abnormal DNA in them, and we are unsure what it’s doing, but we’re running experiments to see if they’re making any changes in the cell,” Bloh said. He explained that the experiments have been going on for five years.
Bloh and Cavender both said that research on the material takes time to uncover, and that cells need time to generate, to show changes in molecular structure. However, once information and tests are run on the material, the cells and data can be used for further research.
“If you can control it, you can use the different information, and can use it for a lot of different medical purposes, such as cellular regeneration,” Bloh said.
Although the research is about six years in the making, Cavender said there is still much more to do and that every great bit of information can be used toward a greater body of work. “Research is just like a video game,” Cavender said. “You get to the next level but never beat the game.”
Since the cells are so complex, it’s hard to determine what exactly causes the tumor to take over, but through careful research and scrutiny, researchers and students can help the science community eliminate contributing factors, and help to enlighten new research and ideas.
Other students who will be highlighted in Cavender’s research include seniors Brian Franz, Matthew Rimbey, Jordan Godfrey and Alyssa Neill, as well as juniors Viola Devine and Kyle Lord. These students have spent several semesters investigating different areas of the research project, and have worked closely in various areas of the tumor-causing virus.
The students have helped to lay the foundation for the underlying data and research for Cavender’s presentation on Tuesday, March 27. “I take their little pieces for the bigger project,” Cavender said.
Her presentation is the final lecture in the Inaugural Scholarship Series. The lecture and reception start at 7:30 p.m. and will be hosted in room 212 in the Hoover Center for Business. The lecture is entitled “The T-antigen Oncoprotein: Inducing Cell and Student Transformation.”
Although we may still be years away from finding a cure for cancer, scientists on campus, as well as those around the globe, are finding new and innovative ways of tackling the smaller questions. By battling these smaller portions of the bigger equation, researchers can start to unravel parts of the mystery of cancer.