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A student who hopes to study immunology in graduate school got the chance to delve into cancer research this summer in a study of T-cells, the main cells of the immune system.

Peter Vitiello ’02 (Staten Island, N.Y.) worked with Robert A. Kurt, assistant professor of biology, as an EXCEL Scholar.

A Marquis Scholar, Vitiello says he took T-cells from mouse spleens and exposed them, at different concentrations and time periods, to a compound called SLC, a chemokine secreted by some cells, including cancer cells.

“After I exposed them to the SLC, I looked at how well the T-cell receptors of the T-cells themselves were working. I was focusing on the proteins involved,” the student says. “What might be happening is that the proteins from the T-cell receptors are redirected in the cell to another location when the chemokine SLC is present.”

According to Vitiello, scientists think that one of the reasons why T-cells don’t respond to cancer cells is that the cancer cells secrete certain chemokines that make the proteins of the T-cell receptor migrate, leaving it useless.

Kurt says the project, which will continue over the January interim session between semesters, involves cloning a gene, reversing the orientation of the gene, and putting it in a cancer cell to block the expression of the protein.

“The hypothesis is that the production of protein inhibits the immune response,” he says. Kurt says that he and Vitiello got a lot of work, more than he expected, done in the summer.

The student says he found learning lab procedures such as Western Blots challenging.

“Working with Dr. Kurt has been great. He brings a lot of enthusiasm into the lab,” says Vitiello. “I could finally apply what I’ve studied in the classroom to practical laboratory situations.”

He went on to say that Lafayette has surpassed his “greatest college hopes mainly by providing the individual attention and the opportunity only seen at the small school size level. I’ve never regretted my decision to come to Easton.”

“Peter did some great work,” says Kurt. “This really gives him an idea of what graduate school is like, which you can’t get in the classroom or in a teaching lab. You can only get it through an independent study or EXCEL.”

A graduate of Curtis High School in Staten Island, Vitiello is involved in the Pep Band, Concert Band and the Marquis Players. He is a general biology teaching assistant and a member of Theta Chi fraternity, as well as a member of the rugby club.

Categorized in: Academic News