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The death of a relative from childhood leukemia has given a Lafayette student a personal interest in the anti-cancer research she launched this semester as an independent study.

Biology major Shirley Anuse Satuh ’03 of Navrongo, Ghana, is investigating the element selenium, found in some foods, which may slow the growth of cancer.

“What gets me excited is understanding more about cancer,” says Satuh, who is working with Shyamal Majumdar, Kreider Professor of Biology. “I had a family member die of childhood leukemia and I feel somewhat like I am doing this for him. Hopefully, I will be able to contribute to the understanding of this horrible yet fascinating condition.”

Satuh, who may become a doctor and also continue in cancer research, describes selenium as a trace element found in the average daily diet. Recent studies have indicated that it has some chemopreventive uses, although it also harms bird and fish reproduction, she says.

“It’s a long-term project. I’m growing mouse cancer cells and adding different concentrations of selenium,” says the student. “We’re recording their growth over periods of time. From the preliminary experiments, there has been a high percentage of dying — remarkably increased deaths at the higher concentrations.”

“We’re trying to find out if selenium really works and how it works,” Satuh adds. “There’s also the problem that selenium is toxic in high quantities, so I’m finding out how much the body can take at a time.”

Satuh calls the project “very challenging but very exciting.” After the preliminary experiments, Majumdar says, the two are planning to study human prostate cancer cells.

“Independent research requires a lot of time, commitment, and motivation, and the student must be conscientious. Shirley has all these good qualities,” says Majumdar. “She’s doing her best to improve her research capabilities. She’s spending a lot of time on the project and understanding it well. This will help because she wants to go to medical school.”

Satuh says she is “extremely honored” to be working with Majumdar, whose “extensive knowledge of cells and electron microscopic techniques are proving very useful.”

“Working with him is helping hone my work ethic because he is a very organized and disciplined person. I want to be like him,” says Satuh. “He is extremely well-qualified and caring.”

A graduate of Wesley Girls School in Cape Coast, Ghana, Satuh is a member of Lafayette Christian Fellowship, a hospital volunteer, a peer educator, former president of Lafayette African and Caribbean Students Association, and secretary of the Alternative School Break Club. She conducted an EXCEL Scholars research project this past summer.

Categorized in: Academic News