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Mark Brault ’03 (York, Pa.), a biology major, is researching the role played by chemokines, proteins that work to stimulate the body’s immune response, in combating cancer. Brault is working as an EXCEL Scholar with Robert Kurt, assistant professor of biology.

“We’re trying to disrupt the functioning of specific chemokines in a way that might enhance the ability of the immune system to respond to tumors,” says Kurt.

Kurt, who was awarded a grant from the Department of Defense for his innovative work on cancer research, and Brault are researching and reconfiguring the DNA of chemokine cells in order to learn more about how these proteins mobilize the body’s defenses.

“We are examining the effects of chemokines on the immune response to cancer,” says Brault. “Chemokines are small polypeptides that function in the recruitment of leukocytes and are believed to have various other beneficial effects on the immune response to cancer. Three specific chemokines (RANTES, MCP-1 and KC) are of particular interest to Dr. Kurt. We are working with a line of mouse breast cancer cells called 4T1-9 in examining the chemokines’ effects on both the innate and adaptive immune response to cancer. The research we are doing is unique in that we are looking at the immune response to 4T1-9 tumor cells after the removal of these three chemokines to see what happens when the tumor cells do not produce them.”

By manipulating the chemokines and altering the cells’ DNA, Kurt and Brault hope to come closer to understanding the body’s immune response to cancer.

“This is an incredible opportunity for Mark to get in the lab and be completely enveloped in research,” says Kurt. “EXCEL gives students the chance to synthesize what they’ve learned in the classroom and really apply their knowledge.”

Brault, who has a special interest in immunology, plans on attending medical school after graduation. He is pleased with the research skills and techniques he is honing through this project.

“This research involves various molecular biology techniques and will take several years to accomplish,” he says. “I’ve found working on this project extremely interesting and rewarding. There has never been anything like this done before, and hopefully some useful knowledge can be gained toward the mysterious evasion of our immune system by cancer.”

He adds, “Lafayette provides a good learning environment for a project like this because it provides both students and faculty that are both interested and capable of performing research like this. We are also fortunate enough to have the resources to carry out an experiment of this complexity and magnitude.”

A graduate of York High School, Brault is captain of the varsity track and field team and is a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.

Categorized in: Academic News