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This summer, Teresa Cridge ’06 (Newtown, Pa.) studied specific parts of the immune system to learn about the causes of abnormalities in cells found in cancer patients.

She worked with Robert Kurt, assistant professor of biology, to assess the effect of CCL5 on T cells, a vital part of the immune system. CCL5 is a chemokine­, a type of protein­ produced by T cells, and in most people it causes the body to produce an effective immune response. In cancer patients, however, these cells are unable to ward off the disease.

“Recent studies indicate that this chemokine is constitutively produced by certain breast cancer tumor cells,” Cridge explains. “It is thought that the continual exposure of T cells to CCL5 is [harmful] to the body’s immune response to cancer.”

The project was made possible through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty members while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

“Since Lafayette is a small college focused only on undergraduate studies, it is a perfect environment for student involvement in research projects,” Cridge says. “Students [have] the opportunity to form personal relationships with their professors and allow them to work side by side with them in the laboratory.”

Cridge, a biology and government & law double major, studied mice spleens to determine the effect of CCL5 on the cytoskeleton.

“The cytoskeleton holds everything in place inside a cell, making sure all of the components inside a cell are in the right place,” Kurt explains. “If there are abnormalties, it could explain why the T cells do not work properly.”

Cridge was in charge of conducting experiments, gathering T cells from the mice infected with breast cancer. After collecting the cells, she purified them and used a specific microscope to analyze their cytoskeletons. The microscope allowed her to look at the interior of the cells.

“She is very intelligent, hard-working, and exhibits a genuine interest in the subject matter,” notes Kurt.

“Professor Kurt’s passion for his research is infectious. The trust that he has in his students promotes self-confidence and inspires one to take on increased responsibilities in the laboratory,” Cridge says. “Professor Kurt is also the epitome of a ‘student-centered’ teacher. No matter what he is in the process of working on, as soon as a student walks into his office with a question or concern, he will stop what he is doing and give the student his undivided attention.”

Working on the project allowed Cridge to learn standard laboratory procedures and helped her as she considers whether to pursue a career in research.

“Lafayette is a great place to work with students on projects like [EXCEL],” Kurt says. “The biology department has some great resources and equipment that allow students to obtain an extremely valuable research experience.”

Through Lafayette’s externship program, Cridge learned another aspect of the health field by shadowing Henriette Frey, corporate compliance officer and associate vice president of finance at St. Luke’s Hospital & Health Network. She also served an externship with Joshua Werner ’79, an attorney in the law office of Joshua Werner, South Easton, Mass.

Cridge is a volunteer in the emergency room at Easton Hospital and acting executive board secretary of the crew team. She also served as secretary of College Republicans for two years.

“During my time at Lafayette, I have really learned how to work and study in order to achieve my goals,” says Cridge, a recipient of the Eugene P. Chase Phi Beta KappaPrize, awarded to sophomores who have demonstrated outstanding scholarship as first-year students.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the last annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News