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Robert Kurt, assistant professor of biology and a leading cancer researcher, has received a $192,750 National Institutes of Health grant to continue research with Lafayette students that ultimately may lead to more effective treatment strategies for breast cancer patients.

The grant is based on work that Kurt recently published with Lafayette student coauthors and extends research supported by a $214,000 U.S. Department of Defense grant to study the immune response to breast cancer.

Preliminary data for the grant were generated by Lafayette students working for Kurt through independent studies, yearlong honors theses, and Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. He anticipates that he and his students will be able to complete most, if not all, of the research project in the next three years.

Kurt also played the lead role in obtaining a $144,058 National Science Foundation grant for the biology department that funded the purchase of major equipment that has enhanced laboratory exercises and expanded research opportunities for students and faculty, including cancer research.

The work funded by the NIH grant will focus on the chemokine­ CCL5, a type of protein­ produced by T cells, a vital part of the immune system. In most people, CCL5 causes the body to produce an effective immune response. In cancer patients, however, these cells are unable to ward off the disease.

The major questions that will be addressed:

  • Is the inhibition of CCL5 production by breast cancer cells sufficient to decrease their metastatic potential (ability to spread from a primary growth area to another area)?
  • Is CCL5 sufficient to convert a tumor with low metastatic frequency to one with high metastatic frequency?
  • Does CCL5 affect metastatic potential by modulation of immune function?

Defining the mechanisms that explain the effects of tumor-derived CCL5 on metastatic activity may lead to the development of more effective treatment strategies for patients with breast cancer, says Kurt.

Five students who conducted cancer-related research with Kurt on CCL5 were among the 22 Lafayette students who presented papers at the 81st Annual Meeting of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science April 8-10 in Camp Hill, Pa.: Biology majors James Lepre ’05 (Carbondale, Pa.), Michelle Marinucci ’05 (Cinnaminson, N.J.), and Charles Lemken ’06 (Emerson, N.J.), and neuroscience majors McKenzie Wells ’05 (Vienna, Va.) and Kathryn Rose ’06 (Wyckoff, N.J.).

Other recent collaborators include Tim Byrnes ’05(West Chester, Pa.), a biology major and biotechnology/bioengineering minor, who investigated the growth of mouse breast tumor cells; Teresa Cridge ’06 (Newtown, Pa.), a double major in biology and government & law, who studied CCL5 to learn about the causes of abnormalities in T cells from tumor-bearing hosts; and biology major Michael Werner ’07 (Neenah, Wis.), who conducted similar research examining how tumor cells might affect the number of T cells in mice.

Since joining the faculty in fall 2000, Kurt has mentored more than 20 Lafayette students in research projects. Many have shared their research in scientific journals and/or through conference presentations.

Kurt served as a scientific reviewer for the Immunological Sciences Review Panel for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs for Prostate Cancer Research in 2001, 2003, and 2004. He has published his research in many scientific journal articles and given conference presentations as well.

He joined the Lafayette faculty after two years as a cellular immunology research scientist at Earle A. Chiles Research Institute of Providence Portland Medical Center, Portland, Ore., and adjunct biology faculty member at University of Portland. Prior to that, he was a teaching assistant at University of Arizona School of Medicine and a Science Alliance Summer Research Fellow in the department of chemistry at the University of Tennessee.

Kurt holds a doctorate in microbiology/immunology from University of Arizona, Tucson, and a bachelor of science degree from Bowling Green State University. He has received three Sigma Xi travel awards, an AAI Junior Faculty Travel Award, and was honored for Best Presentation at the 1996 Annual Meeting of the Arizona Imaging and Microanalysis Society.

Others offered NIH grants in the past year include two Lafayette neuroscience graduates: Alyssa Picchini ’04, who is serving a yearlong post-baccalaureate fellowship at NIH in the Laboratory of Molecular Pathophysiology of Mood and Anxiety Disorders, and Susan Bothwell ’05(Warminster, Pa.), an NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program Scholar, one of 16 students in the nation selected to receive the award among more than 300 applicants.

Two years ago, Yvonne Gindt, assistant professor of chemistry, received a three-year, $100,000 NIH grant to continue her research with Lafayette students on protein folding and aggregation, processes linked to a wide range of diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes mellitus, and emphysema.

Categorized in: Academic News