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Biology majors Alison Huggins ’09 and Casey Vasta ’09 will assist with the project

Since arriving at Lafayette in 2000, Robert Kurt, associate professor of biology, has engaged in research primarily focusing on chemokines, a type of protein produced by cancer tumor cells. His research, which has been assisted by numerous students as researchers and coauthors, has received more than $500,000 in grants from national organizations and resulted in several peer-reviewed journal publications.

While Kurt has found this research to be stimulating and productive, he is currently resuming a line of research that he had explored earlier in his career. Prior to teaching at Lafayette, Kurt cloned a unique gene that was overexpressed (an excess of a particular protein on the surface of a cell) in freshly isolated human breast cancer specimens.

He discovered that this gene may encode a unique tumor-associated protein, which has possible correlations to lung, gastric, intestinal, renal, and liver cancers. Additionally, the gene’s encoded protein has similar properties to another protein implicated in ovarian, prostate, and colon cancer.

Assisting on the project are biology majors Alison Huggins ’09 (Narberth, Pa.) and Casey Vasta ’09 (Woodstown, N.J.).

“Besides providing the opportunity to answer a scientific question, the techniques and skills students learn with this research experience can be used to pursue other types of research in their future careers. Or, it may simply give them a deeper understanding of what scientific research entails on the whole,” says Kurt.

Kurt is excited to begin this research, noting that there are currently no published reports describing the function of the unique gene, its correlations to other cancer lines, and possible applications in the medical field.

“The ultimate goal for the project is to determine whether introducing the gene into a breast cancer cell line gives the tumor cells characteristics of a more aggressive tumor,” says Kurt. “There is evidence that the gene is expressed in many different types of cancers, yet there is little information available concerning what impact, if any, the gene has on the cancer cells.”

  • Alison Huggins ’09 Is Searching for New Ways to Fight Cancer
  • National Institutes of Health Awards $192,000 Grant to Robert Kurt
  • Biology
  • Undergraduate Research
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