Convincing Cancer Cells to Commit Suicide

Dyson professor Nancy Krucher, PhD, continues her groundbreaking research on cancer cells, with help from Pace biology students.

L-R: Nancy Krucher, PhD, Brandon Lentine, Ray Hunce, and Lisa Antonucci.

“Cancer develops from our own cells that acquire mutations and grow into tumors. Most of the cancer research being done is trying to understand this process and trying to find targets within cancer cells that cause them to grow too much and metastasize,” explains Nancy Krucher, PhD, a Dyson professor in the Department of Biology and Health Sciences on the Westchester Campus. For the last 15 years Krucher has been studying how cancer cells make the decision to grow—essentially studying what causes cancer cells to live or die.

Krucher was recently awarded a three-year grant of more than $380,000 from the National Institutes of Health that will allow her to continue her research here at Pace.  “With this grant,” she says “we will be asking questions about how cancer cells signal to commit suicide, or how they kill themselves. To do that, we do cell biology and biochemistry experiments on cancer cells, mostly breast cancer cells.” Her project, titled “The Role of RB in Dephosphorylation in Apoptosis,” investigates how a protein (RB) affects programmed cell death (apoptosis) in cancer cells.

“Much of cancer research is designed to find targets within the cell that could eventually be targets of therapy. Figuring out how cancer cells work is a big part of eventually developing cures,” Krucher says.

But for Krucher, another rewarding aspect of doing this work is mentoring students.  “All of the work is very student driven. It’s just myself and the undergraduates working on this project. The research students get course-credit or they can be supported by the grant, but the purpose is that they learn how to be scientists.”  Krucher explains that her laboratory trains undergraduate students in scientific techniques, helping them learn how to prepare hypotheses, design and analyze experiments, and eventually present their results at national cancer conferences and regional symposia. In addition, Krucher and her students publish papers on their findings.

“Some of the students really love the experience and decide to become scientists,” says Krucher. “For example, I had one student who graduated in 2009 and now he’s doing his PhD at Duke University in cancer biology. He’s going to dedicate his life to cancer research. That’s what really makes me the happiest,” she says.

“Getting the grant is key,” says Krucher, who knows that without funding, research and classroom experience would be radically changed for Pace students. “Working with the students in the lab is a huge part of what I do here and if I didn’t get federal funding, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” she says.

Are you interested in working with an undergraduate student to conduct research during the 2011-2012 year? Pace is committed to strengthening the undergraduate research climate through a new pilot program designed to increase opportunities for students to undertake research and scholarship with faculty. Click here for more information.