Research yields results

By Ashley Cook
November 15, 2007

Megan Pellegrino

“It’s a very exciting, unexpected discovery,” Dr. David Dunbar, associate professor of biology, said. “Experiments take unexpected twists and turns, it’s not just a cook-book procedure. Sometimes the results are what we want and other times, not. But hey, that’s science.”

Fortunately enough, Allison Superneau, senior biology and Spanish major, and Ashley Mayer, senior biology and philosophy major, after years of research have recently discovered a gene called RTF1 that is over-expressed in mice with abnormal mammorary gland development using a differential gene expression technique. Their studies have shown it could potentially function in the mammary gland development.

“Were excited,” Superneau said. “What is known, not a whole lot, it is preliminary. We did identify a gene that is much brighter than others, and by isolating it, we can now verify it through our real time PCR machine.”

“It’s a very sophisticated project,” David Dunbar said. “So it takes time.”

Collaborating with Cabrini, Penn State Berks has been helpful in the research; each team of science major’s work together using each other’s resources, machines and professors.

Dr. Maureen Dunbar, associate professor of biology at Penn State Berks, said the main focus of the research is to examine the effects of estrogen on regulating the growth of breast cell during puberty. Estrogen is the primary hormone that is responsible for causing the development and growth of the breast during adolescence in animals, including mice and humans, Maureen Dunbar said.

“Although estrogen is a natural hormone, several previous studies have indicated hat it can also be carcinogenic. What Allison and Ashley are doing is important because it will help to understand more fully how estrogen may lead to cancer,” Dunbar said.

Superneau and Mayer have been working on this project for over two years. By using RNA from transgenic mice (those that have deformities in their mammary glands) sent to Cabrini from Penn State Berks laboratory, Superneau and Mayer identified a gene called RTF1. This gene was originally found in yeast and shown in yeast to be a transcription factor involved in the yeast cell cycle. Little is known about its role in mammals. Superneau said if it is over expressed, it causes problems and can use this information to identify genes that have links to protein and are differentiated in expression levels.

“The studies are indirectly linked,” Superneau said. “But they have a direct connection. Using one small aspect, we could give insight in genes causing breast cancer.”

Dr. Maureen Dunbar said the collaboration has worked out very well. Superneau and Mayer attended the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in April and the Undergraduate Research at the Capital in October to present their work. In December, they will present a poster at the American Society for Cell Biology Conference.

“The experiment’s so new, the professors don’t even know how to do all of it. For me, having the opportunity to do this research has been such a gift, a great opportunity,” Superneau said. “It’s such a huge deal as an undergraduate.”

Superneau said that the small school setting and professors were very helpful. “They let me work on this project as long as I had to and what I accomplished is huge.” Superneau said.

Also the equipment at Cabrini, a real time PCR machine and DNA sequencer, helped the students determine how active a gene is and how much protein was made in a cell. “We used to have to send out our data and wait weeks for a reply,” Superneau said. “Now we can do it in two days and have our results.”

“We have students published in journals, speaking at conferences and making big discoveries.” Superneau said. “It’s a pretty big deal.”

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Ashley Cook

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