Students test mice for cancer research

By Karli Morello
November 10, 2006

Assistant professor of biology Dr. David Dunbar and students, senior biology and Spanish major, Allison Superneau and fourth year biological sciences major Ashley Mayer, are testing genes in two mice to understand what genes are involved with abnormal mammary glands. The group has been working on these experiments since December 2004.

The two mice that are being tested are slightly different. One mouse has normal genes and the other has abnormal ones, specifically its mammary gland, which is equivalent to a breast.

The experiments will show which gene in the abnormal mouse over or under expresses a protein that causes the abnormality in the mammary glands. The group is paying close attention to which gene is showing abnormalities and how it relates to human breast cancer. Thus far, the group has found one gene known to science but do not have enough information about their other findings to scientifically identify them. The main question used as a motive is whether or not the un-identified genes are related to breast cancer.

Dunbar came up with this experiment along with his wife, Dr. Maureen Dunbar, a professor at Penn State University. Dunbar of Penn State is a molecular biologist and with their knowledge, they were able to come up with an experiment that both colleges could support.

Cabrini owns a Real Time PCR machine, which assists with gene sequences and shows if a gene is being expressed at a higher rate in an abnormal mouse. Penn State on the other hand has all of the tools and supplies necessary to complete experiments. If the group needs supplies, Dunbar of Penn State has them shipped over immediately. Only one other company has a RTPCR machine so the group is very fortunate to have it at their fingertips.

Mayer teamed up with David Dunbar in December 2005 and Superneau this past summer. Due to Dunbar’s grant writing, the women were able to receive payment during the summer months for their work. Now, during the semester, both will use their experiments and findings as their senior theses.

Both Superneau and Mayer opt to live close to campus in order to take advantage of this opportunity. With Superneau’s hometown being New Orleans, La. and Mayer being from Delaware, they choose time in the lab over time with their family. “Allison and I both feel grateful to have this opportunity. It’s not normal undergrad work and people we tell about it think that we are graduate students,” Mayer said. “The fact that Cabrini gave us this opportunity is amazing.”

“For a school this size, it is incredible that we are able to have the advantages that we do,” Superneau said. Both women agreed that Dunbar is an advocate and motivation in their experiments and are all enthusiastic about their work.

Dunbar quoted a famous scientist, James Watson, by saying, “You don’t have as many competing things in your life at this age and you have time to do science, so why not take advantage?”

The group considers themselves very lucky to further their knowledge in the comfort of their own college campus.

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Karli Morello

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