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Biology Students Present Cancer Research

Larry Pena, December 8, 2010
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Two PUC biology students presented new cancer research at a conference of the American Association of Cancer Research November 6 to 11 in Philadelphia, Penn. Juniors Peter Han and Robert Frey have been studying the effects of an herbal extract on cancer cells—a project that afforded them an opportunity to participate in their first major scientific conference.

“It helped us understand what academic science is all about,” said Han. “It’s about collaboration—you can’t do it by yourself; you need a base.”

According to the preliminary research that Han and Frey presented, an orally administered extract of the herb plantago major inhibited pre-cancerous cells in lab mice, and also induced a self-destructive function called apoptosis in cancerous cells. The team plans to continue their research into the topic and eventually present a formal paper for peer review. If research continues to support these early findings, this new information could impact future cancer treatment—especially as patients attempt to avoid harsher treatments like chemotherapy.

This area of study is especially significant to Han and Frey, both of whom are considering medical school after they complete their undergraduate studies. “Going into the health care field, we’re going to have to know the newest treatments and the newest resources for patients,” said Frey.

A more immediate learning experience was getting involved with the scientific research community—a daunting situation for undergrads presenting to professional researchers. “There were certain people that were quite brutal to us, but there were others that knew we were undergraduates so they gave us good feedback and told us what we could do to improve our study,” said Frey. “A lot of [information presented by other researchers] went over our heads. But it was good to get immersed in that and get an idea of how fast the scientific community actually progresses.”

That rat race of new information is what keeps Han and Frey interested in their subjects—and what brought them to PUC in the first place, where programs from biology to psychology to communication encourage students to engage in hands-on research. “I like progressive science—seeing new things and new ideas,” says Han.

“It’s really nice to be part of an effort where you and your classmates, instead of working on a lab assignment or listening to a lecture, can do something practical. When you work together and figure something out for yourself, it’s a really exciting thing.”