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Biology students researching gene mutations that can cause cancer


Dr. Erin Strome and senior John Crum

Northern Kentucky University biology students are playing an active role in the battle against cancer.

In a laboratory on the third floor of the Dorothy Westerman Herrmannn Science Center, students are doing research on gene mutations that can have an adverse effect on chromosome stability and cause cancer.

One of those students is senior John Crum, who presented the findings from his research on the MSH5 gene at a recent NKU Board of Regents meeting.

“When I applied to Northern and when I decided to go into the biology department, I really didn’t know about the research being done here,” Crum said. “I think it’s fantastic that they get undergrads involved in such intensive and meaningful research that really teaches us in a way that no classroom (lecture) can.”

Dr. Erin Strome is the Department of Biological Sciences professor in charge of the gene mutation lab.  She has students involved in seven different projects that study what happens when genes mutate and cause an abnormal number of chromosomes that can lead to cancer.

Some students spend 3-6 hours per week in the lab to get one credit hour while others are paid to work 10 hours per week. Even if they don’t make a ground-breaking discovery, the time they invest in research is worth it.    

“This is important,” Dr. Strome said, “especially for developing not only the thinking skills for a future job but to get that experience level and an idea of what options there are for future careers with a biology degree.”

Five seniors are currently working on the gene mutation lab projects. Two of them plan to pursue medical degrees, two others hope to work in research and development and Crum will be applying to universities that offer a Ph.D. in neuroscience research.

Crum said his long-range goal is to become a college professor himself so he can provide meaningful learning opportunities for future students like the lab project at NKU.

“It’s been great to see how a teaching-oriented professor can apply the things we learn in the classroom to an undergraduate lab, which is exactly what I want to do when I’m a professor,” Crum said. “This helped me a lot in learning how I’ll be able to apply my teaching skills to a lab setting.”

There are research programs in several departments at NKU that serve as invaluable teaching tools, according to Dr. Strome.

"Something discussed at the Board of Regents meeting was whether more effort should be made to advertise the great research that's being done on campus," she said. "I think there are so many people on campus doing so much great undergraduate research that if we could make more people aware it could serve as a excellent recruiting tool to attracting great students."