A Christian College of the Liberal Arts & Sciences

2009 Research

Molecular markers of tumor sensitivity and resistance to cancer therapeutics

Wei Hu, Professor of Math and Computer Science, and two students David King and Thomas Keane, will be studying an integrative approach to discover molecular markers of tumor sensitivity and resistance to cancer therapeutics. The phenotype of cancer is a dynamic interplay of changes at the DNA, RNA, and protein levels. To improve cancer treatment, we need to deepen our knowledge of how these different factors interact with each other. The complexity of DNA-RNA-protein relationships provides challenges as well as opportunities for an integrative approach to study cancer. In the past, researchers have employed two kinds of datasets, either DNA and RNA, or RNA and proteins, to tackle the issue of sensitivity and resistance of cancer drugs. Their focus was to find the molecular markers that affect the effectiveness of cancer drugs, which is a hot topic these days. In this study, we plan to use all three levels of data, DNA, RNA, and proteins, to study the same issue. With more data, we are hopeful that our machine learning techniques will uncover more informative molecular markers than those published in the literature.

Predator-prey interactions in Red-backed Salamanders

Aaron Sullivan, Associate Professor of Biology, and two students, Nathaniel Smith and Stewart LaPanwill investigate chemically-mediated predator-prey interactions in Red-backed Salamanders. As it turns out, this species of salamander is able to evaluate the risk of predation based primarily on chemical cues deposited in their habitat from predators or wounded conspecifics (other Red-backed Salamanders). Our specific approach for the research to be done during the Summer Research Institute of 2009 is to determine if the responses by salamanders to cues from predation support the threat-sensitivity hypothesis. The threat-sensitivity hypothesis essentially states that prey species will respond to a stimulus in proportion to the level of threat perceived as a result of that stimulus. The ability of so-called “lower vertebrates” to fine-tune their responses to environmental stimuli has only recently been under investigation and offers an excellent opportunity to combine field and laboratory techniques to solve biological problems.

Cornell Center for Materials Research

Assistant Professor of Physics, Brandon Hoffman, and students Adam Silvernail and Lindsay Timianwill travel to Cornell University to collaborate with Shefford Baker, professor at the Cornell Center for Materials Research. The group will use X-ray diffraction, various electron microscopy techniques, and an ultra-high vacuum laser stress measurement system to study the microstructures of thin silver films used in nanotechnology. Applications range from tiny microchips in personal computers to the huge mirrors used by NASA.

Synthesizing biodegradable plastic from renewable resources

Assistant Professor of Chemistry, John Rowley, and two students, Zachary Adam and Kelly Harty, will explore how to synthesize new types of biodegradable plastic from renewable resources. Most plastics (chemically known as polymers) are synthesized from petroleum, a resource that is rapidly being consumed. One aspect of this research is to develop methods for the synthesis of polymers from alternative renewable resources, such as carbohydrates, triglycerides, and CO2. Another is to synthesize polymers that are biodegradable. Due to their low cost, polymers are used extensively in disposable products; however, as a result of their chemical structure, these materials decompose very slowly in the environment. Modifications to the chemical structure of polymers enables one to change their mechanical and material properties, including strength, toughness, flexibility, and degradability. Employing recently discovered catalyst technology, we will be designing and synthesizing new polymers that combine useful mechanical properties with the ability to degrade under the desired conditions.

This research may be extended to the field of glycopolymers - polymers that contain sugar moieties as pendant groups. Because these sugar groups engage in highly specific interactions with proteins that bind carbohydrates on the surface of cells, these glycopolymers can function as cell surface mimics, promoting cell-polymer adhesion, and may be very useful in implantable medical devices. Thus, our research will explore the possibility of extending our synthetic methods to create a new class of biodegradable glycopolymers with applications in biomedical research.

Development of Green Oxidation Catalysts

Associate Professor of Chemistry, Karen Torraca, will work with two students, Kaitlin Smith and Hillary Chartrand, this summer toward the development of a “green” synthetic method for the conversion of alcohols to ketones or aldehydes.  The current standard synthetic process requires large amounts of heavy metals and generates a lot of hazardous environmental waste.  Although a significant amount of research is currently focused on the development of better processes, very few of those developed have actually been implemented in large-scale manufacturing due to the lack of robustness.  Our ultimate goal will be to develop not only a “green” process, but also to study it and adapt it to make it amenable to large-scale use where it will have the greatest environmental impact.  Research work will focus on the use of palladium catalysts to complete the oxidation of various alcohols to ketones or aldehydes under mild conditions.

Nuclear Physics Experiments

Mark Yuly, professor of physics, and three students, Katrina Koehler, Peter Kroening and Jonathan Slye, will be collaborating with researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Kentucky, and Bogazici University (in Turkey) on a several nuclear physics experiments at the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE). The group will be using neutrons produced by the Clinton B. Anderson linear accelerator to study the interactions of neutrons with deuterium nuclei and the induced fission of the unstable isotope Am-243.