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Spotlight on Student Research

Malachia HooverMalachia Hoover has been working on a project relevant to pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Newly diagnosed pancreatic cancer patients on average survive less than a year. Notably, there are virtually no biomarkers to aid in early detection of this disease or in predicting its therapy responsiveness. Identifying and validating such biomarkers is hampered by the fact that researchers have limited access to fresh tumor tissue for screening RNA. Banking fresh-frozen tumor samples has proven very challenging. In contrast, formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) samples are routinely collected by pathologists, and substantial archives of FFPE tissues are linked to clinical data. It would, therefore, be great to develop a method for harvesting high-quality RNA from FFPE samples. To this end we have established a collaboration with Claremont BioSolutions, a company that has recently pioneered nucleic acid extraction. We are testing their new micro-homogenizer on FFPE samples. Malachia has demonstrated that the addition of micro-homogenization upstream of FFPE RNA extraction significantly improved total RNA yield, purity, and the length of recovered sequences. Our long-term goal is to optimize these methods to gain critical insights into gene signatures that govern pancreatic cancer progression, metastasis, therapy responsiveness, and disease outcome. more Spotlights...

Department Introspection

The Department of Biology is particularly proud of our lab and field courses. We offer a wide variety of hand-on opportunities in which students practice technique, gather data, and draw conclusions from those data. Many of these classes are very small. They use real laboratories and study organisms in their natural habitat. As a complement to these intimate classes, Biology majors also take a few large lecture classes, which are taught by rock-star lecturers. The faculty are remarkably open to exploring new and (hopefully) better teaching methods. For example, we adopted teaching with tablets and have done so as a group so as to make the tablet pay for itself thorugh savings on eTexts over paper books. Students often write reports and give spoken presentations. Reading the scientific literature is part of many classes. We believe in a tight interplay between teaching and research. The faculty are deeply involved in research training through doing research with students. The examination of our subject matter through our courses often inspires our research, and much of our research feeds back to make us better teachers. The variety and field-orientation of our course offerings are, we think, superior to those of any other university in the region. For example, we offer about 20 sections of field courses for majors per year, as well as one integrated field semester. Our graduates have had great opportunities to learn the skills used by professional biologists. Our newsletter tells more...