Biology Student-Faculty Duo Present Research on Breast and Colon Cancer

Biology student Gabe DeLeon ’09 and Associate Professor of Biology and Health Sciences Nancy Krucher, PhD

Biology student Gabe DeLeon ‘09 and Associate Professor of Biology and Health Sciences Nancy Krucher, PhD

Biology student Gabe DeLeon ’09 and Associate Professor of Biology and Health Sciences Nancy Krucher, PhD

Biology student Gabe DeLeon ‘09 and Associate Professor of Biology and Health Sciences Nancy Krucher, PhD

The student-faculty research duo of Associate Professor of Biology and Health Sciences Nancy Krucher, PhD, and Gabe De Leon ‘09 has made what may be a breakthrough in cancer research. By combining two different forms of treatment under laboratory conditions, they have been able to double the success rate in killing breast and colon cancer cells.

For the last 10 years Krucher has been researching cancer with the active involvement of her students. In the last few years, she and her team have developed a novel approach to treating cancer by inducing suicide in some cancer cells through blocking a protein known as “PNUTS” (Phosphatase Nuclear Targeting Subunit). The blocking is done using a widely utilized technique called RNA interference.  The results were published in the journal Cancer Biology and Therapy in June. Their research has been funded in part by grants from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

More recently, she and De Leon discovered that by combing the PNUTS treatment with a more traditional form of chemotherapy, they can increase the individual success rates of each treatment.

“If you block PNUTS, you get 30 percent death, and if you use this other drug, roscovitine, alone, that causes  30 percent death, but together they cause 60 to 70 percent death,” Krucher explained. “We found that this particular combination is a better strategy for killing off breast and colon cancer cells.”

De Leon and Krucher presented this research in August at the “Mechanism & Models of Cancer” biennial meeting in New York City, sponsored by the famed Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, on Long Island, and are anticipating two journal publications of their research in the next six months.

Krucher has been studying cancer cell proliferation since 1995, after she earned her PhD. At the time, her mother had survived several occurrences of breast cancer but would eventually die of the disease in 1999. “It was a hot research area and at the same time I had that personal connection,” Krucher explained. “Both scientifically and personally I thought it was an exciting area to get into.”

Over the last 10 years she has been inspiring her students, including De Leon, to follow in her footsteps.

“I want to teach students to be scientists and to appreciate how exciting and fulfilling it can be,” Krucher said. “Once you see the light go off and they’re just hooked on it, you know you’ve made a difference.”

The next step for their research, Krucher explains, is for their treatment to be tested, probably on mice. This is not something that Krucher plans to do herself, or to have done at Pace. But she hopes that other scientists will see her research and build on these ideas and one day, perhaps, develop a new way to treat people with cancer.

“The goal is to contribute to our understanding of cancer” Krucher says. “Besides I’ll never run out of ideas for new research projects.”

“Everyone will tell you she’s a really nice teacher,” says De Leon, who started working with Krucher as a volunteer lab technician three years ago, and now spends about 60 hours each week working in the lab. While he is now paid for his work, he said it has never been about the money and always about the opportunity.

De Leon hopes to get a PhD and eventually an MD and continue in the field of oncology.

“I think one of the cooler things that students don’t realize is that I get to work, every day, one-on-one with someone who has her PhD in cellular and molecular biology. Most grad students don’t have that opportunity,” De Leon said.