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Students aid professor in cancer research

Andrew S. Avitt / Photographer: Larson’s research takes place in his lab, where he studies how the genome is damaged. His team is focused on understanding why oncogenes are unstable.

Andrew S. Avitt / Photographer:
Larson’s research takes place in his lab, where he studies how the genome is damaged. His team is focused on understanding why oncogenes are unstable.

The National Institutes of Health has granted Erik Larson, associate professor of molecular biology, a $362,500 grant to continue his research on the link between genetics and cancer.

Larson and his team have been studying the topic of genome instability and its link to certain kinds of cancer, as well as human genes that are prone to damage.

“Research in my lab occurs under the umbrella of genetic instability, understanding how the genome is damaged,” Larson said.

The genome contains all of a person’s genetic information. When that becomes damaged, it leads to diseases, particularly cancer.

Money from this particular grant will be used to further examine certain human genes that are prone to damage. More specifically, Larson and his team are focused on understanding why oncogenes are unstable.

“The research builds on our prior experiments, we’ve worked in this general area for while … It’s the next step,” he said.

Oncogenes start as normal genes but become unstable due to damage.

They then induce cancer. People become predisposed to certain kinds of cancer when the pathways that prevent DNA alterations are disrupted in human cells.

There are certain genes in the genome that tell cells when to divide.  If these genes are changed, they are called oncogenes and they signal the cells to reproduce too rapidly. With this abundance of cells, tumors are formed.

In addition to research on oncogene instability, Larson’s team will be working to identify how cells repair damage in specific regions and how normal repair processes function at genetically unstable oncogenes.

“We have systems set up in the lab where we can test the instability of specific oncogenes,” said Larson in a prepared statement.

Larson’s current team is made up of two Ph.D. students, two masters students, and four undergraduate students.

Ph.D. and masters students are required to do this research, which they use for theses and dissertations, and most importantly to earn their degrees. In return, the data is presented to the scientific community in journal articles and at conferences.

One of the conferences Larson and his team regularly attend is the Midwest DNA Repair Symposium, where researchers from across the nation come together to share their data and results.

Larson oversees all the work the students perform. He says the grant will increase their research pace.

“Students at all levels are driving all the research output of my laboratory, they are doing the hands-on experiments,” said Larson.

Larson received an American Cancer Society grant two years ago with money raised at Relay for Life of McLean County. It funded separate but related research in journal articles and at conferences.

Andrew S. Avitt / Photographer: Associate professor of molecular biology Eric Larson, pictured above, will be able to continue his research on genetic stability through the help of a grant.

Andrew S. Avitt / Photographer:
Associate professor of molecular biology Eric Larson, pictured above, will be able to continue his research on genetic stability through the help of a grant.

 

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