Southwestern biology professors receive award for their research and mentoring
Three Southwestern biology professors have been recognized for inspiring hope – both through their genetic research that could lead to new therapies for breast cancer and through their work with the next generation of doctors and researchers.
Maria Todd, assistant professor of biology, Maria Cuevas, associate professor of biology, and Rebecca Sheller, associate professor of biology, received the first “Inspiring Hope” award presented by the Breast Cancer Resource Centers of Texas, a nonprofit organization created by breast cancer survivors to support women who are newly diagnosed with the disease.
The award was presented Oct. 21 during a stop of the national “Pink Heals Tour” in Georgetown. The tour is designed to raise awareness about breast cancer and includes a crew of firefighters touring the country in a pink fire truck. Marjorie Gallece, a patient navigator for BCRC who is based in Georgetown, said she started the award to acknowledge promising research so that it might receive more funding.
“While we’re all thankful for the treatments that exist, the cause(s) of breast cancer remain a mystery,” Gallece said. “The kind of research Dr. Todd and her fellow researchers are doing is moving the focus on cancer ‘upstream’ where it needs to be if there’s to be any serious progress made in eradicating cancer.”
Todd, Cuevas and Sheller are all working on a research project that involves a membrane protein known as claudin-3. They are focusing their research on the function of human claudin-3 in breast cells. By manipulating the cellular levels of claudin-3 protein with small interference RNA (siRNA), they hope to determine its role in critical processes such as cell motility (migration), invasion and signaling.
The study of claudins is relatively new, since the family of proteins was only discovered a decade ago. The Southwestern researchers are on the ground floor of this new field of study.
“I am very encouraged that such serious and important research is being pursued on a local level and want the Georgetown community (and cancer survivors) to be aware of this,” Gallece said. She added that part of the “Inspiring Hope” initiative is to point out how women such as Cuevas, Todd and Sheller are also inspiring and teaching others, which is “absolutely crucial to continuing progress in cancer research.”
The majority of students Cuevas, Todd and Sheller have worked with in their labs have been accepted either into Ph.D. programs or into medical school.