Study attracts magnet
Published: Friday, March 22, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013 00:03
In the basement of Hughes Hall at Miami University, there sits a six and a half ton structure—a magnet. This magnet is being used in the research of pancreatic cancer, with a focus on early detection, which is crucial in the long-term treatment process.
Michael Kennedy, the director of the research process on pancreatic cancer and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, works alongside two graduate students, including Michelle Veite, and a larger group of undergraduate students who assist in the daily operations of the study.
“We informally call [the magnet] Beluga,” Veite said. “But its technical name is NMR or Nuclear Magnetic Resonance”
According to Kennedy, the 850-megahertz magnet has been housed in Hughes Hall for over half of a decade.
“When it came here in 2007, they had to knock out a wall and it was physically placed here by using a crane,” Kennedy said.
In the daylight, when walking behind Hughes, a difference in the color of the bricks can be seen from where the magnet was placed into the building.
The researchers are using mice that have pancreatic cancer as test subjects for the innovative approach to pancreatic cancer research.
“Stool samples from mice will hopefully show markers that indicate pancreatic cancer during three pre-cancer stages,” senior biochemistry major Bill Wilson said, a student helping with the research. “The goal is that correlations can be found between these markers that can be utilized for research and applications for humans.”
According to Veite, the magnet has been used to try and set protocols or a systematic way to conduct research.
By identifying the phases of the cancer development, markers found within samples by the magnet within each stage may be able to show when pancreatic cancer is first present.
“We can’t just simply place the samples within the magnet, they have to be put through various steps before they can be properly tested,” Veite said. “Once we figure out a way [in] which the samples can be examined, we can associate specific markers that are present with stages of pre-cancer.”
The undergraduate students who participate in the research are crucial to the final success of the study because of their extensive involvement.
“On a daily basis we help with dissections, organ identification, sample collection, breeding and genotyping,” junior Brian Byrne said, another student working on the research. “You can physically see that in mice who have pancreatic cancer, the spleen is about three times as large as that of a normal mouse.”
According to Kennedy, the study will be conducted with about 3,000 mice—600 in the control group and 600 in the test group—with an additional 1,200 bred to ensure there is a large enough sample size.
The magnet is crucial because of its capability to find markers that can prove to be significant in showing that pancreatic cancer has begun to progress.
First-Year Conrad Ulmer, an uninvolved student, said he was surprised more people were not aware of the research.
“It sounds like something that more students should be aware about,” Ulmer said. “Research as substantive as this happening on our campus it truly amazing.”
In addition to pancreatic cancer research, the magnet also is used for research of protein structures and for a separate study on pancreatic cancer cell lines.
“The current study is slated to take over a year before its conclusion,” Veite said. “At which point society may be more knowledgeable about pancreatic cancer, with the help of the powerful magnet situated upon our campus.”