NSF Funds Cancer Project – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

NSF Funds Cancer Project

Professor of Biology Sigrid Carle, Associate Professor of Chemistry Justin Miller, Assistant Professor of Biology Patricia Mowery and Associate Professor of Chemistry Erin Pelkey have been awarded a $180,000 grant by the National Science Foundation to fund the “Transforming Cell Biology and Organic Chemistry Through Incorporation of the HDACi Cancer Therapeutic Laboratory Project.” The project combines cell biology with organic chemistry in an interdisciplinary program designed by HWS faculty to seek and characterize possible anticancer therapies.

“Scientific exploration increasingly requires interdisciplinary inquiry. Undergraduate biology courses often fail to stress cross-disciplinary knowledge,” explains Carle, the project’s director. “As a result, students invariably compartmentalize their learning and fail to grasp deeper concepts.”

Under the guidance of two biology and two chemistry faculty members, students in both departments will work together to develop experiments, analyze results and propose the direction in which the study should continue.

In addition, the program presents the opportunity for students to grow and expand upon knowledge within each specific course by giving them control over the design and process of the experiments. This unique prospect allows undergraduate students to discover what it is like to work in a real drug discovery process – better preparing them as scientists for graduate school, laboratory work and future endeavors.

The project also has the potential to have a much broader impact – contributing fundamental knowledge to society’s understanding of HDAC (histone deacetylases) which are enzymes that modify gene expression, HDACi (HDAC inhibitors), and their functions. There also exists the possibility of discovering novel cancer therapeutics as sometimes modification by HDACs lead to improper gene regulation that HDACi can correct.

The grant will also help to fund the publishing of findings made by the biology and chemistry faculty as they study the student learning experience. In particular, the faculty involved in developing and conducting the project hope to create a model for semester-long, cross-disciplinary exercises that other programs can use to enhance the student learning experience.

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…” With an annual budget of nearly $7 billion, the National Science Foundation is the funding source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities.