Molloy Biology Students Research Wins First Place

By Jack Ryan

Molloy College Biology students

Christina Rubino, Anika Chowdhury, Barbara Pepe and Benjamin Honigsfeld

Undergraduate research is one crucial component prior to embarking on an ambitious career in the medical field. The Department of Biology at Molloy College provides research opportunities that are mentored by faculty, current students Benjamin Honigsfeld, Anika Chowdhury, Christina Rubino and Barbara Pepe are active participants.

In October of 2019, the four biology students received first place in the Developmental Biology and Genetics category of the Metropolitan Association of College and University Biologists (MACUB) at Monmouth University. Their research project Medulloblastoma in Pediatrics, a form of pediatric brain cancer, was created by their mentor, Associate Professor Noelle Cutter. The project stemmed from Dr. Cutter's personal experience: her nephew passed away from a medulloblastoma at a young age. Dr. Cutter served as Principal Investigator, directing the flow of research. Each student had many responsibilities, with each individual assigned an assay, or procedure.

Their rationale for using different assays was to investigate the different lines behind medulloblastoma cells. Two subjects in particular were programmed cell death, and how medulloblastoma are cancer cells that tend to evade apoptosis, which is the death of cells that occurs as a normal part of an organism's growth or development. The group's claim was that methylation patterns were changing when using chemotherapy.

Embarking on the research, the group posited that a process called methylation was occuring. Methylation is a process by which methyl groups are added to a DNA molecule, and act to repress gene transcription. Benjamin Honigsfeld explains, "We believe that these cancer cells are using methylation as a defense mechanism and they are turning off certain genes so they can replicate and have resistance against the chemotherapy."

The group later found a correlation between methylation and gene expression. Some of the medulloblastoma cells were being turned on and off, showing a change in their pattern. They found that tumor cells use this type of mechanization to become more chemo resistant. The goal of the research is to provide greater knowledge for better patient outcomes.

Every member of the group wants to work in the medical field following graduation. Ben, who is a senior graduating in May with a Biology degree, intends to attend medical school and specialize in surgery. Anika is also graduating in May and is currently applying to physician assistant programs, and hopes to work in pediatrics. The group is currently finalizing their work and hope to be published in the coming months, following in the footsteps of many Molloy College Biology students alumni who have published their undergraduate research.

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