Ask scholars about their research and you?ll probably discover they have a personal connection to the topic.
For Jeffrey Henderson, a family history of colon cancer contributes to his intrigue of cancer genetics.
For the next year, Henderson will be able follow that interest and conduct cancer research at Washington University Medical School in St. Louis.
Tabor College has granted Henderson, associate professor of biology, a year?s leave of absence beginning in July to research genetic mutations related to breast cancer.
Henderson, after earning his doctorate at the Ohio State University, spent five years in post-doctoral research at the St. Louis school where he examined how cellular proteins are involved in colon cancer.
?It was kind of appropriate because my father was diagnosed with colon cancer the first year of post-doctoral work,? Henderson said. ?I was always interested in cancer genetics. I could just never get my way to there. ?
Well, he?s gotten his way there now.
At Washington U, Henderson will work as a staff scientist along side cancer researcher Jason Weber. Weber has been studying a particular genetic pathway related to cancer for seven years and has received three grants to continue his research.
Henderson?s position at Washington U will be the equivalent of being an instructor of medicine, although he won?t come have faculty status.
?I?ll be doing pure research,? he said.
Henderson?s research will involve studying protein 35, a master regulator gene.
?(P35) regulates this huge number of proteins that are involved in protecting the cell from becoming cancerous,? Henderson said.
But when the gene becomes mutated, cancer often develops because other genes controlled by P35 are also disrupted.
Henderson?s research will involve looking at human diseases that are modeled in mice.
?Animal models are a nice way to test hypotheses because we can?t do human tests,? he said. ?So mice are good for that.?
The same genes?which are mutated in humans and cause cancer?when mutated in mice also produce cancer, though now always in the same part of the body, Henderson said.
For example, he explained, the genes in colon cancer when mutated in mice result in cancer in their small intestines.
Using the cutting-edge technology of ?gene silencing,? Henderson will isolate particular genes from mice and study how the genes respond when altered.
?The human genome project has been key to developing (gene-silencing) technology,? he said. ?All the money the government poured into the human genome project is now paying off in big ways.?
A database houses the sequencing of genes.
?We can use that information (to manufacture genes),? he said. ?We don?t have to reinvent the wheel.?
Henderson said he wants to get more experience in these emerging technologies, and he expects the hands-on experience will be invaluable.
?I understand the theory of it but I?ve not done it myself,? he said. ?It?s important to actually do the experiment. It makes it easier to teach the students when I?ve actually done it myself.?
Henderson expects his normal work hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., although he may have to come in occasionally on the weekend. For some of his work-free weekends, he?ll return to Hillsboro where his wife, Julie, and their three children, Lauren, Jake and Chloe will be.
At Washington U, he also hopes to do some teaching as well ? a cancer biology class. If enough students sign up, he will teach the course in the spring semester.
?I?ve always wanted to do some graduate teaching,? he said. ?Hopefully it will help me broaden my teaching ability and get me more immersed in my own field and get me more immersed in cancer genetics, which I?ve always wanted to do.?
While gone from Tabor, Henderson will be keeping a blog of his experiences in St. Louis and staying in touch with Tabor student Audrey Schellenberg. Henderson is working with Schellenberg on her senior research project, a genetics project that involves looking at apoptosis, or the natural death of cells.
?She?s about half-way done,? he said.
Henderson has set several goals for his leave of absence.
?I really would like to bring back to Tabor, if possible, the silencing-gene technology,? he said. ?I have not used that technology for several years. To be able to use that technology at Washington University and be able to bring it back here to Tabor would really be helpful in my own research.?
At some point, he said he?d like to offer a cancer genetics class as an elective at Tabor, so teaching the class at Washington University would give him experience in developing and teaching such a course.
?I?m hoping I?ll not only use the new technology but also help Jason?s lab understand more about what?s happening with the pathways,? Henderson said, adding he also wants to complete at least one publication about his research.
With an unpaid leave of absence, his position will be held at Tabor.
Although he loses one year of tenure, he can come back into his position at the college.
?I?m very grateful that Tabor has given me this opportunity,? Henderson said.
During his absence from Tabor, Henderson expects that Karrie Rathbone, associate professor, will teach his two classes in fall, but he?s not sure how the courses will be covered in the spring.
He said he?s also hoping his work with animal models will help Weber and his staff at Washington U add to the knowledge of how the genetic pathways affect breast cancer.
Because of his five years of research experience, Henderson expects his learning curve in the lab will be shorter than someone who has a newly completed PhD.
?So I?m expecting within the first six weeks I?ll already be doing experiments?that?s my goal.?
?That?s a lot for one year, but I can least get them on that pathway,? he said.
Cancer research is both long and arduous.
?The (genetic) networks get very, very complex,? Henderson said. ?People always say, ?When are we going to cure cancer?? Well, we always find more and more genes that are mutated or are disregulated in cancer and there?s no simple way to treat these. It just gives us new ways to treat it.?