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UNO student earns national award for cancer research

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Published: Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Updated: Sunday, January 26, 2014 14:01

An undergraduate at the University of Nebraska at Omaha was honored for her medical research that could provide some insight towards cancer treatment.

Brittany Conroy was awarded first place in “Physiology and Immunology” at the Sigma Xi Student Research Conference this year, an annual international conference in North Carolina which features students presenting research in all fields of science and engineering.

Conroy was recognized for her research regarding the role of Caveolin-1 (CAV1) in the adaptive immune response.  To achieve this, Conroy and former UNO student, Matthew Latner, built a model of a CD4+ T helper cell, which is a vital immune cell, that highlights the role of CAV1 in cellular pathways. The model, consisting of 190 protein-to-protein interactions, was used to predict which cellular pathways that are regulated by CAV1. They found that CAV1 is involved in multiple pathways that play a role in cancer progression.

To validate these results, Conroy observed protein expression levels in mouse tissue using protein-specific antibodies
Conroy, a senior biotechnology major, said she became interested in Dr. Christine Cutucache’ s research while enrolled in Cutucache’s microbiology class. After speaking with Cutucache about her previous work and future goals, Conroy immediately decided that she wanted to get involved.

“Dr. C has done a lot of background work with CAV1, and she found that when CAV1 is knocked down, tumor cells have impaired migration and stop replicating so quickly. My project was designed to figure out what is going on at the molecular level,” Conroy said.

Ultimately, what they found is that CAV1 plays a role in cellular pathways that are commonly up-regulated in cancerous cells. Subsequently, CAV1 knock down may halt tumor growth by inhibiting pathways necessary for cancer progression.

The research the team is doing has continued since winning the award, and Conroy said she has added more to the model. She is currently in the process of validating it and from there they will run more experiments that will yield laboratory testable predictions about protein expression levels.

In short, Conroy said she is hoping this research will provide some insight towards cancer treatment.

Conroy also said that most of her success is attributed to her mentor and without her she wouldn’t have been able to do any of this. Conroy was one of five undergraduates to walk away with an award from the conference.

As for the award, Conroy said, “It was an amazing experience, and it felt great to see that our hard work has paid off.”

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