Combining biology and physics to better understand how cell division goes awry in cancer

Posted on August 5th, 2016 by

During every cell division, cells must accurately separate their genetic material into the two daughter cells. Cancer cells frequently have high levels of genome instability, and chemotherapy treatments often further increase genome instability. Dr. Laura Burrack and her students in the biology department study how changes in the cell division machinery leads to mistakes in segregation of genetic material. To do this, they examine the functional consequences of several types of changes in the cell division machinery commonly seen in cancer cells using the yeast Candida albicans as a model system.

The cell division machinery depends on careful regulation of tension and biophysical forces to separate the chromosomes. Kathryn Hagen (’19) just finished her first year as a physics major at Gustavus. Through the First Year Research Experience (FYRE) program, she spent the summer in the Burrack lab combining physics and biology to conduct microscopy experiments to discover whether the increased errors observed in cancer cells and during chemotherapy treatment are due to problems with the regulation of tension and/or the biophysical forces in the cell. Through these experiments she was able to determine a possible mechanism for increased genome instability following treatment with a particular class of chemotherapy drugs.

 

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