The biology department at Millikin University has been busy working on a number of different projects over the years, one of which having to do with cancer. Although it has just recently come into the public’s eye, Dr. Jennifer Schroeder has been developing and expanding this research for a few years now. “A lot of people don’t realize how much research is being done in the biology department,” Schroeder said.
“We just presented at the Illinois Symposium on Reproductive Science. Three current students and one former student [helped present],” Schroeder said. Currently, senior Travis Mansur, senior Shelley Mansfield, and Olivia Waszczuk are working with her on developing research. Schroeder has had two papers published in the last couple of months on the research she and her students are working on.
The research has to do with breast cancer cells and how different factors affect it, such as environmental toxins and how they may change the growth rate of the cells. Schroeder and her students are also collaborating with the chemistry department, which adds the potential to work on a new chemotherapy.
Schroeder is no stranger to cancer research. She has been in the field for fifteen years now. “I’ve always been curious about how the body works, and I’m glad that I get a chance to do that,” Schroeder said. In 1999, she worked with other graduate (and undergraduate) students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has been at Millikin University since the fall of 2008.
“I think one really cool thing is that we are using human tissue. Typically, you take what is used in animal research and try to relate it to humans, but here we use real human tissue,” Schroeder said. She explained that every cell that the research team here uses were at one point or another in a human. “Typically, they were taken during a biopsy. Chemicals were added to them so you can grow them for a long period of time. Some of these cells have been around since the 1980s.”
The purpose of this research is to get a better understanding of what is going on with cancerous cells to create better treatments, not to outright “cure” cancer. There are different forms and strains of even just one cancer, and it would be impossible to development a cure that would work for every single type of cancer. “There are a lot of specialized treatments out there that may work for one kind of cancer but not the other. Some patients have to rely on general chemo drugs that attack all rapidly growing cells, even ‘good’ cells the body needs,” Schroeder said.
In addition to breast cancer, Schroeder has also worked on bone cancer. There is the possibility to expand into other kinds of cancer research in the future, but she said that her interests lie more with the reproductive types of cancer.
The research is also to help explain why someone might have gotten cancer in the first place. There are a number of different elements that can cause cancer, like the environment or your genetic makeup. Schroeder said, “Hopefully with more research we will understand it more and be able to explain that.”