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Senior studying effects of bacteria on cancer cells

April 30, 2015

Senior Katie Sharp conducted an internship at the Cancer Research Center in Columbia the summer prior to her senior year—work that she has continued as part of her senior capstone project.

Specifically, Sharp and the research team are determining whether erwinia—a bacteria that causes plant rot but does not harm humans—will fight cancer cells while leaving healthy cells undisturbed. The work involves testing lines of both malignant and healthy cells, and early results are promising.

Sharp got her first taste of hands-on research in 2013 when she and an equestrian student, Caroline Schwerzenbach ’13, teamed up to study deworming practices at the Stephens Equestrian Center.

“That’s when I got my foot in the door, and I knew I wanted an internship or summer opportunity that involved research.”

Sharp got in touch with Stephens alumna Alison Fea, senior technician and laboratory manager of the center, to secure the internship.

Although she’s learned plenty about cell responsiveness, bacteria and other molecular biology lessons through her research, Sharp said she also learned a lot about herself.

“My biggest take-away has been my ability to think independently and think critically,” she said. “I learned how to respond if an experiment does or doesn’t work, how to determine the next step and how to make sure I’m accurately representing the results.”

She said her Stephens education prepared her for the internship and research, which helped her secure a spot in graduate school. Sharp is now headed to the University of Oklahoma, where she’s been accepted to begin work toward a Ph.D. in chemistry. She’s found a researcher there doing similar bacteria therapy cancer studies and hopes to work with him.

“The courses here and research have prepared me well,” she said.

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