STK11 project may allow doctors to alter lung cancer treatments to improve patients’ disease prognosis.

In Dr. Paula Deming’s Laboratory, Sierra Walters, Medical Laboratory Science ’20, maintains lung cancer cell lines and readies them for experiments. With gloved hands beneath a biosafety hood, she splits cell cultures into fresh flasks, adds enzymes and places the flasks in an incubator to activate the enzymes, which will allow the cells to detach from the surface of the flask. Next, she adds growth media and plates the cells. After they grow, she will treat them with a therapeutic drug known to inhibit a cell signaling pathway that is active in lung cancer.

Nearby, Gopika Nandagopal, a Ph.D. candidate in Cellular Molecular Biology, performs a Western Blot procedure to detect specific protein molecules activated by STK11 gene protein. She chats with laboratory technician Tyler Hogan, Microbiology ’17, while he takes notes on plans for an experiment he will do later. Formerly Professor Deming’s student, Hogan enjoys managing the lab and assisting students with experiments.

Meanwhile, Anel Peco, Biology ’21, works on an experiment to select bacteria that produce DNA with STK11 genes. He prepares cell samples in a solution with the bacteria and puts the samples into an agitator that keeps them warm and moving to encourage growth. Later, he will put the samples on growth plates with an antibiotic, which will produce a quantity of the STK11 gene for use in further experiments.

The STK11 project is a collaboration between Dr. Paula Deming, endowed professor of health sciences, and Dr. David Seward, assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the Larner College of Medicine. The research focuses on a gene that suppresses tumors in lung cancer, the leading cause of worldwide cancer-related mortality. A team of undergraduate and graduate students in medical laboratory science, biology, pathology and cellular molecular biology collaborate with faculty on the project. 

The team is in the process of submitting one of the studies for submission to The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics. Walters and Hogan will receive author credit.

“I have really enjoyed working through this project with the other people in the lab. It is really fun to incorporate the things that I learn in my clinical Medical Laboratory Science classes in a hands-on way,” said Walters, who began working in the Deming lab as a first-year student, shadowing a fourth-year student. Now she’s training younger undergraduates in the Deming Lab and looks forward to her first scientific publication.


Janet Lynn Essman Franz
Anel Peco, Biology ’21, prepares cell cultures in the Deming Laboratory. (Photo: Janet Franz)