Many undergraduates at Millikin University have opportunities to engage in various research projects each academic year. Through research studies, Millikin students gain Performance Learning skills that are necessary for post-graduate work.
Inside the labs of the Leighty-Tabor Science Center, three Millikin students are working on breast cancer cell research this fall in collaboration with Dr. Jennifer Schroeder, Millikin associate professor of biology.
MacKenzie Brummerstedt, a senior biology major from Mt. Zion, Ill., is wrapping up her senior research before she graduates in December 2016. Brummerstedt is researching various herbal teas that are reported to either reduce cancer risk or be antioxidant, and determine whether they increase or decrease breast cancer growth.
"I've been using green, black, oolong, essiac and yerba mate teas, and have been testing them on two different breast cancer cell lines," Brummerstedt said. "We are using MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 cell lines. MCF-7 are hormone responsive and are metastatic, and 231s are the opposite, they are not hormone responsive but are metastatic. It gives us an opportunity to see if different types of breast cancer will respond in different ways rather than assuming all breast cancers do the same thing."
Brummerstedt used four different concentrations during her research and found that the 231 cells don't react to herbal teas. She also found out that green tea works the best for MCF-7 cells, and there was significant cell death in oolong tea and black tea at higher concentrations.
Sara Siegfried, a senior biology major with a minor in chemistry from Red Bud, Ill., has been working for the last year on studying essential oils and their effect on breast cancer viability. She is also starting to look at the "active" components of the oils to see if they have any function. Siegfried will be graduating in May 2017 and has already presented her work at Millikin's Celebrations of Scholarship last April as well as the national Tri-Beta conference.
"I'm testing the cytotoxicity of five different essential oils on two different breast cancer cell lines," Siegfried said. "We've also tied in a chemistry component to the project and we are testing the major chemicals that make up these oils."
The essential oils Siegfried is studying include rosemary, eucalyptus, lemon, cinnamon and clove.
I enjoy coming into the lab and working on my project because I hope someday it will make a difference. I hope it can help people.
"We've observed varying levels of cell death through each of the different oils," Siegfried said. "It depends on the individual oil – for instance clove is a lot stronger than lemon. I would say that with the data we have, clove has been the strongest in terms of concentration."
Dr. Jennifer Schroeder noted, "There's been this big trend with essential oils where you see people using them as diffusers. We're trying to put some scientific data behind those stories."
Alex Cardascio, a senior biology major with a minor in chemistry from Mt. Zion, Ill., and a James Millikin Scholar (JMS), is engaging in Millikin's cantharidin/nanoparticle research, collaborating with Dr. Paris Barnes, associate professor of chemistry, and Dr. Anne Rammelsberg, associate professor of chemistry. Cardascio is currently examining the effects of laser treatment on the MCF-7 and 231 cell lines.
"We're looking at liposomes and trying to inject cantharidin inside of them," Cardascio said. "In order to open up the liposome, we're thinking of using laser treatment to release the cantharidin on the breast cancer cell."
Cardascio is looking to see if the laser treatment is a viable method to open up the liposome composite. Cardascio's work is part of Millikin's ongoing research into a new method of fighting cancer without harming healthy tissue.
"Radiation doesn't necessarily kill just the cancer cells, it kills natural tissue as well," Cardascio said. "We're trying to find a method that has a smaller radius to kill just the breast cancer cell."
The students are making positive strides in the fight against cancer and are earning scientific research experience that will benefit them in the future.
In reference to her research experience, Sara Siegfried says, "I enjoy coming into the lab and working on my project because I hope someday it will make a difference. I hope it can help people."