Developing ways to prevent cancer isn’t easy, but Purdue is taking advantage of the skills within its diverse student body to do just that.
Sophie Lelièvre, a professor of veterinary medicine, is on the forefront of Purdue’s cancer research program. Purdue is a part of the National Cancer Institute and one of only seven centers in the world that does basic cancer research.
Professor Lelièvre grew up wanting to be a veterinarian, but one day felt the calling to help defeat cancer. She took a position at Purdue that would allow her to fulfill both her dreams of teaching veterinary medicine and studying cancer prevention as her research project.
Now Professor Lelièvre has begun assembling a team from various fields of study to help determine which nutrients and environmental factors increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
Her group is working to develop a database that categorizes which nutrients cause the risk of breast cancer to increase. Her research focuses on trying to understand the mechanisms that make normal cell tissue cancerous, and also prevent cancer before it starts. Some people consume harmful nutrients as a child because society lacks the awareness of cancer causing agents, then develop cancer 20 years later.
“My favorite part of this work is the possibility of meeting new people I would have never met otherwise, many in political science, nutrition, technology and engineering, and having these people say they want to be a part of this effort,” she said. “They can translate their knowledge and contribute to the research.”
Her research has lead to the creation of the International Breast Cancer and Nutrition project, a program at Purdue that focuses its efforts on the prevention of breast cancer. A project like this requires people from a variety of fields to become successful.
Ruchith Fernando, a fifth year PhD student in computer science, is one such person who uses his knowledge outside of the traditional medical field to assist in the cancer research. Fernando builds and maintains databases that make it easy for scientists to find and organize their research efficiently.
“It’s a good way to collect scientific data about research and help scientists be efficient,” he said.
His database is comprised of two main functions. The first is an epigenomic database, which filters through thousands of published scientific journals and extracts relevant data that a researcher may be looking for. Researchers at Purdue can use it to browse through experiments and connect certain results about genes and modifications. The second part is called the nutrigenomic database, which scientists use to input discoveries they have made and add data.
“This project is nowhere near done, and takes a lot of people,” he said.
Jessica Shaw, a senior in marketing and international business, also uses her skills outside of the scientific field to help. She assists in fund raising, gathering public support for the project and helping the different groups involved operate efficiently.
Through all this work Purdue hopes to make breakthroughs in the prevention of breast cancer, and ultimately the prevention of all types of cancer.
“Ideally, it should become preventable because we are finding the known causes,” Shaw said.