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Sources: Sterling Braun, brauns@k-state.edu;
and Alexander Beeser, 785-532-0193, albeeser@k-state.edu
Photo available. Download at http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/apr11/414braun.jpg
News release prepared by: Kayela Richard, 785-532-2535, media@k-state.edu

Thursday, April 14, 2011

CANCER RESEARCH OPPORTUNITY HELPS STUDENT CHOOSE CAREER, WORK FOR A CURE FOR LIPOSARCOMA

MANHATTAN -- Getting into the lab to perform research as an undergraduate has been a career-changing decision for Kansas State University's Sterling Braun.

When Braun, Fort Scott, began his first year at K-State in 2009, he planned on earning his undergraduate degree and then going to medical school.

That all changed when he got the opportunity to perform cancer research.

"The more I worked on my project, went to conferences and met professors, the more I realized research is probably where I belong more than medicine," said Braun, a sophomore in microbiology. "I like working in signal transduction and trying to figure out what proteins in the cell are communicating and how they are doing it."

Now, with firsthand experience on cancer research at K-State, Braun feels confident about asking questions and forming scientific answers.

Cancer is a complex disease, he said.

"People often think there is a straight forward answer to cancer, where a drug can be made to cure all cancers, but every type of cancer is unique," Braun said.

Braun's research focuses on trying to understand a specific type of cancer called Liposarcoma. This cancer is a soft tissue sarcoma that arises from fat cells, most commonly found in middle-age and older adults.

He's been working with Erica Cain, a graduate student in biology, Wamego, in the lab of Alexander Beeser, assistant professor of biology.

"We're trying to understand, on a molecular level, what changes occur that cause normal cells to become cancerous," Beeser said. "If we had a better understanding of the genes that drove this transition, then we might be able to create drugs to only target the products of these specific genes. This means the drug would only negatively affect the cancer cells and not affect the normal cells. You'd have a lot less side effects than with radiation or chemotherapy."

The research team has found that one specific gene, called DUSP-12, will cause cancer-like properties when introduced into cells. It could potentially be the cause of Liposarcoma because the chromosome that contains this gene is often amplified in Liposarcoma that is removed from patients.

The next step in their research is to try to stop the DUSP-12 gene from changing the cells.

"We're working on getting some Liposarcoma cell lines," Braun said. "I'll try to knock down the expression of the DUSP-12 gene and see if that causes the cells to behave more like normal cells instead of cancer cells."

Braun says Beeser has helped him understand what he's doing in the lab and why he's doing it.

"I'm not just a set of hands holding a test tube," Braun said. "Dr. Beeser is really trying to get me to the point where I understand what tools I have to answer scientific questions."

Braun, who was a 2011 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship nominee, said research has changed life.

"I think this experience shaped what my future path will be and I love it," he said. "It’s an amazing starting point for my career. It's great that K-State encourages undergraduate students to do research because you can see what its like to be a graduate student."

Braun is a member of the K-State chapter of Alpha Chi Sigma professional chemical fraternity and has received the Putnam Scholarship and the June Hull Sherrid Division of Biology Scholarship. He also has received a Johnson Center Cancer Research Award and a K-INBRE Semester Scholarship. Braun graduated from Fort Scott High School in 2009 and is the son of Edward and Elizabeth Braun, Fort Scott.

Providing undergraduate research opportunities is part of K-State's campaign to become a top 50 public research university by 2025.