The most EC Junior, Pat Brambert, can claim as science fair participation is a poster he made explaining the properties of salt for his high school chemistry class – a project so lousy his teacher tore it up as soon as he left the room.
Despite this early mishap, Brambert is now in the midst of conducting ground-breaking breast cancer research.
Under the tutelage of assistant biology professor Stacey L. Payne Raimondi, Brambert believes he has found an important biological factor that impacts the way in which cancer grows.
“The cell lines we work with model highly invasive and lowly invasive cancers. The highly invasive cancers contain much larger amounts of aberrant proteins that play a role in regulating DNA,” says Brambert. “So we took the lowly invasive cells and forced them to express more of these aberrant proteins and noticed some differences that the cells underwent.”
The lowly invasive cells, normally slower to develop, “proliferated more and grew more in conditions requiring anchorage independence.”
In other words, bad proteins make breast cancer cells reproduce faster.
“We basically believe we have found one possible explanation for why breast cancer cells change so much during their progressions,” Brambert says.
His research comes at a relevant time. According to Breastcancer.org, a non-profit support organization for women with breast cancer, 1 in 8 American women will contract invasive breast cancer in their lifetime.
In 2011, an estimated 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed.
“Our research has been very well received,” says Brambert, who has spoken at several professional conferences in the past three months.
“A lot of professionals have stopped at our presentations: doctors, professors, lab directors, and even people from the National Cancer Institute.”
His research also comes at a time of heightened public scrutiny on scientific researchers, especially government funding for controversial programs – former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum made waves with his anti-evolution stance on education, and others echoed his position.
Brambert thinks this misunderstanding of science is more widespread than once thought.
“I do not think science is adequately understood by the American public. I have tutored people that believe individual atoms should be visible, that evolution doesn’t occur due to the lack of monkey men walking around,” he says.
But he understands skepticism is important in the sciences.
“On the opposite side of the spectrum, some believe that science undoubtedly proves things,” Brambert says. “I have found the most effective way to get people to rethink these ideas is to show them the convincing evidence to support scientific ideas [as] opposed to berating them.”
Brambert believes Elmhurst has adequately prepared him for graduate school, giving the program a solid 8 out of 10.
“After you survive freshman year, it’s amazing how human the professors become. Elmhurst College should be very proud of all of the high-caliber research being conducted in each professor’s individual lab within Schaible [Science Center].”
That said, Brambert fears the college’s decision to delay Schaible renovations will provide “a tapered experience for future students.”
“I worry that as more students join the science programs, a smaller and smaller percentage of students will be able to participate in research just because Schaible doesn’t have the space,” he said. “I already have to contend with challenges due to Schaible’s antiquity, but I’m afraid problems are just going to become more pronounced for future students.”
Initially Brambert had planned to pursue dentistry school after earning his undergraduate degree at EC. But after securing a spot in Raimondi’s laboratory last year, he has broadened his plan to enroll in a combined DDS/PhD program with focus on oral cancer research.
In the meantime, Brambert will continue to balance school and research under the wing of Raimondi.