Chayim Goldberg, a chemistry instructor and student internship adviser at the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (MTA), discusses a cancer research project conducted this summer at YU in which students participated, learning valuable lab skills and research techniques. The project was led by Dr. Sumanta Goswami, associate professor and chair of the biology department at Yeshiva College.
This summer, I had the privilege to work with three talented MTA juniors on a cancer research project. Shua Feigin, Moishe Newman and Aaron Poulad were selected for their interest in science and their dedication to spending half of their summer conducting research.
Led by Dr. Sumanta Goswami, the goal of this project was to study cellular anomalies that make particular forms of breast cancer aggressively metastatic, or able to spread. The most harmful aspect of most cancers is not the primary tumor (the original site that the cancer develops), but its ability to spread to other parts of the body and impair the function of vital organs.
Research on what causes some cancers to do this is of great importance to improving treatment and survivability of common cancers. One of the critical techniques used to study gene expression in modern biology is Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction, otherwise known as QPCR, which is what my students and I learned to do. As Newman explains it, “Polymerase chain reactions are when enzymes called polymerase copy a segment of DNA millions of times. Quantitative PCR is when we can count how much DNA was created. We learned how to perform both PCR and QPCR during this valuable experience.”
During the first week, the students learned basic molecular biology techniques, such as micropipetting and gel electrophoresis, and when they demonstrated sufficient competency in these techniques, Dr. Goswami trained us to perform QPCR and to analyze the data generated.
By the end of our month of research, we became competent at performing QPCR experiments and interpreting QPCR data. “Micropipettes are like droppers, but they absorb and expel microliters and require pinpoint precision. After learning how to properly utilize the micropipettes, we learned how to make electrophoresis gel, which is used to examine the lengths of, and to identify, DNA,” noted Newman.
My students learned how to present experimental data and developed the confidence to share their findings with their peers and supervisors. “I had the opportunity to learn advanced techniques that are currently being used to detect AIDS, Ebola, and the like. Dr. Goswami taught me important lessons in research and this internship really sparked my interest in biology,” said Poulad.
For myself, this was an opportunity to both learn new lab skills and develop mentoring skills in science education. It was inspiring to work with students who were excited to be involved in a subject I have dedicated my career to and I look forward to working with more excellent students next summer. “My classmates and I truly gained a new understanding and appreciation of the complexities of genetic technologies,” explained Feigin.
“I would like to thank Mr. Goldberg for guiding us through the lab and orienting us in the somewhat confusing new environment. I would also like to thank Dr. Goswami, for opening up his lab, his research, and his knowledge to us. I hope that this experience will be a starting point for the future in furthering our understanding of the world and our impact on it through science.”
Part of working in an actual lab entailed designing and testing our own hypotheses. In school, a teacher generally sets up a small demonstration where the student already knows what the outcome will be. The student follows guided directions and sees an expected result. While working with DNA, we did not know what to expect. We had to truly understand the mechanics of each process in order to design an experimental set up. Then, we were faced with the task of interpreting our data and drawing meaningful conclusions from it. This type of scientific exploration truly created a new type of learning.