INVOLVED IN CANCER RESEARCH - AS AN UNDERGRADUATE!
Kyla Knutson is working with NAU professor of Biology Dr. Alison Adams on a project that is part of the Partnership for Native American Cancer Prevention (PNACP), which recently received a $15.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. The PNACP is a collaboration among researchers at NAU and the University of Arizona aimed at reducing the burden of cancer suffered by Native Americans. Kyla has been growing cultures of yeast cells with unstable areas in specific chromosomes so that they can be used in cancer research. Yeast cells are a good model organism for studying cancer because they have important similarities to mammalian cells in the way that DNA is copied and that cells divide, two crucial aspects that can be altered in cancerous cells.
Research can be frustrating at times, such as when hours are spent setting up yeast culture plates that turn out bad and must be redone, but its rewards are much greater. "I am potentially conducting research that can be utilized in the future by someone to ultimately cure cancer."
Kyla has a very personal connection with cancer. A few years ago her aunt was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and given a prognosis of only four months to live. However, through the excellent work of an oncologist, her life was extended an additional two years, enabling her to spend more time with her family and to attend Kyla's high school graduation. This demonstrated to Kyla the important difference oncologists can make in the lives of cancer patients and their families, and has inspired Kyla to pursue a career in cancer medicine.
Volunteering has been an important avenue for Kyla to learn about cancer, and to give back. She volunteers for the American Cancer Society, at the Flagstaff Campus of Cancer Centers of Northern Arizona Healthcare, and at the University of Arizona Medical Center's Arizona Cancer Center Infusion Clinic.
This past summer, Kyla has worked in the lab of Dr. Ted Weinert, a cancer researcher and collaborator of Dr. Adams' in the PNACP at the University of Arizona. Dr. Weinert's lab also uses yeast cultures to examine the genetic mechanisms that lead to chromosome instability and cancer.
"What has been challenging for me is realizing how little I know about genetics. How much I need to learn is a little daunting, yet it is a task I enjoy working on every day."