Dr. Austin Shull, assistant professor of biology at Presbyterian College, was one of 10 professors in South Carolina to be recently awarded a South Carolina IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research (SC INBRE) 2019 Developmental Research Project Program award.
This $50,000 award from SC INBRE supports independent research and mentored career development, and also provides research training to students and postdoctoral fellows in the biomedical sciences.
Breast Cancer Research
Shull’s research topic, “An Epigenetic Predisposition Toward Inflammation in Breast Cancer Stem Cells,” involves trying to understand the genetic factors that are different between aggressive and nonaggressive breast cancers.
“Researchers understand breast cancer cells are not all the same and do not develop in the same way,” explains Shull.
“For example, certain breast cancers with different genetic factors can communicate with the body's immune system in a way that overcomes the immune system that's trying to attack it,” Shull said.
“By getting around the immune system, breast cancers are then able to spread in the body, or metastasize. We are investigating those specific signals that allow these breast cancers to get around the immune system to better determine how to stop breast cancer progression.”
Collaborating with Professional and Undergraduate Researchers
The project is based on a bigger collaboration with researchers at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University and at the University of Lyon in Lyon, France. Shull’s expertise is in the field of cancer genomics, and he’s serving a critical role using genomic techniques in this collaboration.
“I love working in this field because my love for biology and my curiosity of how living things work overlaps with the greater mission of working with a community of scientists who are trying to discover more effective cures for people diagnosed with cancer,” Shull said.
Three PC students, Emma Gray, Sarah Smith and Rylee White, will work with Shull this summer. With his research students, who will be developing their own scientific skill sets this summer, Shull will “use bioinformatic and computational biology approaches along with more classic laboratory experiments to better understand how certain breast cancers are better at metastasizing,” he said.