A small peak into Cancer Research by Jens Schmidt (PhD)

Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Jens Schmidt, and I am Dr. Chrissy’s husband. I grew up in Germany and I was an exchange student for my junior year in high school in Mayville, MI. As part of my undergraduate I came back for a research internship at the University of Michigan, during which I met Chrissy. I permanently moved to the US when I began graduate school at MIT, while Chrissy was in dental school at Boston University.  I did my post-doctoral work in Colorado with Tom Cech, Nobel Prize Laureate for his work on RNA.  I have a PhD in biology and now run a research lab at Michigan State University.

My research is focused on understanding how cancer cells keep growing. Our bodies are made up of trillions of tiny cells that carry out all kinds of different functions. Blood cells take oxygen to all parts of our body, brain cells help us think, move, and sense our environment. Basically, each cell has a very specific set of instructions on what to do. Part of these instructions is how much to grow. Our cells have a built-in timer that tells them when to stop growing. In cancers this timer is broken, and cells keep growing completely uncontrolled. In my lab we are trying to figure out how this timer works at the molecular level. The ultimate goal is to develop therapeutics that reactivate the timer in cancer cells to force them to stop growing.

In practice what that means is we use microscopes to shoot lasers at cells, so we can watch and study how molecules work in cancer cells. We then manipulate the cells, often using genome editing, to see how it changes how the molecules behave. Research is extremely rewarding, we do experiments that no one else in the world has done before, and we constantly learn new things. At the same time, it requires a lot of persistence and patience since most the time our experiments fail due to a variety of reasons. At the end of the day it is all worth it since we take slow but progressive steps forward to learn how our cells and bodies work and to develop new therapies that can be used to treat cancer and other diseases.


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