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Students Research Cancer During Summer Program

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MISSOULA -

Five University of Montana students are spending ten weeks of their summer in a lab, working on biomedical research.

UM's "Summer Undergraduate Research Program" -- or SURP -- gives students an intensive, hands-on opportunity to join ongoing environmental health science research.

Program mentors said the ultimate goal is to prepare the students for a career in science.

UM senior Kellee Glaus is majoring in human biology, and said she decided to hone her scientific research skills before making the decision to apply to med school.

"I've done work in other labs just in classes, but this is the first time I feel like you're a little more independent, and I think it's just helpful with any science career to just learn more about anything," Glaus said.

Glaus said her SURP project involves research on the tumor suppressor gene "PTEN" and its connection to the deadly cancer known as malignant mesothelioma.

"I just think that it's nice because it's actually interesting to do something you're passionate about and care about," Glaus said.

Glaus' mentor, Associate Professor Mark Pershouse, said students each receive a $4,000 stipend from the National Institute of Health, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

"But, the thrill, I think comes in begin exposed to new science," Pershouse said.

Each year, Pershouse said students spend the first four-five weeks reading material and watching demonstrations. Then, when they're prepared, the students take over the research.

He said, "It's a magical time when you kind of get your commitment as a mentor backs down a little bit and you get to take a deep breath, and you get to take a deep breath and you say, my students caught on, and they're really getting on their own."

Pershouse said he and the other SURP advisors remind participants their research could develop into brand new knowledge in the field of science. He said several students in the past have even had their research published in major science journals.

"They find the right careers out of this, whether it's science or not, we help them find a career," Pershouse said.

Glaus said her working with the mesothelial cells was intimidating at first, but now, she's just excited to continue her research.

"Everybody here is so welcoming, and it's a good experience -- I'm really glad I got this," Glaus added.

SURP students have produced around 30 different research projects since the program's start back in 2008.

To find out more about the SURP program, click here.

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