Kiwanis hear report on breast cancer research

PLAINVIEW – The Plainview Kiwanis Club closed out Breast Cancer Awareness month with a special program on Thursday concerning the ongoing breast cancer research at Wayland Baptist University.

Dr. Adam Reinhart, professor of biology and chemistry at Wayland, co-sponsors a student research group with Dr. Gary Gray that focuses on the effects of medicinal plants on breast cancer cells. The research line started in 2007 after a trip to teach at Wayland’s Kenya location ended with Dr. Reinhart and Dr. Vaughn Ross, who has since retired, bringing back samples of plants that Kenyans use to treat ailments.

“We have all of these students from all over Kenya, a society that pretty much uses exclusively medicinal plants for the majority of problems there, because a lot of these people don’t have access to modern medicine,” Reinhart said. “This stuff has been used for literally thousands of years and some of it works really well.”

Dr. Reinhart’s research group began looking at the effects of plants with anti-inflammatory properties on cancer cells. As the research continued, they narrowed their scope to specifically looking at breast cancer cells, finding a strain of cancer cells that when injected into mice mimic Stage 4 breast cancer. These cells could be grown in a petri dish and the effects of plant extracts tested in a sterile environment.

Through the research process, students have discovered a molecule in a specific plant extract with an unfamiliar molecular weight. Reinhart said they believe it has not yet been specifically identified and described. Additional testing has shown positive results in the molecules effects on cancer cells.

Reinhart said the next step will be testing the findings on mice injected with the cancer cells.

While any future implications in the fight against cancer remain uncertain, Reinhart pointed out that the immediate benefit of what his students are doing is in their preparation for future study within the scientific community. He said being able to work on these types of research projects teaches students to “do science.”

“Science is one of these things that, yeah there is a lot of book knowledge you can get, but it’s also kind of an art. You have to learn how to do science,” Reinhart said. “You have to learn how to build experiments. You have to learn how to design things well enough to get the kind of data you are looking for.”

Reinhart’s list of students who have worked on the project throughout the years concludes with a blank space where the name of the next student will be included.

“The take-home message is that research really, really helps our students,” Reinhart said. “To have our students be able to talk at a very high level about the research they did really helps them out when applying for medical school, or dental school, or Ph.D. programs.

“We are taking applications right now for next year’s research program.”