Course on biology of cancer now available for public attendance

Melissa Mills

A CSUN biology professor who’s been teaching at CSUN for 36 years means a lot to many people. He’s a professor, mentor, scientist, but most importantly, he might possibly be a savior after this fall semester.

Steven Oppenheimer, director of the CSUN Center for Cancer and Developmental Biology, has opened his Biology of Cancer course to the public free of charge this semester, which could help inform the one in three people who have developed cancer or are related to people who have contracted the disease.

“Cancer is no longer the death sentence it once was thought to be,” Oppenheimer said. “My goal is to help people understand this disease and fight it.”

His course has been in existence since the mid ’70s for students, but is now open to the general public as well, though registered students receive first priority.

Ten to 20 percent of the attendees of the course weren’t students back when it was included in the natural science component, but individuals wanting to understand the disease, Oppenheimer said. It has since been moved to the lifelong learning component of general education.

“This course is a part of a whole mission to educate people about cancer, which is a mission to and for the public,” Oppenheimer said. “People not only need to understand this disease, but need to know what their treatment options are.”

Biology major Tehmine Gharivyan said, “I would love to attend the Biology of Cancer course, but my school schedule doesn’t allow it this semester,” said Tehmine Gharivyan, a biology major. “I think the course is good for everyone because it teaches people a lot about cancer.”

Sociology major Enrique Garcia said he’s interested in taking the course because he lost his best friend to cancer when he was in high school. It’d help him better understand why his friend died, he said.

“If I could fit it into my schedule, I’d take the course,” Garcia said. “It might help me get a better idea of what specifically was wrong with him and if anything more could’ve been done.”

With the help of students, Oppenheimer has been conducting research for many years.

Laurie Goldstein has assisted him for several years now. She’s currently working toward a double major in biology and psychology. Her title in the lab is chief leader. She’s in charge of making sure that everything is accomplished with the leads that work for her and the students who work for them as well.

“We have about 100 to 150 students each semester that conduct research experiments with sugars and yeast,” Goldstein said, and even experiments with sea urchins.

Oppenheimer is one of the most recognized professors and cancer research scientists in California. He’s been the publisher of more than 300 papers, abstracts and books, some of which have included students as coauthors.

Recently, he was awarded a $400,000 grant from the National Institute of Health for cancer research.

Aside from his students, many other people take an avid interest in his work. One article in particular, which discusses how cancer metastasizes, was the most downloaded article written by Oppenheimer and his students.

“It costs $30 a download and we had approximately 1,000 downloads for this article,” Oppenheimer said.

Many people ask, “How do you get enough research done at CSUN to get such an award?” That comes from the help of his students each semester, some of which have gone on to be students at Harvard and Stanford universities.

He has been awarded more than $7 million during his years of research, yet he said, “I have never worked a day in my life. This is fun for me.”

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