Biology class, cancer center give students research opportunities

Daily Sundial

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Biology professor Steven Oppenheimer will again lead the Center for Cancer and Developmental Biology this year, as well as a Biology of Cancer class, and both will give CSUN students an opportunity to research cancer-related science.

Oppenheimer came to CSUN in 1971 to teach in the Biology Department. The American Cancer Society made a large donation to CSUN for Oppenheimer to start the Biology of Cancer course. Oppenheimer’s vision for the center, which was established in 1984, was focused on cancer research, education and student and teacher training.

Oppenheimer has received 26 awards and honors for the program and was elected fellow for the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1992. Oppenheimer received an award from the CSU Board of Trustees for outstanding professor in 1984, which is the system’s highest honor for a faculty member.

While Oppenheimer delivers at least half of presentations for his students, each Monday throughout the semester guest speakers will prepare a speech on a specific area of interest.

Helene Brown, director for community applications for research for the UCLA cancer center; Euegene Gierson, M.D., a well-known breast cancer surgeon; and Roberta Madison, expert in epidemiology of cancer from CSUN’s Health Science Department are among the guest speakers.

“In 2002 we opened our classroom (hours) on Monday to the community,” Oppenheimer said. “Thousands of people want to know (about cancer and its effects). We have an average of 10 people from (the) community along with our students attending the presentations.”

Each year, Oppenheimer enrolls around 60 students into the cancer research program. For the past year the students have been specifically focused on basic research and embryology of human colon cancer cells.

Maria Khurrum, graduate student in history, worked with Oppenhiemer in his lab. Although she is in the history program, her thesis is about the scientific revolution and the capitalist movement in Latin America, which she integrates both history and biology.

“I have been working with Professor Oppenheimer for over a year on colon and lung cancer cells,” Khurrum said. “We want to find which cancer will bind with what sugars in order to make a vaccine that will target just the cancer.”

Lily Welty, a graduate student in the Biology Department, has also been working with Oppenheimer on colon cancer cells and the monitoring of their behavior.

“He has been an incredible help, a great mentor and adviser,” Welty said. “I worked as a researcher in conjunction with a project in his lab. He has the ability to juggle many things efficiently while also maintaining contacts with professors and students.”

Welty and Eileen Heinrich, a graduate fellow in UCLA’s Ph.D. program, started a journal club aimed at broadening a graduate student’s knowledge of biology.

Michael Sullivan can be reached at michael.sullivan.843@csun.edu.