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Cancer research creates curiosity in biochemistry student

Jenna Soukup
Jenna Soukup stands next to a microscope used for her research in triple-negative metastatic breast cancer cells.

It was the enthusiasm of Assistant Professor Severine Van Slambrouck that brought senior biochemistry major Jenna Soukup to her latest job in undergraduate research.

“When she [Van Slambrouck] was talking about her research in class, she was really passionate,” Soukup said.

That research looks specifically at triple-negative metastatic breast cancer cells, a disease that is aggressive and commonly has a late diagnosis. The cancer is often found in African-American and Hispanic women and is often fatal. In Van Slambrouck’s lab, these cells are compared to genetically similar, but more aggressive, breast cancer cells.

“We are using a cell model that is genetically the same, but for whatever reason that [breast cancer] cell line decided to metastasize,” Soukup said.

Tests are conducted to see what is the same and what is different, especially in the proteins of the cells.

“When looking at where the proteins are in the cell, it’s not just what [proteins] you have, it’s where they are, and which ones are talking to each other,” Soukup said.

This research examines a topic that has always piqued Soukup’s interest.

“I’ve always been interested in cancer, like why do normal cells all of a sudden become cancerous?” she said.

The Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, native has been conducting research with Van Slambrouck since May. However this isn’t the only research opportunity she has come across while at South Dakota State University. She has also worked in Adam Hoppe’s lab as a part of a research methods class and completed summer research at the University of North Dakota in computational biochemistry. The ample research opportunities at SDSU drew Soukup here.

“The research experiences really caught my eye. I looked at a lot of other schools, but they didn’t have a lot of opportunities for undergraduate students to do research,” she said. “It was like, why am I becoming a chemistry major if I can never be in a lab?

Soukup is not just involved in research, but is a Van D. and Barbara B. Fishback Honors College student and is involved in the Chemistry Club. Being a part of the Fishback Honors College has helped diversify her college experience, allowing her to make friends and participate in events like First Lady’s Lit Circle and volunteer opportunities outside her major. Science is still her passion, and outreach opportunities to local schools and the Children’s Museum are her favorite Chemistry Club activities. She is set to graduate in December and plans to pursue a science-related job in the Minneapolis area, to be closer to her family.

Her piece of advice for students, is be a part of something that makes you feel like you belong.

“All of the faculty and students really feel like a family, no matter what department you are in. President Dunn … he really makes you feel like he is your president; even when you see him, he smiles and waves at you on campus. All of the activities make you feel really involved—that’s what is important to me, feeling like I belong to a community.”