Bio Sciences student uses Chemistry labs to fight cancer
What does Jason Hadley hope to accomplish during his senior year at Purdue?
Finding a way to stop cancer.
Hadley’s interest in neuroscience brought him a unique opportunity to work in Purdue Chemistry labs while being a Biological Sciences major.
Hadley has studied Genetics, Neurobiology and Physiology. Lately, his homes away from home are labs in Wetherill and Brown halls, the center for Purdue’s heralded Chemistry program. A Nursing anatomy and physiology class steered him toward microbiology and genetics, which propelled him to the microscopes within Brown.
“Originally I was the only Biology person in this lab, which was overwhelming at first because people talk synthesis and things I don’t understand,” recalled Hadley, a native of Norwich, Vt., with a laugh. “Everyone was so passionate, bright, smart and enthusiastic about what they were doing that I just kind of stayed."
“Most of the time this place is loud and you don’t think anything is getting done because everyone is pumped to be here.”
Hadley works with different strains of cancer cells.
“We work with a number of cell lines. I’ve worked with breast cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer, skin cancer and macrophages,” Hadley said. “A lot of these lines come from 10 years ago. People here are keeping them going for study.”
His current project is designing non-viral vectors for nucleic acid delivery to cells affected by cancer. Vectors are the vehicles that carry DNA or RNA into affected cells. It’s Hadley and his colleagues’ hope to find non-viral ways to treat and even stop deadly cancer cells.
“Right now we’re building a library of vectors,” Hadley said. “We’re trying to find nontoxic versions of commercially available products” that treat cancer.
The cells are frozen in liquid nitrogen and then thawed and refrigerated so they can be viewed under the microscope. The cells are delicate and take a lot of work to maintain. Much work is put into keeping the cells alive in order to see how the vectors interact with the cells.
The goal is to eventually take the vectors into testing mode and then if successful, the vectors could make it clinical trials.
“It’s a ways away but it’s exciting to say the least,” Hadley said.
A long way from Bio Sciences’ home of Lilly Hall, it’s rare that a Bio undergraduate like Hadley gets to collaborate with Chemistry but he foresees his experience tremendously important for his post-graduate career.
“It’s a whole different world when you’re collaborating with people who are experts on things you know nothing about,” Hadley said. “Especially in cancer research, we collaborate with so many different labs and so many different buildings – people that do bio chemistry, organic chemistry, analytical chemistry and, of course, you have the bio people, too, who do the molecular genetics.”
Aditya Kulkarni heads Hadley’s labs. The Chemistry graduate student sees Hadley’s work new and heavily relying on numerous disciplines.
“Jason's work is at the cutting edge of medicine since it is related to gene therapy and the modification of diseased genes. It is blend of biomedical sciences, chemistry, engineering and nanotechnology,” Kulkarni stated. “I see many opportunities like this coming up due to the highly interdisciplinary nature of scientific research. These kinds of opportunities are becoming increasingly important so that people from different disciplines can use their complementary areas of expertise to solve problems.”
Hadley has appreciated the collaboration opportunity he has taken advantage of between Bio Sciences and Chemistry. He is already weighing his future options as a researcher in the Chemistry labs or as a Purdue graduate student.
“It’s cancer research. Who doesn’t want to be a part of that? The implications are limitless looking at therapies, vaccine developments and improvements, technology advancements in general that could lead to further discoveries.”