George Fox biology student chosen to present breast cancer research at national conference

Hannah McFarland is granted rare honor of being an undergraduate presenter at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology event in Boston

Hannah McFarlandIn his 10 years of attending the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, John Schmitt can’t recall an instance in which an undergraduate student was granted the privilege of presenting at such a highly prestigious gathering.

That is, until this year.

When Schmitt, a professor of biology at George Fox University, joins the more than 20,000 attendees at this year’s conference, he’ll not only witness this “first” – he’ll get to see one of his star pupils do the honors. Hannah McFarland, a junior biology major from Canby, Ore., had her abstract, “AKAP7 Regulates CaM Kinase Activation in MCF-7 Cells,” selected from approximately 1,300 submissions. She will present a 15-minute talk on her cancer research topic at the ASBMB conference in Boston on Wednesday, April 24.

Her presentation is part of the conference’s session “Mechanisms of Signaling Specificity in Cell Fate: Growth, Proliferation or Death?” In all, the conference hosts hundreds of presentations over its five-day run April 20-24.

An 'extremely high honor'

“Considering the audience – which includes seasoned biochemists, chemists, pharmacologists, nutritionists and doctors – this is an extremely high honor,” said Schmitt, who heads a team of students, of which McFarland is one, conducting breast cancer research. “This is one of the largest and most prestigious conferences of its kind in the world. Usually presentations are reserved for graduate students, scientists and clinicians in the field. I’m obviously super proud of Hannah, not only because she was selected for this honor but for the remarkable work she has dedicated to this project.”

In summary, McFarland’s presentation centers on whether or not inhibiting the protein AKAP7 – described by Schmitt as a molecular “boat dock” that holds enzymes inside cells – plays a role in inhibiting individual breast cancer cell growth.

Research that resonates

For her part, McFarland is humbled and honored with her selection.

“Being chosen to present is obviously a great honor, but really my satisfaction comes from knowing I’m doing something that could impact lives,” said McFarland, whose work is being partially funded by a Murdock grant and through the Richter Scholar program, which funds undergraduate and graduate research projects to 11 colleges and universities, including Yale, Dartmouth, George Fox and Cal Tech.

“The research resonates with me because I had a grandmother who had breast cancer. I approached Dr. Schmitt and the team last year and just wanted to know how I could help. It’s provided some amazing hands-on experience, and I’m doing the kind of work most undergraduates don’t get to do.”

McFarland hopes to take her hands-on training to graduate school – her top choices being Oregon Health & Science University and Seattle University – and study to be a family practitioner or nurse practitioner.