Cell and Molecular Biology Student Receives Grant to Fund Cancer Research

MANSFIELD—When Lauren Griffith transferred to Mansfield midway through her first year, she had no idea what opportunities would await her at her new university. Now Griffith, a cell and molecular biology major, is one of the 2022 recipients of the NASA Pennsylvania Space Grant, and plans to use the funds to continue her research on pancreatic cancer.

Being mentored by Mansfield faculty member Dr. Kristen Long, associate professor of biology, Griffith’s research focuses on exploring how curcumin, an experimental treatment for solid tumors, impacts the inflammatory bacteria that are present in the gut.

“Last semester, using mice as a model, we collected feces, cultured bacteria from the feces, and then treated the bacteria with different concentrations of the curcumin treatment,” explained Griffith. “This semester we plan to use a different systems-level approach, where we feed the mice curcumin over a specific time span. We will analyze the sequences of the different bacteria to determine shifts in bacterial populations.”

Griffith explained what the grant means in terms of her own research project. “The grant allows me to expand upon my research. For example, I could receive more mice for my experiments and an anaerobic chamber to allow for complete analysis  of all bacteria we isolate and grow, since we can only culture aerobic bacteria right now.” 

Beyond her own research on how curcumin treatment impacts gut bacteria and tumor growth, Griffith spent the summer at the University of Maryland in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) STEP-UP program helping with research concerning how various technologies and software can be used to explore disease therapies. Griffith studied how they affect triple negative breast cancer metastasis therapies. “I was able to conduct independent research firsthand, which outside of my research at Mansfield, was the first time I have done so,” said Griffith.

“I learned so much during my internship,” said Griffith. “I learned about the graduate school experience and the different avenues of research that I could take with my major in cell and molecular biology, what independent research looks like at the graduate school level, how to prepare for a scientific presentation, and the importance of networking in the scientific field. For my own research, I learned more about the bioengineering field and how similar it is to my own field.”

“Lauren is a wonderful example of a student who has taken advantage of the opportunities presented to her here at Mansfield,” said Bashar W. Hanna, president of Commonwealth University. “Her passion for learning makes her a role model for all young women in STEM.”  

After graduation, Griffith plans to pursue her Ph.D. in microbiology and immunology. She wants to build a brand to create awareness for young women unaware of the different pathways within the scientific field. “Using my graphic design minor, I want to use social media as a way of helping other young women who want to pursue a career in STEM or the medical field. I want to give advice, share my journey, and create a brand to provide an outlet for those unaware of the pathways in the scientific field.”

Griffith has already started work on her brand, and shares advice about college and her experience in the STEM field on her YouTube channel: Lauren Kennedi.