Working to understand the causes of cancer
Associate Professor of Biology Ángel Islas is working to better understand why some cells stay healthy and others don’t. His research starts at the very basic level: in a cell’s DNA, where damage to the fundamental nucleotide strands can lead to disease.
Professor Islas isolates certain enzymes, called DNA polymerases, to figure out how these molecules repair a broken DNA chain. Understanding how the polymerases restore a cell can help explain why some cells get sick. “We think the polymerases create band-aids,” Islas says. “They can rejoin the breakage on the fly.”
Professor Islas is director of the biotechnology program at Santa Clara University, and runs a research lab staffed by students and recent graduates. He says the students gain valuable experience in real-life science.
“In class, if you have a problem, you go to the professor. In the lab, you have to solve it yourself. You have to think critically. That’s the power of science; you gain the ability to reduce problems to their constituent parts,” Islas says.