Story in the College of Arts & Sciences
Associate biology professor studies the causes of cancer and students lend a hand in this life-changing research.
Associate Professor of Biology Ángel Islas is working to better understand the causes of cancer. 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 and others stay healthy. "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 ask 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.
Islas earned his doctorate at Stanford, did post-doc work at UCSF, and worked at Lawrence Berkeley Labs. But he's happy to be teaching at a smaller institution. "At larger places, there's inattention to students' troubles. I knew even in graduate school that I wanted to teach. I wanted to make sure I gave my students the best I could give, so I knew I was going to work at a small school," he says.
Watch a video about research in SCU's biology labs below.