Jasneet Kaur, a senior at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), is conducting research that could one day help scientists understand how cancer spreads. Kaur, a graduate of Fair Lawn High School, studies how a protein -- RhoA -- changes the shape of cells. These misshapen cells then break away and spread. If she can discover the mechanism these cells use to grow, that finding might illustrate how cancer cells spread.
“It’s terribly exciting,” said Kaur, “that my research could be a stepping stone in the long process of understanding how cancer metastasizes.”
ATTENTION EDITORS: Kaur is available for interviews to discuss programs and research. Contact Sheryl Weinstein, 973-596-3436 for interviews.
The research is sponsored by a program at NJIT in the department of mathematical sciences and known as the undergraduate biology and mathematics training program. This program, funded by a five-year, $672,514 grant from the National Science Foundation allows Kaur to indulge her twin passions: math and biology. Kaur uses math to quantify biological data obtained from her experimental analysis of cells. In doing so, she has derived a mathematical model that may explain how the level of RhoA protein activation relates to the shape of the cell. It is a perfect research project for someone with a passion for biology and math.
“Today researchers in the physical and life sciences rely heavily on mathematicians to use complex computer simulations to model their theories prior to actually carrying out their experiments,” said Amit Bose, PhD, professor in the department of mathematical sciences and an associate faculty member in the division of biological sciences at NJIT.
Mathematical modeling involves deriving sets of equations whose solutions describe a particular physical or biological phenomenon.
Mathematical models have been used in a variety of applications such as predicting glucose levels of diabetic patients, assessing the causes for neuronal dysfunction associated with Parkinson's disease and determining population densities of various wildlife animals. Students at NJIT who in conjunction with mathematics study a life or physical science, as Kaur has done, often find themselves highly desirable to both industry and graduate schools upon graduation.
It was in high school that Kaur was first attracted to biology. She had an inspiring teacher who taught human anatomy by bringing a skeleton to class. Anatomy fascinated her. “How complex the human body is and how it all connects,” she recalled. “And my teacher made it all so interesting.”
Her high school, though, didn’t have sophisticated labs and most of the biology she learned was theoretical. Before enrolling at NJIT, Kaur had minimal exposure to biological research. She never realized that in college she could combine math and biology.
Kaur’s research has been the high point of her college years.
“It was an intense project,” said Kaur. “I never thought of myself as capable of working so hard, but I loved it.”
Her research helped her move on to medical school. She was recently accepted into New Jersey Medical School at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Come fall, she’s not sure what kind of medicine she’ll study – perhaps pediatrics -- but she knows this: Once in medical school, she’ll continue doing biological research.
Kaur’s classes and research at NJIT have given her a solid background for medical school. “In med school,” she said, “you learn about the human body, its composition and how it works. That’s what I’ve been studying for four years at NJIT.”