Cancer researcher at Abilene Christian University offers hands-on biotechnology experience to undergraduate students

For Immediate Release
April 18, 2001

For more information contact:

Tom Craig, Director of Media and Community Relations

ABILENE, Texas - Dr. Junhui Bian, assistant professor of biology at Abilene Christian University, may be one of only a handful of teachers in the nation who has conducted sophisticated cancer research with college seniors.

"I am truly fortunate to have such great students at ACU," Bian said. "In their early years here, they are prepared so well. I have worked with young people in the corporate world and at other universities, but the students here show more commitment to their studies, an eagerness to learn and greater maturity."

Following an established tradition in the sciences at ACU, Bian brings research opportunities to undergraduates that equate to graduate-level studies at most other universities.

Such intense, hands-on learning may be one reason ACU graduates are accepted into medical school at a rate more than twice the national average, said Dr. Dwayne VanRheenen, provost.

Bian, who joined the ACU faculty in the fall of 1997, used Abilene Christian seniors to assist him in continuing a part of his cancer research begun at Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical. Using a Cullen Science Research Grant, Bian and the students spent the past two summers working to identify genes that are activated or inactivated during the spread of cancer in the body.

They focused on one type of collagenase gene, encoding a protein that allows cancer cells to break down the barriers and migrate to different organs.

Bian explained that if cancer cells have active collagenase, they can migrate to various organs and spread cancer more rapidly. In colon cancer cells, this gene is abnormally active, and Bian and his students wanted to know why.

The senior students participated in the research projects. Although Bian said they did not find the answer they sought, they were able to learn the techniques.

"I want my students to know about all the opportunities in biotechnology," Bian said. "Not every student is fit to be a physician, but they can be great scientists, lawyers, agriculture specialists or sociologists. My job is to open up their minds to the greater opportunities. Someday they'll be Christian leaders in their fields."

Bian was born in Beijing, People's Republic of China, and he attended a medical school in China. Instead of becoming a physician, he pursued for medical research.

He was accepted into the biochemistry doctoral program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where he earned his Ph.D. Bian also gained experience as a graduate teaching assistant and graduate research assistant.

For three years, he served as a research associate scientist at the Oklahoma Medical Research Association. While there, his research group designed an effective way to make the human T-cells more resistant to the HIV virus that causes AIDS. Unfortunately, the resistance was short-lived because of the speed at which the virus mutates.

During his time in Oklahoma, he experienced a major life change.

"A couple started studying the Bible with my wife, and I wanted to know why someone was so interested in my wife," he said. He and Qing studied with Russell and Jan Hanan almost every week for eight months, and they were baptized in 1994. The couple made such an impression on the Bians that they named their children after them: Jan and Russ. Bian works with so many others to bring the message of Christ to international students.

In 1995, he began cancer research at Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical in Ann Arbor, Mich. His work focused on isolating the proteins within a cell that would either inhibit or encourage the growth of cancer cells. Once the cells and proteins are identified and isolated, chemicals can be developed to control the growth of malignant cells or encourage the growth-inhibiting proteins that will fight cancer.

And he now has a new interest to share with his ACU students: the fruit fly.

He plans to spend the summer learning everything he can about breeding mutant fruit flies suitable for experiments on aging.

"You don't want to use an animal for aging experiments that lives longer than you do," he joked. Fruit flies live a few weeks, giving researchers the opportunity to study the effects of aging in a short period of time.

Bian's research with fruit flies will focus on finding the genes relevant to age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Huntington's and Parkinson's.

In the meantime, he loves showing visitors to ACU's biotechnology lab and the small tube filled with glowing green proteins the students have isolated. And he loves bragging on his students, each of whom he knows personally.

"The students in my lab took a gene from a jellyfish, put into it bacteria, making a jellyfish protein in bacteria," Bian said. "They asked lots of questions, wrote out all their procedures step by step, and learned how to do something that can help them in future careers. I hope they grow in their love of science."

(Written by Michelle Morris, director of marketing and public relations at ACU.)


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Last update: April 18, 2001
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