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Passing the Research Torch

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Having served as a research mentor to over 50 students while at Pace, Nancy Krucher continues to train the next generation of savvy and cutting-edge researchers.

Dyson Professor Nancy Krucher, PhD, understands the transformative power of research.

“Doing research with students is the best part of my job as a professor,” says Krucher.

Krucher, who has mentored and collaborated with dozens of students while at Pace, attributes her commitment to promoting undergraduate research to her own personal experience as an undergraduate.

“I was completely changed in my path and my career based on an undergraduate research experience. Back in the ’80s, when I was in college, I was able to get into a research lab studying muscular dystrophy. I absolutely loved it. I loved the people, they were good mentors, they encouraged me, and I decided to become a scientist.”

Now as a professor, Krucher is committed to maintaining that researcher-to-scientist pipeline.

“In the department of Biology, there’s a course called Research in Biology,” says Krucher. “It’s a one-on-one research project with a faculty member, and almost every semester I have between one and five students. We meet throughout the week, I teach them how to do cell biology and biochemistry experiments, and for a semester they do novel research experiments.”

The student research ultimately contributes to papers, presentations, or further explorations of biochemistry topics.

Krucher specializes in cancer research, particularly developments regarding the retinoblastoma (Rb) protein—which serves as a tumor suppressor, which is dysfunctional in almost all human cancers. 

“In cancer the Rb protein gets inactivated. Cells lose the break on this tumor suppressor, and cells grow too much and form into the tumor. That was discovered in the ’90s. Once that was known, the question became how do we target this important gene in cancer? Can we develop treatments that target this gene so that we could reverse this process of carcinogenesis? Can we stop cancer from growing?”

Krucher, who has been researching the Rb protein for two decades, brought her work to Pace when she was hired as an assistant professor. Now, she is introducing this work to students—including Rita Abraham ’18, Rebecca Kravstov '18, Kyle Richichi '18, and Morgan Troncone '18, and graduate student Nimmi Thomas, all of whom Krucher has been working with for the past year as part of the Student-Faculty Research program. Their work, titled Targeting the Retinoblastoma (Rb) Tumor Suppressor Gene in Pancreatic Cancer, will be on display on May 2 during the annual Student-Faculty Research Days in Pleasantville.

Having observed so many students immerse themselves in worthwhile research, Krucher has seen students grow both personally and professionally, and views research as not only an important collegiate experience, but one that builds valuable life skills, regardless of their future direction. She does note however, that it’s particularly rewarding when a young researcher continues to embark on the scientist path.

“Students often really like it. I try to get them stay for two or three semesters, or longer. Some decide they want a career as a scientist. It’s exciting to watch my students who’ve graduated to go on to cancer research, medical school, and it’s very satisfying for me.”

As for the future? Krucher would like to continue receiving grants (in 2014, she received a three-year, $360,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health), which would enable her to continue to further study the complex nature of the Rb protein and involve students in her ongoing research. Above all however, she hopes to continue to pass the research torch to the next generation of groundbreaking scientists.

“The most important thing to me at Pace is to mentor students in the research lab,” says Krucher. “When I went to college, I didn’t know what research was until I found myself working in a research lab. Here at Pace, I’ve been able to teach a lot of students about how exciting it is to be a scientist.”