By Robert W. Dalton
Trust the process.
That’s one of the lessons Dr. Ramin Radfar, professor of chemistry, is teaching as he guides Carson Harrell ’24 through a summer research project.
Harrell is attempting to isolate an enzyme that breaks down glucose in the body and generates energy. Slowing the breakdown could be useful in slowing the growth of cancer cells, which require a great deal of energy to grow.
“In this process he’s going to basically learn the techniques of extraction, purification, making solutions, crystallizing proteins and so forth,” Radfar says. “That’s basically my goal. We are not going to cure cancer in a couple of months, but summer research gives students an opportunity to learn these techniques so if they go to graduate school or medical school they can use them later on.”
Harrell, a biology major from Columbia, South Carolina, is no stranger to research. He worked on a project involving knee-replacement patients as a requirement to graduate from the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science & Mathematics. He says he’s happy that he’s been able to be in a lab over the summer.
“I thought this would be a good opportunity to work in the science department with the professors,” says Harrell, who is one of 38 Wofford students participating in undergraduate research with 21 of the college’s faculty focused on 19 different projects.
Harrell says it takes several steps to isolate the protein. He first must extract the protein from chicken livers or plants and then purify it.
“Then we will do some tests with that protein, and eventually we are going to crystalize it,” Radfar says. “After that we can use X-rays and take a look at the structure of that molecule.”
Harrell says he appreciates that Radfar oversees the work and that he doesn’t take over.
“He lets me do my own thing, but I ask him a lot of questions, too,” Harrell says. “I don’t want to mess up anything because then you have to start over, and that takes a week.”
Radfar says the real-world impact of the research will be more on Harrell and other Wofford students like him who take on these projects.
“If they want to go graduate school, if they want to pursue a career in biochemistry or in the pharmaceutical industry, these are techniques they can use,” Radfar says. “In medical schools, they do look at applications, and if students have some sort of research background it gives them an edge.”