Colorado State University Biochemistry Professor Named 2009-2010 Pew Scholar to Explore How Cells Divide, Cause Cancer

Note to Editors: A photo of Professor Jennifer DeLuca is available with the news release at

Jennifer DeLuca, an assistant professor of biochemistry, has been named one of only 17 2009 Pew Scholars in Biomedical Sciences in the nation – early-career scientists who display outstanding promise in advancing research about human health.

DeLuca will receive a $240,000 grant for four years for her research into how cells divide, a process known as mitosis. Chromosomes, which carry all DNA, need to divide equally into two daughter cells so they each have exactly one copy of each chromosome when the cells are done dividing. If the cells don’t divide equally, or they get too many or too few chromosomes, they can lack genes or acquire too many genes, which can result in the initiation of cancer and the formation of birth defects.

"We try in our laboratory to identify proteins that drive this segregation process," she said. "If we can find the proteins that are responsible for chromosome segregation, new targets for cancer therapeutics can be identified. Tumors are made up of rapidly dividing cells, so if you want to kill off a tumor, targeting mitotic cells is a good place to start. This is how many current chemotherapeutics work, but unfortunately they can also affect other cellular processes, leading to severe side effects.

"Not only are we interested in mitosis from a basic science standpoint, but we also are driven by the hope that we can identify new targets for rational anti-cancer drug design."

DeLuca is the only Colorado biomedical scholar named this year by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

She employs graduate students and undergraduate students in her research as well as a research scientist and post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Colorado State. She’ll use the grant money to hire another post-doctoral fellow and purchase equipment to develop new cell biological and biochemical techniques to look at dividing cells.

"We are very excited that Dr. DeLuca’s innovative and creative approaches to solving a very complex problem have been recognized by the Pew Charitable Trusts," said P. Shing Ho, professor and department chair at Colorado State. "Scientists in our department – and in the College of Natural Sciences – are on the cutting edge of their fields, providing solutions to some of the world’s most pressing environmental and health problems."

DeLuca obtained her doctorate in 2000 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She completed her postdoctoral work in cell biology and microscopy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

The 25-year-old Pew Scholars Program has invested more than $125 million to fund more than 460 scholars.