Dominican University of California Science Faculty to Conduct Stem Cell, Breast Cancer Research

Four scientists have joined Dominican University of California's Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics as the University moves ahead with plans to establish a biomedical research program. The new faculty members will involve undergraduate students in stem cell and breast cancer research.

Dr. Mohammed El Majdoubi, Ph.D., joins the department as an assistant professor of biology. Previously, he served for four years as director of the Cell Imaging Core in the Center for Reproductive Sciences at UC San Francisco. Dr. Majdoubi has published 17 scientific papers and has given 18 presentations at international meetings. He also is a reviewer for the journal Neuroendocrinology. Dr. Maggie Louie, Ph.D., joins the department as an assistant professor of biochemistry. Dr. Louie has spent the past four years conducting breast cancer research at UC Davis and will continue this research at Dominican. Dominican also has hired two adjunct science professors to teach and conduct research on campus.

“We are positioning ourselves to not only train the next generation of science teachers, but also to train tomorrow’s doctors and scientists,” says Dominican University of California President Joseph R. Fink.

Sibdas Ghosh, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, adds: “As the Bay Area emerges as a national center for biomedical research, we want Dominican University to play a bigger role in this arena and prepare our students for careers in the biomedical sector.”

Dominican’s science program has been bolstered in recent years by grants from the National Park Service, NASA, the Pacific Southwest Research Station of the U. S. Forest Service, and the Resources Legacy Fund. The number of biology students at Dominican has jumped from 32 students in 2001 to 142 students in 2005, and in recent years Dominican students have won paid internships at Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, Stanford Medical School, UCSF Medical School, Dartmouth Medical School, NASA, and Children’s Hospital Oakland. Graduating biology students enjoyed a 100 percent acceptance rate into medical school in 2005.

Dr. Majdoubi earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience and pharmacology from the University of Bordeaux, France. Upon completing his doctorate, he worked at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School as a research associate investigating the neurobiological factors involved in triggering puberty in primates. In 2000, he joined UC San Francisco Medical School as a visiting scholar, then as an assistant research endocrinologist. For the last four years he served as director of the Cell Imaging Core in the UC San Francisco’s Center for Reproductive Sciences. Last year Majdoubi taught courses at Dominican as an adjunct professor.

At Dominican Dr. Majdoubi will use mouse embryonic stem cells to study the development of hormone-secreting cells in the brain. Such research could provide medical treatment to neuroendocrine-related diseases such as Kallmann’s, Prader-Willi, and Rubenstein-Taybi. “In addition to its intellectual merit, this project will expose Dominican students to the necessary skills and expertise in the expanding scientific field of stem cell biology research,” says Dr. Majdoubi.

Dr. Majdoubi joined the Dominican faculty because he wished to combine his research with teaching. “At UCSF I was doing 100 percent research, but I feel research without teaching misses out on the communication aspect of what research is all about,” says Dr. Majdoubi. He will teach courses ranging from cell biology to human physiology.

Undergraduate research is a key component of a science education at Dominican, says Dr. Ghosh. The ability to teach and conduct research at the same time has been a major draw for the faculty joining the department. “Research is embedded in the students' learning experience. Sometimes smaller schools think research cannot be done, but we do it as part of our teaching tool. At the same time, we allow our faculty members to teach and do research – whereas at a larger institutions the researchers spend very little time in the classroom.”

Dr. Louie received her Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from UC Davis. Her dissertation research was focused on understanding the role of the ACTR gene in the spread of breast cancer. Her current research is focused on understanding the development and progression of hormone refractory breast cancer. Her research has been published in several peer review journals, including Molecular and Cellular Biology and The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Louie will involve students in research studying the long-term use of the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen. She also is in the early stages of a research project that will examine the role that the heavy metal cadmium — found in soil, water, and rocks — plays in the spread of breast cancer cells. It was the opportunity to both teach and conduct research that led Louie to Dominican. “I want to be able to use research as a tool to teach my students as opposed to working at an institution where I would just be involved with academic research,” says Louie. “I particularly like that at Dominican, undergraduate students get to work alongside faculty on research that at a larger institution would be reserved for graduate students.”

Adjunct professor Dr. Christelle Sabatier earned her Ph.D. in cell biology from UC San Francisco, where her research focused on studying axon guidance in the developing mouse spinal cord. She taught at Santa Clara University and then conducted post-graduate work at Stanford University studying synapse formation. Dr. Sabatier is studying the genetic tools of the model organism C.elegans to better understand early development and how individual parts of an animal’s body develop into their final morphologies. Dominican students will be involved with this research. Sabatier will teach the undergraduate genetics course at Dominican.

Adjunct professor Dr. Roy Bimal Krishna, a pharmacologist recently at New York University, will teach a course in human physiology. He also will continue with his research into hypertension, a leading cause of myocardial infarctions, renal failure, ischemic heart disease and stroke.

While the concept of undergraduate research is not new to Dominican, in recent years this research has become a highly visible aspect of the University. In 2002, Dominican students began presenting their research at the National Conferences for Undergraduate Research (NCUR). Attendance at NCUR has since become an annual event, growing from eight Dominican students accepted to present in 2002, 31 students in 2004, to 35 students in 2005 from a variety of departments, including biology, art history, English, humanities, interdisciplinary studies, political science, and religion. Research is particularly strong in the sciences, with 26 of the students presenting at NCUR in 2005 coming from the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, which offers bachelor’s degrees in biology and environmental studies.