Nancy Krucher and Cancer Research

When Professor of Biology Nancy Krucher was in college, she chose business as a major because she had to “pick something,” but it was a chapter on genetics in a general biology course for non-majors that changed her decision, and a future scientist was born.

Today, she studies how cancer cells function and make the decision to grow, with an emphasis on the ability of certain proteins within the cells to stop the cancer from growing.

The Retinoblastoma (Rb) protein, one of the first proteins shown to regulate cell proliferation, normally inhibits proliferation, but becomes inactive in most types of human cancer. This dynamic is the reason Rb is a well-studied tumor suppressor in the field of cancer research and a target of new drugs given to some cancer patients, hence the term “targeted therapy.”

Through her research, Krucher developed a methodology to activate the Rb protein in cancer cells, with the aim of halting their proliferation.  Specifically, she accomplished this through “gene knockdown” of an inhibitor of the Rb phosphatase, in order to stimulate phosphatase activity toward the Rb protein and activate it.

The results have been successful.

Rita Abraham '18, a Biology major, and Nancy Krucher collaborated on pancreatic cancer research.

On her work, she says, “We not only stopped proliferation, but caused cell death, including inhibiting the invasive ability of the cells.”

Krucher had been working in cancer research for four years at the University of Rochester Cancer Center and New York Medical College prior to joining the Pace faculty on the Pleasantville campus in 1999, and since 2014, has been supported by a three-year $360,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

With her grant, she initially studied the role of Rb proteins in the proliferation, specifically, of breast cancer cells.  As part of this process, she discovered that the activation of Rb had different effects depending on whether the breast cancer was invasive or not, which piqued Krucher’s interest in studying invasion of cancer cells.

Since 2017, her research has progressed to studying the activation of Rb in pancreatic cancer, one that is very invasive early on, and within which the Rb protein is inactive.

This research is immensely important because only one-fifth of Americans diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive for a full year, according to the American Cancer Society, and it is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the country.

With all the research Krucher is engaged in, however, teaching is also dear to her heart.

She says, “Mentoring students in my research laboratory is the most rewarding part of being a professor. I’ve worked with more than fifty-five students during my tenure at Pace doing novel research projects, some that led to publications and presentations at conferences.  Most students love the experience of learning to be a scientist.”

Rebecca Kravtsov ’18 and Kyle Richichi ’18 are both Biology majors who have been performing research on pancreatic cancer with Krucher this spring.

On the nature of their work together, Kravtsov says, “It's truly an amazing experience to learn and utilize hands-on techniques in a lab, especially when the research is so valuable and important. This is a major target of cancer treatment, and I feel very fortunate to be able to be a part of the process.”

Richichi attests to the passion Krucher brings to both this subject and to teaching.

He says, “Working in the lab with Dr. Krucher is really exciting.  She is an extremely smart person and cares a lot about the work that she is doing, but for her students as well.”

We look forward to Krucher’s continued success as a researcher, a path that began after an epiphany in a required liberal arts course for a then-business major.