Central College News

Featured: Central: 2, Cancer: 0

February 4, 2013

Leukemia kills 53,000 people per year. Athena Bowen ’12 is one of the scientists trying to stop it.

During the summer of 2012, before she graduated early in December, Bowen—a biology major—interned at Ohio State University with Dr. Nyla Rozeboom Heerema ’63. One of the leading leukemia researchers in the country, Heerema specializes in cytogenetics, the study of chromosomes.

Heerema spoke in one of Bowen’s biology classes in 2011, and when she began looking for an internship, one of her professors suggested sending an email to the cancer researcher. After reading Bowen’s resume, Heerema offered the Central student a job for the summer studying the protein p53. She even opened up her home for Bowen to stay. Over the summer, the two women, separated by 39 years at Central, became very close.

Heerema and another colleague designed a study for Bowen to work on. Using a technique called FISH, Bowen analyzed whether p53 causes dicentric chromosomes. The project continued after she returned to Central, and Heerema and her colleagues hope to publish the results. Bowen’s write-up will likely become part of that report.

Bowen, who has always been interested in genetics, says the knowledge she gained at Central provided a great base for the laboratory experience, which often lasted for 10 hours a day plus weekends. She worked alongside Ph.D. and M.D. candidates and learned new lab techniques in the process.

The internship helped clarify her goal of becoming a genetic counselor. “It’s a very new field that is starting to open up,” Bowen explains. “If someone finds out they have a gene that could cause cancer—or if a baby has a gene that could cause a deformity before they are born—they can go see a genetic counselor who will explain their options, what their chances are and how to avoid it.”

Bowen plans to enroll in a graduate program in the fall of 2014. Until then, she is working as a quality control technician at Midland Bioproducts in Boone, Iowa, where she analyzes antibody levels in goat serum. Although she just began the job, she is already enjoying it and learning more lab techniques.

Looking back at her college career, Bowen is grateful for the internship experience at Ohio State  and for the solid science background she gained—both of which came about through Central.

“Central has given me a great base, along with good techniques and safety in the lab,” she says. “Working with an alum gave me the opportunity for the internship. I couldn’t be where I’m going without Central.”


Read more about Dr. Heerema’s work on Civitas.