Dr. Tracy Brooks studied across the nation from Arizona to southern Florida to New York and finally Oxford to find the cure for cancer that took away too many of her loved ones. Her pursuit led her to Oxford where her infectious energy brings students to her office as she investigates a cancer gene so she could possibly formulate a more effective drug treatment.
Dr. Brooks recently received at $333,878 grant from Department of Defense (DOD) to study a cancer gene called kRAS. The grant is provided through Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program (PRCRP), a competitive funding organization. Reportedly only 16 percent of applications submitted to PRCRP were awarded this year.
Dr. Brooks explained the gene is involved with development of pancreatic, lung, colorectal and other cancers. She is investigating on the DNA region that produces quantities of kRAS with the end goal of applying her discoveries to a targeted drug-discovery program to develop new safer and more efficient treatments against various forms of cancers. Her study focuses on alternative DNA structures with attention to G-quadruplex (G4) formation. Dr. Brooks wants to investigate and utilize the G4 to ultimately turn off the protein production thus disabling the kRAS gene which will kill the pancreatic cancer cells. The research’s aim is figuring out the shape of the G4 that forms within the kRAS protein-growth region and how other proteins in the cell controls the G4.
Dr. Brooks wants to work with molecular modelists to discover the structure’s three-dimensional shape so she can predict chemicals that will strengthen the DNA structure. With the model Dr. Brooks can work with pharmacognisists and medical chemists to identify and create new drugs that will stabilize the G4 structure, turn off the kRAS gene and selectively kill pancreatic, lung and colorectal cancers in addition with traditional chemo.
She has infectious, tireless energy in her battle with cancer. She is not ill but her loved ones were. In her office with a window overlooking the bright trees in the Grove she pulled out a bag.
This study is personal to her. Her grandmother passed away from pancreatic cancer after a week-long battle when Dr. Brooks was a freshman in college. Since her grandmother flew on she has lost her mother, her cousins and friends and even her grandfather-in-law. Her husband, Kelcy Brooks, is a three years survivor of cancer.
She said, “I’ve dedicated my career, and my life, to researching and combating this disease.”
Dr. Brooks said she first came to University of Mississippi three years ago to focus on researching in. She is currently an assistant professor of pharmacology at School of Pharmacy who teaches year around from fall to spring to a summer’s repeat of the spring schedule. She teaches how the pharmacy drugs work and also an elective focusing on cancer biology.
“This class covers the fundamentals of oncology.” Dr. Brooks said, “When I went to graduate school every student there had to take a full year studying cancer. I liked that so I wanted to teach this to Ole Miss students. We learn about the risk factors, genetics and what the cancer is as well as types of people likely to have cancer as well as potential sources of cancer in food and how cancer cells move around the body. The students also present new published findings on cancer.”
Dr. Brooks’ energy brings students to her door. Once she walked to her research lab and returned to find a student waiting for her. She laughed, “They’re always here! They’re always welcome here.” Many yell ‘hello’ as they walk by her door if they don’t have time to plop down on one of her chairs.
She said that if her tenure ends at School of Pharmacy then she’ll teach a self-defense class at the Turner Center. She discovered there were self-defense classes offered for class credits but they have since disappeared. She said, “I would love to bring the classes back.” She punctuated that sentence with a martial arts pose then broke out into laughter.
She enjoys her life in Oxford with her husband and their adopted son from Korea. She proudly showed on her office door a clipping of the Daily Mississippian’s photo of her smiling husband and son at a Relay for Life gathering at the Circle.
“When I came to Ole Miss,” Dr. Brooks said, “I was impressed with the university. I liked the School of Pharmacy’s strong emphasis on teaching and research. As for Oxford it’s small! I run into so many of my students around town. It’s different here but I like it.”
Callie Daniels is the staff reporter for HottyToddy.com. You can contact her about this story at email@example.com.
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