Biology Major Working on Virus, Cancer Research
February 23, 2012 – Jess Hebert (C’12), an undergraduate biology major who works in the lab of Georgetown’s Richard Schlegel, says there is still plenty of research to do on the human papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer.
Schlegel helped develop the vaccine against HPV and the Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine 2006.
Prevention and Treatment
Chair of Georgetown’s pathology department, Schlegel is continuing his research at Georgetown’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, with Hebert exploring specific aspects of HPV.
“There are several hundred different types of HPV, but the worst of them are the high-risk types, which are able to cause cancer,” Hebert says. “My work focuses mainly on how HPV is able to cause cancer. That’s the kind of research that will hopefully give us a better understanding of how we can not just prevent cancer, but treat it.”
This year Hebert began work on his thesis project, which explores the relationship between HPV and contact inhibition, a process that occurs naturally in non-cancerous cells that stops them from overgrowing when they touch other cells.
The senior found that one of the proteins encoded by HPV is able to overcome contact inhibition in human cells, which is partly what leads to the formation of tumors.
Leading a Lab
“I would very much like to spend the rest of my life doing biomedical research,” Hebert says. “I hope to be able to lead my own lab eventually to conduct cancer research.”
The biology major says he has always had a passion for science. As an adolescent, he often took trips with his mother, an occupational therapist, to visit children with developmental disabilities.
Early on, he says, he knew he had a special interest in cancer, which he called an “enigmatic and inevitable” disease.
“It’s something that everyone has to deal with in some way or another,” Hebert says. “Everyone knows someone with cancer. So it was exciting for me to come to Georgetown and get to meet someone who has been able to score a major victory against cancer and demystify it in a lot of ways.”
The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation awarded Hebert one its 275 scholarships for the 2011-2012 academic year.
The Goldwater scholars, according to the foundation, were selected from more than 1,000 math, science and engineering students nominated by colleges and universities nationwide. The scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to $7,500 a year.
“It meant a lot to me personally to receive the award because it’s very easy sometimes to feel like your work is off in some isolated corner and that nobody’s really paying attention to it,” Hebert said. “It was important to me because it made me feel like not just my work was being recognized, but that other people recognized that I had the potential to have a great career in research.”