Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Faces of Ferris: Dr. James Hoerter

Leonardo da Vinci once said, "Learning never exhausts the mind."

For more than three decades, learning, teaching and research have been passions for James Hoerter, a professor of Biology at Ferris State University.

In the last year, Hoerter's passion has been strengthened. A Fulbright Fellowship trip to Ireland sparked a zebrafish fascination that led to a three-year grant from the National Institute of Health to explore the cause of melanoma for Hoerter. The Ireland visit strengthened his interest in this deadly form of human skin cancer. Melanoma is "a form of cancer that begins in melanocytes (cells that make the pigment melanin). It may begin in a mole (skin melanoma), but can also begin in other pigmented tissues, such as in the eye or in the intestines," according to the National Cancer Institute. NCI further states that an estimated 68,130 new cases were discovered in 2010 along with 8,700 deaths.

Melanoma statistics are all too real and all too deadly. That reality, in part, encouraged Hoerter's passion to learn more about the cause of melanoma.

"While in Ireland on a Fulbright Fellowship, I became fascinated with using zebrafish to study the role of stem cells in the development of melanoma," Hoerter said as he discussed his three-year grant from the National Institute of Health. "The genes controlling stem cells in the skin are almost identical to humans. I knew this was the perfect way to determine how adult stem cells are damaged by the harmful rays of the sun. When I got back to Ferris, I immediately started to lay the groundwork for this project; I knew that it was one of the best research ideas I'd had in years."

For the complete Faces of Ferris entry on Dr. Hoerter, click here.

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