Biology students at Illinois State not only envision a world without cancer, they are involved in research to reach that goal.

Under the direction of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Assistant Professor Erik Larson, they are examining a common protein in a search for the causes of cancer.Students at all levels—from undergraduate to doctoral studies—contribute to Larson’s ongoing research, which has been funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute.

The American Cancer Society’s Illinois Division added $57,000 to the effort last year. The society’s MicroRNA Regulation of Activation Induced Deaminase (AID) grant will allow Larson to continue investigating how the DNA in cancer cells becomes damaged.

Larson’s research explores how AID functions in the body’s immune system and also in cancer. Because AID damages DNA, Larson’s research could help scientists understand formative events in cancer.

“AID induces DNA damage, and it is well known that this type of genetic damage results in cancer,” Larson said. AID has been detected in multiple unrelated cancers, including cancers of the breast, stomach, and immune system. “We’re investigating if AID operates early to create a genetic environment that is permissive to cancer,” he said.

The research by Larson’s laboratory group has been published in the journal BMC Cancer. His work has also appeared in scholarly journals, including Proceedings of the Library of Science and BMC Molecular Biology.

The next step for Larson’s Illinois State team is to incorporate collaborative research connections with the clinical community, broadening the research into patient-derived tissues.

You can help advance the work. Make a gift by going to or calling (800) 366-4478.