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Biology Professor Publishes Solo Article and One with Recent Alumna

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Posted on Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dr. Karen Resendes, Westminster College assistant professor of biology, recently published two articles on HeLa cell research, one of which was in collaboration with Gretchen Diffendall ’14.

Resendes’ solo article, “Using HeLa Cell Stress Response to Introduce First-Year Students to the Scientific Method, Laboratory Techniques, Primary Literature, and Scientific Writing,” was published in the international journal, Biochemistry and Biology Education (available online at

The paper details a three-week laboratory module Resendes designed for the introductory Biology 201 course at Westminster that couples inquiry-based experimental design with extensive scientific writing to expose first-year students to these concepts early in their undergraduate career. 

Students used scientific literature to design and implement an experiment on the effect of cellular stress on protein expression in HeLa cells.  In parallel, the students developed a research paper in the style of the undergraduate journal BIOS to report their results.

HeLa cells were used to integrate the research experience with Westminster’s “Next Chapter” first-year program, which explored the historical relevance of HeLa cells from a sociological perspective by reading Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

Diffendall, a molecular biology major, together with Resendes, published a research manuscript, ”The Effect of Increased Intracellular Calcium on the Localization of the Catabolic Subunit of Telomerase, hTERT, in HeLa,” in the Journal of Student Research (available online at

The paper details Diffendall’s senior research in Resendes’ lab into the mechanisms to counteract the ability of the protein telomerase to induce unlimited growth (immortalization) of cancer cells.

“This is an exciting development that adds new knowledge to our understanding cancer biology,” Resendes said.  “The work Gretchen has done provides interesting insights into potential mechanisms to inhibit telomerase.  It is thrilling to see these results published in the up-and-coming online Journal of Student Research, a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal for undergraduate and graduate research.”

Resendes, who has been with Westminster since 2009, earned an undergraduate degree from the College of William and Mary and Ph.D. from Brown University.

Contact Resendes at 724-946-7211 or email for additional information.