Cancer research is a long, slow process, but Erin Eaton, Assistant Professor of biology at FMU, is patiently enjoying it.
Eaton studies the transcriptional regulation of genes involved in cancer. Her current research has led her to explore an organism named Daphnia, commonly known as a water flea, for one of the most widely studied human suppressor proteins, the P53 gene. This gene is mutated in 90 percent of human cancers, and studies of P53 could lead to a better understanding of this family of important proteins. Eaton hypothesizes this specific protein in Daphnia will be turned on to ultraviolet light and undergo a cellular mutation.
“It’s like I tell my students: Science is 99 percent failure, one percent eureka,” Eaton said. “It’s a very slow and frustrating process, but you just have to keep at it.”
Eaton’s passion for biology started when she took a cell and molecular biology class during her junior year at the University of South Carolina. She then went on to earn doctorate degrees in molecular physiology and biophysics at Vanderbilt University. While at Vanderbilt, Eaton collaborated with David Reisman, who sparked her interest in P53 and eventually in Daphnia.
“I owe a huge amount to David Reisman,” Eaton said. “I was able to send him some reagents while at Vanderbilt and we’re still collaborating today.”
Eaton now teaches six classes at FMU in addition to working on her research.
“When I came here, I realized how much I loved teaching,” Eaton said. “So I love that I can teach and have the flexibility to do research.”
Eaton also has an interesting life outside of research. In addition to a love of fishing and boating, Eaton and her family are proud pet lovers. They take care of four dogs, three cats, six chickens, a bearded dragon, a corn snake and a rat.
“I always tell people I should probably charge an admission to visit my house,” Eaton said. “So, the animals and my two kids keep me pretty busy.”
Eaton currently has three students helping her with research. She is also assisted by a former student who received her master’s degree at FMU and now works as their lab technician. Eaton said her proudest moment is seeing her students develop their passion for a subject and succeed in it.