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BEA grads fighting against cancer

By Staff | Aug 3, 2014

This week is the annual Faribault County Relay for Life event held at the fairgrounds on Friday.

You will see some interesting stories of local people battling cancer in our annual Relay for Life special section included in this week’s Faribault County Register.

One of the stories has to do with one person’s battle with pancreatic cancer. It is one of the nastiest cancers there is.

About 46,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year.

And, about 39,000 people will die of pancreatic cancer in 2014.

Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of the pancreas a six-inch long, two-inch wide organ in the abdomen, behind the stomach and below the liver.

The pancreas secretes enzymes that aid digestion and hormones that help regulate the metabolism of sugars.

As the statistics show, pancreatic cancer often has a poor prognosis, even when it is diagnosed early. It typically spreads rapidly and is seldom detected in its early stages, which is a major reason why it’s a leading cause of cancer death. Symptoms may not appear until pancreatic cancer is quite advanced and complete surgical removal isn’t possible.

Two Blue Earth Area High School graduates are working to help find a treatment for pancreatic cancer that could help alter those statistics.

Angie (Strack) Mathison, daughter of Chuck and Lois Strack, Blue Earth, works in the pancreatic cancer research lab at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

She is a 1996 graduate of BEA and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, where she majored in biology. She went to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Mathison is a senior research technologist at the Mayo lab. She works for one of the pancreatic cancer researchers, Dr. Urrutia.

She specifically prepares research on alteration in genes, which in lower organisms like flies are responsible for forming organs (Epigenetics), but can cause diseases like diabetes and pancreatic cancer in humans.

Understanding how this works could lead to being able to target these cells to alter or reverse pancreatic cancer.

Now another BEA grad, Kelly Aukes, is following in her footsteps literally.

Aukes, the daughter of Allen and Morray Aukes, of Blue Earth, will be a senior at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, this fall, also majoring in biology.

This summer, Aukes has been a college intern in the pancreatic cancer research lab at Mayo in Rochester.

Last week was her last week there, before returning to school. Her internship was from May 27 to Aug.1.

She is considering grad school and getting a PhD in research, and says this internship has been a really good experience for her.

Aukes says she has worked in many aspects of the research lab techniques, all dealing with studying pancreatic cancer.

She has studied slides of the pancreas and cancer lesions, she says. And she has prepared her own slides as well.

Aukes says she also had to document all of her research and learn how to present it. She made her official presentation of her research last Wednesday.

Mathison has been her mentor and Aukes says she has learned a lot from her.

Aukes says Mathison not only helps run the lab, she also helps all of the summer student interns with their projects and has helped make the internship a very valuable experience for Aukes.

And, perhaps someday, this research lab work will be instrumental in finding a treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Perhaps in some part because of the work of two BEA graduates.