With a Fulbright grant, Chris Mulholland '12 examines how nanobodies can fight cancer.

Cancer Research in Germany

With a Fulbright grant, 2012 New College graduate Chris Mulholland is conducting cancer research in Germany at the Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität in Munich.

At the university’s Center for Integrated Protein Science (CIPS), he is studying DNA methylation activity to better understand the origins of cancer. Mulholland said he developed a strong interest in epigenetics, the chemical modifications made to the DNA in our genomes, through several independent study projects at New College of Florida.

“This great interest developed at New College while exploring every possible subject I could take, from Russian literature to 20th-century painting,” he said. “I was looking for my own way of understanding the human experience, which led me to enroll in an upper-level course, Genomics of Cancer.”

With a concentration in Biology, Mulholland spent the summer of 2011 at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque, N.M., working on specialized research for his New College senior thesis, “Methylation-Dependent Rolling-Circle Amplification: A Novel Method for Detecting DNA Methylation.”

At the CIPS lab, Mulholland is working with Professor Heinrich Leonhardt to use nanobody technology to observe how cells change in real time. The small size of nanobodies allows for usage in living cells, setting them apart from traditional larger antibodies that require cells to be killed and their membranes broken before they can be used, he explained. Nanobodies also have the potential to allow researchers to detect how likely a person might be at risk for cancer far earlier than any current blood test or radiological scan.

His role in the research includes the engineering of nanobodies to have an affinity for the enzyme DNA Methyltransferase (DNMT) by immunizing a llama with DNMT and subsequently harvesting and purifying the nanobodies produced by the immune response.

“Llamas and sharks,” he explained, “are, strangely, the only organisms known to produce nanobodies.” When he returns from Germany, Mulholland said he plans to enter a doctoral program to continue his study on the correlation between epigenetic events and the development of cancer.