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Daret St. Clair: Award for Achievement

Daret St. Clair, portraitDaret St. Clair has made significant contributions to the fields of redox biology and cancer research and therapy. Her research findings include a novel strategy that could be exploited for either developing redox-active, antioxidant-based cancer prevention or sensitizing cancer cells to radiation- or chemotherapy-based treatments. St. Clair is a professor of toxicology and cancer biology at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, where she holds the James Graham Brown Foundation Endowed Chair in Neuroscience and serves as the associate director for basic research at the Markey Cancer Center and co-director of the University of Kentucky Center for Cancer and Metabolism.

St. Clair’s passion for cancer research was sparked at the University of Iowa by her PhD advisor, Larry Oberley, PhD, who was one of the originators of the free radical theory of cancer. Frequently, Oberley would enter the laboratory and announce that he had a “bombshell” idea, according to St. Clair.

“These ‘bombshells’ would happen so often that they kept us excited about coming to the lab,” she says.

St. Clair came to Iowa from Thailand, where she worked as an instructor in medical physics. At the time, biology was new to her, so she’s grateful to Oberley, who died in 2008, and her fellow classmates for creating a positive environment to learn.

Today, as a professor of toxicology and cancer biology at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, St. Clair strives to emulate the same level of excitement for her students.

“I had the privilege of that joy, so I need to give that to my students,” St. Clair says. “I love science, and they can see that.”

When she’s not mentoring students, St. Clair devotes her time to cancer research. Specifically, her research focuses on preventing the side effects of cancer treatments.

“I feel that I made an important contribution to the idea that it is possible to treat cancer, and to improve cancer treatment, but also prevent the side effects,” St. Clair says.

This concept was originated during her time studying superoxide dismutase with Oberley as a graduate student. Superoxide dismutase is an enzyme that breaks down superoxide radicals in cells, which can cause tissue damage.

Thirty years later, St. Clair still devotes her time to this particular research, striving for new discoveries.

“To improve the quality of life for a cancer survivor is something that I hope to accomplish,” St. Clair says. “In my lifetime we may not be able to accomplish everything we want to, so it’s very important to build the next generation.”

St. Clair encourages her students to consider how their research can contribute to patient care.

“The key is to continue pursuing scientific discovery,” St. Clair says. “Have an eye on how the research can translate it into helping patients.”

By: Molly Allen