This is a photo of Assistant Professor Bin Shan, a cancer researcher at WSU Spokane.

Things slow down on the WSU Spokane campus when most of the students are away. Or do they?

During the summer, Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine research faculty members are as busy as ever, applying for grants, doing research projects, writing articles for publication, editing journals and serving on committees.

This week, we’ll highlight a few faculty members and some of their summer activities.

When Assistant Professor Bin Shan works with breast cancer cells in the lab, he tries to mimic how they actually grow in the body.

Instead of growing cells on flat plastic surfaces and examining them, which is the traditional way of doing it, Shan and his team are growing and working with cells in a three-dimensional “microenvironment.” He says it’s a more realistic way of learning how a tumor grows. Often, he says, the genes that he targets are regulated differently and act differently than they might in a two-dimensional setting and that gives him a more accurate depiction of what happens in the body.

There are tradeoffs in his approach. Shan says it’s a more expensive and time-consuming way of working with cells, but he hopes the extra investment will lead to more accurate results. The number of researchers using the three-dimensional model is small, but Shan believes the idea is slowly becoming more accepted in the scientific community.

His latest article, published this month in the journal Oncotarget, focuses on how a specific gene is regulated and functions in the 3-D environment of a specific type of breast cancer cells.