STEP Undergraduate Research Experience-HTLV-1

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What?

Human T-Cell Lymphotropic Virus (HTLV-1) is a retrovirus, notable for its ability to cause Adult T-cell Leukemia (ATL, Cancer). The molecular mechanism(s) on how this occurs have not been deciphered in great detail and thus there is no good treatment option to cure/prevent ATL. The overall goal of the Green lab is to study how HTLV-1 causes ATL, which will eventually lead towards better treatment options for this deadly disease. Specifically, my project that the STEP fellowship helped fund in the lab involves two viral factors believed to be important in the tumorigenesis process: Tax and HBZ. In order to further investigate the roles these viral factors play in the transformation process, serval molecular biology techniques are used including mammalian tissue culture, cell transfection, viral transduction, western blotting, RT-PCR, RNA/DNA isolation, and a reporter gene assay (luciferase assay).

So What?

Coming to Ohio State as an incoming freshman, I originally wanted to be a veterinarian. Growing up with animals and working in a small animal clinic in high school, this choice came natural to me.  However, after spending time in college, taking classes, and interacting with faculty members,  I realized that my curiosity and passion for science could not be fulfilled by just being your standard veterinarian. This led me to alter my career aspirations to instead become a veterinary scientist. This choice is idea for me as it lets you be involved in medicine while also having a research based career. Most veterinary scientists complete a dual degree DVM/PhD program. In order to be competitive for these dual degree programs, it is expected that you have significant research experience during your time as an undergraduate. I had worked as a research assistant previously in my department, but felt as if the experience was not what I needed to apply the combined degree program. Thus, I needed to find a medically relevant research lab here on campus.

When looking to join a lab last fall, the STEP fellowship gave me a competitive edge over other interested undergraduates looking to get involved in research due to the fact that I had funding for the potential project that I would be working on. This is important because from the perspective of the faculty member running the lab, undergraduates take time and money to train as they are inexperienced. The STEP funds help offset that cost, thus making me a suitable choice. As previously stated, in order to be competitive for these dual degree programs, it is expected that you have significant research experience during your time as an undergraduate. Using the STEP fellowship to let me join a highly productive lab full of graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, etc.. not only makes you competitive when applying to various graduate schools, but it will teaches invaluable molecular biology research skills. This is important because to be a top-notch research your skills certainly do not develop overnight. I have already learned a whole plethora of new molecular biology skills including western blotting, polymerase chain reaction, and my favorite: viral transductions.

Now what?

Now that the STEP fellowship as helped me join the lab that I am in now, I will continue to work on my research project. I have also decided to stay here on campus this summer as the nature of research is very time consuming. The ultimate goal in the lab I am in now is to get put as a co-author on a publication out the lab. This will be made possible through the help of my PI, graduate students, and post-docs in the lab. I will also be applying to various dual degree programs this summer to continue my pursuit of a veterinary scientist. As mentioned previously, the STEP fellowship has played a role in developing my skills as a researcher, and has open doors to allow me to gain invaluable molecular biology skills. For example, it is common for me to infect cells with retroviruses and change their genome at the molecular level. A skill such as this is something that I predict will be very valuable in the field of medicine as we begin to understand our own genetics and feel confident in manipulating the genome to cure diseases. After completing my senior thesis in the lab next year, I know this will be one of many exciting research experiences in my life time and the STEP fellowship contributed to what I would argue is my most important research experience during my undergraduate career here at Ohio State.