STEP Undergraduate Research Experience-HTLV-1

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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.

HFES Conference STEP Reflection


I traveled to Chicago to present research at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 2014 annual concert in October. However, I did far more than present while I was there. The first night I was there I had the opportunity to go to an opening gala reception where I met several physicians who do both clinical work and work in the human factors field. Each of the four days after the first I had the opportunity to go to several presentations on a variety of subjects from interruptions in health care to flight simulation. While I mostly went to presentations that were in the field of health care, I gained valuable experience from going to those that presented outside of my field as I could see similar research methods utilized in completely different areas of research. On Wednesday I was fortunate enough to go on a tour of Northwestern University’s Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences Department. This tour was a fascinating experience and depicted research done in a physical therapy lab and various machines used to re-train muscles. On Thursday I finally presented my poster and was pleased with how much traffic I received and the way that I handled questions. I met several other people in the health care field that knowing could potentially help me in the future. Friday morning I headed out of Chicago to come back to Columbus.

Other than the conference itself, I also had the pleasure of exploring the city of Chicago in the evenings. On two nights I went to see improvisational comedy, a performing art that the city is known for. Improv is a hobby of mine and it was a great experience seeing it at its best. Overall it was a week of great learning experiences.


So What?

My STEP experience was an eye opening experience. It was a great opportunity to break out of my shell as I have struggled to meet professionals in the past. But the HFES conference made it easy and I was able to meet several physicians. I now have more confidence in my networking skills. Additionally, I expected to be over prepared for my poster presentation on Thursday. I have a history of public speaking and performing and thought this would be no different. And while I feel that it went well, it was not as easy as I expected. It was difficult being questioned on the material I was presenting and it required a different skill set that I expected. In the future I will be able to prepare for presentations with potential questions to be asked in mind. This will help me become a better research presenter. I learned that though I have the potential to be a good presenter, I need to make myself do the work. I have a tendency to leave things until the last minute, but STEP has helped me realize it is worth putting in preparation early.

Now What?

I am very grateful for my participation in the STEP program for several reasons, but two come to the forefront of my mind. One, the process of writing a proposal and attempting to make it competitive and representative of my intentions. I liked this a lot because most people, especially in academia, will write many proposals going forward whether it be for scholarships, grants, or graduate school. Secondly, connecting with a faculty member was immensely helpful. The STEP program makes it very easy to talk with a faculty member one on one and form a relationship that might otherwise be difficult to form. Additionally, it introduces faculty members to students that they might otherwise never have come in contact with. For example, Dr. Inpanbutr teaches in the veterinary school. Chances are, our paths would not have crossed in my time at OSU, and she has been incredibly helpful to me both in the STEP program and out of it.


My STEP experience was helpful for several reasons. It was my first time presenting any research at a conference. I found that I enjoy it quite a bit and would like to continue to research even as I move forward into medical school. Additionally, at the conference I attended I met several established physicians. I hope that they will be able to help me along the way and that I have made lifelong contacts. Finally, my STEP experience served to solidify my interest in human factors research. The field is so important in every area of life. There is always a desire to make things work more efficiently and better for people. I hope to continue to use these critical thinking skills to continue improving anything I take part in moving forward.