What? This summer, I was honored to use my STEP funding to work at the College of Dentistry, Division of Biosciences under Dr. Brian Foster. Dr. Foster is a new professor here at OSU, who just started in July. Previously, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. I used the first part of my funding to visit him in May in order to start my project before he started here. I was trained on how to orient, take pictures, and analyze microCT scans of mandibles and measure histomorphometry data for my project. With tooth development critical for proper function, my project aimed towards defining the spatiotemporal role of PHOSPHO1, a haloacid dehalogenase. The funding was left after my visit to NIH was used for summer experiences, such as rent and utilities to stay in Columbus.
So What? I was not sure what to expect when I signed up for STEP, although nobody really did as it’s a new program. I enjoyed getting to know my cohort and advisor. She has continued to be a great mentor to me, and I appreciate the work that advisors devote to this program. I was surprised about some of the more personal topics that came up in our discussions, but once everybody’s faces were familiar, it was easy to connect on such a personal level. I can’t say that I was always excited for a meeting, but they were all worthwhile and allowed us to explore each topic in detail. It helped me to rule out some of the experiences, but also made the decision difficult. After seeing some of the great things that students around campus are doing, and hearing peers plan awesome proposals, I wanted to make sure I would be just as excited for my project. And I’m glad to report that I was!
The laboratory that Dr. Foster was in previously at the National Institutes of Health was one that I had also worked in, so it was a privilege to be there visiting for a week and exciting to see co-workers. Pertaining to my project specifically, it was rewarding in more ways than one. First of all, I was able to learn more techniques that will be valuable as I move forward. I am also able to build my resume and experience by participating in presentations and research forums with my findings.
Now What? As I move forward towards a career as a dental clinician researcher, this experience will be very valuable. It is a rare opportunity that I will now be able to put on applications and talk about at interviews. Additionally, it has opened up more doors for me with networking, presenting, and writing scientifically. Being able to work in the dental school has been a great experience and allowed me to get to know the building, students, and staff. I look forward to presenting this research and improving my skills with each talk. Working on a research project will only help me in applying what I learn in the classroom. On a personal level, this project has solidified my intent to aim for a career in academia. I have taken more from STEP than just my project, as I eluded to earlier. The projects that I did not pursue also helped me learn about myself. I took time to learn more about STEP experiences that I was considering and look into what those options would mean for me. The decision making process was valuable in itself. I look forward to continuing to uncover how my STEP project will help me in the future!
This summer I spent ten weeks working in a biochemistry lab in Erlangen, Germany studying glucocorticoid receptor sensitivty and sphingolipid metabolism as potential biomarkers in depression through the DAAD RISE program. This was a clinical study that analyzed cells from the blood of four groups of individuals: non-medicated depressed/bipolar patients, medicated depressed/bipolar patients, people who have been in remission from depression/bipolar disorder for at lest two years, and healthy controls. A large part of my responsibility was optimizing a reaction buffer to study the activity of neutral sphingomyelinase in depression. The lab had previously found that acid sphingomyelinase had significantly higher activity in depressed individuals, and for the first time we were analyzing neutral sphingomyelinase. This optimization took significantly more work than expected, because of an interaction between two components of the buffer- detergent concentration had different effects on enzyme activity depending on sodium chloride concentration. In addition, we saw unexpected (but exciting) high variation in NSM activity between different patients, which only compounded the difficulties in determining the optimal buffering solution. Once I had the optimal buffer concentrations, I used samples from a previous study in which healthy male volunteers were administered either an antidepressant or placebo, to see the effects of antidepressants on NSM activity. In addition, I will be working with a parallel study stimulating blood plasma with LPS to produce a cytokine response, as measured by ELISAs. Previous studies have suggested that administration of dexamethasone, a glucocorticoid agonist, inhibits the production of cytokines in repsonse to LPS in healthy individuals, but this effect is dampened in those under chronic stress. I will be studying the effect of dexamethasone on LPS-induced cytokine production in blood plasma to determine a relationship between gluccoorticoid receptor sensitivity and depression.
In addition to my work in the lab, I have spent a lot of time traveling this summer. I have been to Munich, Berlin, Salzburg, Heidelberg, Zurich, Hamburg, Cologne, Vienna, Nuremberg, Liechtenstein, Krakow and Warsaw. I got to visit sites like Hohenzollern castle, Auschwitz, the Baltic sea, and Lichtenstein castle. I still have plans to go to Prague and Budapest and visit the famous Neuschwanstein castle. I have loved seeing each city’s different personality, and enjoying the historic and beautiful sites. Vienna had an artsy feel, each building achitecturally ornate, with multiple operas, musicians on every corner, and at night the people dressed up for a night at the theater. Hamburg was a party town, known for their red light district and full of bachelor and bachelorette parties. Berlin gave off the feeling of being modern, while at the same time having more history than any other place I visited. Zurich was a little stand-offish, clean and of course, rich. My appreciation and respect for other cultures have grown over the past few months; it is quite a different experience being a visitor in someone else’s country as opposed to simply learning about it while in the comfort of your own country.
For my research project, I tested the effect of a glaucoma drug, Latanoprost, on the collagen content of corneas in order to access the change in biomechanical properties of the cornea. This involved culturing corneas in one of two mediums, a control without the drug and a treatment medium with the drug. The corneas were cultured for 24 hours. After culture, the cornea samples were uniformly cut, homogenized, and put through a series of reactions to produce a mixture whose color reflected the concentration of collagen. After putting the samples through the spectrometer, the relative amounts of collagen were determined for the two treatment groups.
My data in this project matched my hypothesis that the treated corneas would have less collagen than the untreated corneas. However, this result is not statistically significant, so nothing can be concluded about the effect of the drug on corneal collagen content. With this conclusion, I learned a lot about how hard it is to conduct research. One may believe that they have considered all of the possibilities and factors in an experiment, but find that there was something they missed. Going into this project, I thought the ideas and concepts involved were interesting but not as much as other things I have learned about. As I would troubleshoot through the problems I encountered, I found it harder to stay motivated to do so because I wasn’t in love with what I was doing. I learned that it is really difficult to conduct a good research study if you are not completely invested because it needs a person’s all in order to succeed.
As I said in the previous response, I found out that I wasn’t as interested in ocular mechanics as I had thought. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad field to get into, it just means that I need to work in a field that I find more interesting in order to be happier and succeed. I have already made changes in order to do so. I have always known I was interested in neuroscience and how it can be augmented and treated using engineering but wasn’t aware that there was a laboratory on campus that did so until I was completing this project. After completing it, I told my principal investigator of the ocular mechanics lab that I was planning on moving on and she was very understanding. I contacted the professor of the neuroscience laboratory and he accepted me into his lab. In a broader sense, this project affected how I view my trajectory. I learned that I need to be having relevant experiences in order to be more successful and work in the field I hope to work in in the future. I also learned what motivates me and that I am most successful when I am working on these things.
During the summer I worked with Dr. Helen Chamberlin in the Department of Molecular Genetics. I continued my research project: C.elegans vs. C.briggsae lin-3/ EGF gene comparison. During the summer I identified one gene that gon-14 and that the gu102 mutant allele causes a splicing defect in this gene.
The mutation in gu102 mutant is changing how the splicing is occurring causing introduction of stop codon. The most common outcome of the mutation that we have is the failure to splice because of the stop codon. After identifying this gene through a series of experiments, I started to sequence the entire gene gon-14 gene of the C.briggsae mutants. I am currently doing experiments to determine how the gon-14 gene affects the EGF/lin-3 pathway. Previous experiments in C. elegans show that this gene has only a minor role in altering EGF signaling, arguing that the signaling network in C. briggsae is more sensitive to disruption of this gene compared to C. elegans.
The STEP experience helped me because the results of the research I did this summer will be included in my undergraduate research. I will be writing my undergraduate thesis during my senior year. Completing an undergraduate thesis will be a great accomplishment in my undergraduate career. I want to graduate with undergraduate research honors. Also, I want to continue presenting in research forums and symposiums (NMS Research Forum, Denman Research Forum, SACNAS National Conference, among others) to gain more experience in the research field. . I learned that I love research and I want to pursue a PhD in Neuroscience with a focus on molecular genetics and systems. Thus, helping shape my plans for the future in terms of Graduate School and the research topic for my PhD.
As I explained before, the STEP Undergraduate experience helped me realize that I want to pursue a PhD. During this experience, I realized that I love research and I want to purse a career as a researcher. In terms of academics, I will target my classes to fit the PhD Program requirements. I want to take several Graduate School courses on my last semester at OSU to be more prepared for Graduate School. As of my personal and life goals moving forward, the STEP experience helped me narrow my future plans. Now I know what I want to pursue a PhD degree and I also have a better idea in which area- Neuroscience with a Molecular/Cellular and System specialization. Moving forward, I will continue with my studies and will be applying to Graduate Schools next summer. I’m really grateful to have participated in the STEP Experience this past summer, this experience gave me an idea of my future plans and for that I am very thankful.
Molecular Genetics Lab
Presenting my research at the SACNAS National Conference in Los Angeles, California.