REWARDING WOMEN RESEARCHERS

By Chanapa Tantibanchachai

Chevron Foundation Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program award recipients

The Chevron Foundation Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program Award is a partnership between the Chevron Foundation and the U’s Office of Undergraduate Research to support female students working on science, technology, engineering and mathematics-specific projects. Award recipients received an automatic renewal of their Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program funding.

  1. Deanne Yugawa, “Determining the Effect of Sox9 Deletion in PTF1A Knockouts”
    Deanne Yugawa is a junior and is a member of Charles Murtaugh’s lab in the Department of Human Genetics. In the lab, she works with Sox9, a ductal determinant gene, and PTF1A, a protein that binds to specific DNA sequences and is essential to the development of cells in the pancreas that synthesize, store and secrete digestive enzymes. Yugawa’s work investigates the interplay between Sox9 and PTF1A and their role in the initiation of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, the most common type of pancreatic cancer. Yugawa initially got involved in research through the College of Science’s ACCESS Program for Women in Mathematics and Science, which places accepted students in a seven-week science course the summer after they graduate from high school. Through the ACCESS Program Yugawa was placed in a lab, where she fell in love with research. In her spare time, Yugawa is active in the U’s American Chemical Society Student Chapter and volunteers at the University Hospital. Ultimately, Yugawa hopes to attend medical school and pursue a M.D./Ph.D.
  1. Christina Hyer, “Influenza Vaccine Virus-Like Particle (VLP) Production in Trichoplusia ni
    Christina Hyer is a senior pursuing an honors bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering and is researching a universal flu vaccine. Normal seasonal flu vaccines vaccinate against three to four flu strains, but the flu virus mutates quickly, and as a result, seasonal flu vaccines quickly become outdated. Hyer’s lab is attempting to develop a vaccine that would be broadly protective against multiple strains of flu, even after mutation. This would make the vaccine capable of protecting against pandemic strains of flu to which the general population has little to no immunity. One aspect of this vaccine is using virus-like particles (VLPs) rather than traditional whole, killed or split virus vaccines. Normally vaccines sacrifice immunogenicity for safety, but since VLPs lack any genetic material that could infect a host cell, they can produce a strong immune response without worry for infection. Hyer’s specific project focuses on developing cheaper and more efficient production systems for these VLPs by using cabbage looper (Trichoplusia ni), a member of the moth family, larvae. When injected with viral stock, the larvae become “living bioreactors” and generate large quantities of VLPs cheaply and efficiently. Hyer started searching for research labs to volunteer in at the beginning of her sophomore year because she was always drawn to research. “Research always seemed liked something I wanted to participate in as an undergraduate. I love being involved in generating knowledge and being able to apply the principles taught in class to real-world problems,” she said. In addition to research, Hyer is also an ambassador for the College of Engineering and assists full-time university staff members with elementary, middle and high school outreach. This summer, Hyer will begin an internship with Edwards Lifesciences. When not in the lab or the classroom, Hyer can generally be found hiking, skiing, rock climbing or whatever else the season may call for. Ultimately, Hyer hopes to attend graduate school and work for a biomedical engineering company in the valley or in California.
  1. Emily Dennis, “Effect of HDAC Inhibition on Genome Stability”
    Emily Dennis is a junior pursuing an honors bachelor’s degree in biology whose research in the Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Bhaskara Lab involves investigating the effects of histone deacetylase inhibition on genome stability and DNA replication. This examination looks at the recruitment of key proteins and patterns of epigenetic modification, including histone modification and DNA methylation. Dennis first got involved in research during her first year in the Moran Eye Center’s Fu Lab after she was recommended for a lab assistant position by an upperclassman who was also involved in undergraduate research. On campus, Dennis is a biology tutor at the Biology Learning Center, is involved in the Biology Undergraduate Research Program and is part of the Honors Upper Division Science Cohort. Dennis is also vice president for the Organization for Women Leaders in Science, which provides opportunities for women in the sciences to network and get involved in research. During her spare time, Dennis is the Lead Office Volunteer for the Hospital Elder Life Program at the University Hospital. Ultimately, Dennis hopes to earn a doctorate in biochemistry and devote her life to research in epigenetics and cancer.

DAAD RISE Scholarship

The DAAD RISE Scholarship is a scholarship funded by the German government which places students from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom at various German universities to conduct summer research in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. Only 300 scholarships are given out each year.

  1. Oliver Richardson
    Oliver Richardson is a third year undergraduate student pursuing an honor’s bachelor’s degree in biology, as well as degrees in mathematics and computer science. Richardson was matched with Ruhr Universität Bochum in Bochum, Germany to work on a computational model of the interaction between semantic and episodic memory. “The existing model uses slow feature analysis to create a low-dimensional representation of semantic memory, and an algorithmic sequence storage network to model episodic memory; I will be working on extending this computational model to account for memory-driven category learning,” said Richardson. While in Germany, Richardson will also take a two-week language class in Munich.
  1. Elliot Lee
    Elliot Lee is a third year undergraduate student pursuing an honors bachelor’s
    degree in biology. Lee was matched with the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems in Magdeburg, Germany to conduct synthetic biology research. There, he will spend the summer learning more about the metabolic reactions of cells by creating metabolic pathways in tiny droplets of water. “I am absolutely stunned that I was given this amazing opportunity. I’m going to make the most of the experience by picking up new research techniques and learning about German language and culture,” said Lee.
  1. Naveen Rathi
    Naveen Rathi is a second year undergraduate student pursuing an honors bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering. Rathi was matched with the Hannover Medical School in Hannover, Germany, to conduct research addressing the urgent need for new vascular grafts used for replacing, bypassing or accessing damaged vessels. During his time in Hannover, Rathi will explore the use of tissue engineered grafts consisting of cells and other material derived from patients themselves. This is a promising alternative to synthetic materials and animal-derived vessels. In the lab, he will be working on cultivating cells, immunohistochemistry and bioreactor technology.“I am very excited for this opportunity because it not only gives me the opportunity to research something I’m passionate about, but also allows me to do it on an international level,” said Rathi. “As a student who plans to pursue a career in medicine as a physician, I think it’s important that we are aware of innovative research going on in the field. I also believe that the best work comes out of collaboration and interdisciplinary work, and I look forward to working with this group to work towards a solution to one of the most pressing problems in medicine today.”

 

Chanapa Tantibanchachai is an associate science writer at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at chanapa.t@utah.edu.