Spring 2015 Burnett Research Scholars Grant Recipients

 

Rebekah Karadeema

Major: Chemistry – Biochemistry Track

Faculty mentor:  Dr. Dmitry Kolpashchikov

Project title: General Method for Analysis of Nucleic Acid Structures by Deoxyribozyme Sensors

Project summary:

This project aims at developing a new method for analysis of nucleic acid structures. By taking advantage of recent developments in synthetic biology and DNA nanotechnology, we designed a highly selective and sensitive deoxyribozyme sensor to target RNA secondary structures in order to make determinations about their stability at near physiological conditions. Experimental methods for studying RNA structures are lacking, so this method provides an easy, inexpensive way to probe secondary structures in the aim to understand their function. It is important to study and understand RNA structures as all cells use RNA to regulate cellular processes, induce gene expression, and control cellular functions; these are vital cellular processes that need to be working properly in order for a cell and organism to live. Correct RNA processing and folding is essential to performing its function. For instance, one proposed cause of Alzheimer's disease the mis-folding of RNA. Cellular processes can be distorted or completely halted if RNAs are folded improperly. Because of how integral RNA is to all of life, new research methods for studying its structure. The proposed method promises to replace traditional methods in analysis of RNA secondary structures.

What is your area of research interest?

As a biochemist, I am greatly interested in understanding how and why certain cellular processes work and function. Not only do I want to understand how the cell works, but I want to uncover what happens when things go awry, and what therapies we, as scientists, can use to help fix them. So, in my undergraduate research, I am developing a new, fundamental method for studying nucleic acid structures.

How did you get started in undergraduate research?

In Fall 2013, I took my first biochemistry class with Dr. Kolpashchikov. His intellectually challenging and stimulating course helped me fully realize and better understand my love for biochemistry and the scientific world. I was enthralled by how I could apply my love for chemistry to biological systems. So in Spring 2014, I went to talk to Dr. Kolpashchikov and mentioned I wanted to start undergraduate research, and he invited me to join his lab, as he had a project in mind for me.

How will the Burnett Research Scholars grant help you to achieve the goals of your research project?

The Burnett Research Scholars grant will help fund purchasing supplies for my research. Working with RNA requires the highest quality reagents and conditions in order to prevent contamination, which would destroy RNA analytes and ruin experiments. These high quality reagents and research tools are expensive and are usually one time use, so this grant will help me continue my research by being able to purchase the tools and reagents needed.

What are your future academic and professional goals?

I am graduating with a degree in Chemistry, focusing in Biochemistry, Spring 2015. I will then attend graduate school at UCF to continue my research with Dr. Kolpashchikov and earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry. After obtaining a Ph.D., I hope to become a professor at the university level where I hope to inspire others to love science and discovery through teaching and research. As one who hopes to have a research lab of my own, conducting and learning about every aspect of research at such a young age is very exciting and an invaluable experience.

In your opinion, what is the best thing about being an undergraduate researcher?

I enjoy the independence that undergraduate research gives me. With the direction and guidance of Dr. Kolpashchikov, I am developing my independent thinking and problem solving skills. I am able to think way more critically and analytically than I did in the past because of the demands and requirements of undergraduate research. These skills and thinking habits are critical to success in the scientific community, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to develop my skills as an undergraduate. I also have a sense of pride in my work that I never had before. Once I have accomplished creating and establishing this probing method, my work will live on and be used by other researchers. I have a sense of attachment and pride in what we are creating for the research community. Undergraduate research is also fantastic at getting me plugged into the scientific community through reading research papers and discovering what is new and ground-breaking in my science; I think this is important for anybody looking to get into the scientific field.  I also greatly enjoy the interactions I am able to have with Dr. Kolpashchikov and the rest of the laboratory group. The camaraderie among the researchers is present, and Dr. Kolpashchikov is always available for advice. I think my favorite part may be that there is always so much more to learn and discover.

  

 

Morgan McSweeney

Major: Biomedical Sciences (Major), Cognitive Sciences (Minor)

Faculty mentor: Dr. Alexander Cole

Project title: A novel 3-dimensional bioengineered human nose to accurately model nasal carriage of staphylococcus aureus

Project summary:

I am designing a model of the human mucosa that is intended to more closely represent the in vivo condition than standard petri dishes or transwells.

What is your area of research interest?

Mucosal immunology, host-pathogen interactions, in vitro modelling.

How did you get started in undergraduate research?

I first attended the Summer Research Academy, and then began an HIM Thesis. Since then I've been involved with PILOT, PURE, and a UCF COM student's FIRE project.

How will the Burnett Research Scholars grant help you to achieve the goals of your research project?

The BRS grant will help achieve the goals of this project by providing funding for things such as tissue culture supplies, cell lines, polymer, etc.

What are your future academic and professional goals?

I am currently interviewing at PhD programs in the Biomedical Sciences. I will be starting a PhD program in Fall 2015.

In your opinion, what is the best thing about being an undergraduate researcher?

The best parts of undergraduate research (in my experience and opinion) are split: First, it gave me insight into the world of academic research, and paved the path toward a PhD. I have been able to gain a realistic idea about the realities of research, while simultaneously building experience for my resume. Secondly, research is an intellectually challenging and stimulating endeavor. The experience of designing and carrying out a real project to address a particular question is unlike anything that you can truly achieve in classes (even lab-based classes). 

  

Zina Versfeld

Major: Biomedical Sciences

Faculty mentor: Dr. Kyle Rohde

Project title: Development of a Fluorescent Drug Screening Platform for Inhibitors of M. tuberculosis Protein-Protein Interactions.

Project summary:

Tuberculosis (TB) is a respiratory disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis that kills ~1.5 million people annually.  Multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) strains are increasingly encountered, in part resulting from shortcomings of current TB drug regimens. The drug regimen for those diagnosed with TB can last between six to nine months. Due to the length of treatment, patients may stop taking the antibiotics during their allotted regimen, leading to drug resistant TB strains. Novel drug screening platforms are necessary to find drugs effective against MDR-TB. In order to discover compounds that target under-exploited pathways that may be essential only in vivo, the proposed screening platform will use a novel approach to drug discovery by blocking essential protein-protein interactions.

What is your area of research interest?

I am interested in biomedical research. I am currently working in Dr. Rohde’s Tuberculosis research lab at the UCF Lake Nona Health Sciences Campus.

How did you get started in undergraduate research?

I started getting involved by participating in research programs offered at UCF, such as Summer Research Academy (SRA) offered by the Office of Undergraduate Research, the Program of Undergraduate Research Excellence (PURE), and Honors in the Major (HIM).

How will the Burnett Research Scholars grant help you to achieve the goals of your research project?

The Burnett Research Scholars grant is helping me achieve my goals by helping with obtaining equipment and reagents necessary for the experiments performed in the lab. The grant has made a tremendous impact in helping me achieve my research goals.

What are your future academic and professional goals?

I would like to become a physician and practice medicine using the skills, knowledge, and perseverance I have acquired while working in the lab.

In your opinion, what is the best thing about being an undergraduate researcher?

Learning through hands-on problem solving and critical thinking is an amazing experience as an undergraduate researcher. I enjoy having my own project that I am working on, and the completion and timeliness of the project is dependent on how we are able to problem solve in the lab. Being exposed to research as an undergraduate has also opened my eyes to a realm of academia and research community that I had not yet encountered – it is fun to share in the learning experience with others who are involved in research!