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The Beckman Research Scholars Awards are made possible by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation in support of truly exceptional undergraduate students who are committed to a research-based career in Biology or Chemistry. The Beckman Scholars will complete an Honors Thesis on their research.

The Schering-Plough Corporation funds exceptional students in Biology and Chemistry who are interested in a research or medical career.  Recipients of this prestigious award not only conduct Honors Thesis research at UCLA during the academic year, but participate in a special internship at Schering-Plough laboratories in the summer.

 

2006-2007 Beckman Scholars

Mr. Bryan Harada
Mr. Omid Kohannim
Ms. Alissa Minkovsky

2006-2007 Schering-Plough Scholars

Mr. Thomas Dunehew
Mr. Babak Hassanzadeh
Ms. Noa Simchoni

 

Mr. Thomas Dunehew
Mentor: Dr. Peggy Fong
Funding: Schering-Plough
Title: Examining the Relationship between Nitrogen Fixation Rates and other Abiotic Factors in Estuary Sediments

Thomas Dunehew is a third year undergraduate student majoring in psychobiology. Thomas conducts his research in Peggy Fong’s marine ecology lab under the guidance of graduate student Tonya Kane. Tonya’s research investigates nitrogen cycling in Upper Newport Bay Estuary. Estuaries are the interface between fresh water river systems and the ocean. They are highly productive and provide a habitat for numerous species, including endangered plants and animals. In many estuary environments nitrogen tends to limit productivity, however in southern California estuaries are highly eutrophied due to runoff from urbanized watersheds. Her work specifically investigates the microbial processes of nitrogen fixation and denitrification in estuary sediments. Nitrogen fixation is the transformation of atmospheric nitrogen (N 2) into ammonium ions (NH 4 +) and can be a source of nutrients in the system, while denitrification can remove nitrogen by transforming nitrate (NO 3 -) into atmospheric nitrous oxide (N 2 O) or nitrogen (N 2 ).

Thomas is contributing to this research by measuring sediment organic content, benthic chlorophyll levels, and grain sizes of sediments taken during a field survey of the estuary. He will determine values for these abiotic factors and examine any possible correlations between these variables, as well as water nutrients, and nitrogen fixation rates.

Over the summer of 2006, Thomas conducted his research at Schering Plough Research Institute in Kenilworth, New Jersey. There, Thomas performed a quantitative analysis of microglia response levels over time in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease and its response after being dosed with a therapy shown to reduce amyloid plaque levels in the hippocampal and cortical regions of the mouse brain. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by an abnormal aggregation and accumulation of A b-40,42 peptides in the brain resulting in the formation of amyloid plaques. Microglia are the body’s immune response to these plaques, and serve to remove them via phagocytosis. Thomas’s results showed that microglia activation and migration to these plaques significantly increased over time after the mice started to form plaques and that microglia response levels were not notably affected as a result of reduced plaque levels in the brain.

 

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Mr. Bryan Harada
Mentor: Dr. James Bowie
Funding: Beckman Scholar
Title: Structure and Function of the SAM Domain
of Diacylglycerol Kinase δ

Bryan is a third-year biochemistry major, mathematics minor researching under the direction of Dr. James Bowie in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. For his project, Bryan is studying the structure and function of diacylglycerol kinase δ (DGKδ). DGKδ is a member of a family of kinases which convert diacylglycerol to phosphatidic acid. Since both diacylglycerol and phosphatidic acid are important lipid second messengers, the DGK isozymes may play an important role in regulating the signaling pathways which involve these two molecules. DGKδ possesses a sterile alpha motif (SAM) domain, which is a conserved structural motif found in a variety of proteins. Most SAM domains mediate protein-protein interactions, and the SAM domain of DGKδ has been shown to mediate the homo-oligomerization of DGKδ. This oligomerization is thought to be involved in determining the intracellular localization of DGKδ. In order to study the role of this oligomerization, Bryan has developed a novel in vivo fusion-reporter screen to identify monomeric mutants of the SAM domain of DGKδ. Identification of these monomeric mutants will reveal which amino acid residues are critical for oligomer formation as well as provide mutant proteins for further biochemical, biophysical, and structural characterization. Ultimately, Bryan aims to map the oligomeric interface of the DGKδ and solve the structure of the SAM domain of DGKδ, so that he can use this structural information to study the function of DGKδ oligomerization in vivo. This information may give insight into the regulation of DGKδ’s activity and its role in intercellular signaling. After graduating from UCLA, Bryan plans to attend graduate school and pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry or biophysics.

 

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Mr. Babak Hassanzedah
Mentor: Dr. Kym Faull
Funding: Schering-Plough
Title: Identification of Differential Proteomic Biomarkers in Pancreatic Cystic Neoplasm Fluids

Babak Hassanzadeh is a fifth year undergraduate majoring in Chemistry and has been conducting research at the Pasarow Mass Spectrometry Lab since fall 2005. Under the mentorship of Dr. Kym Faull and Pete Souda, he uses proteomics to study pancreatic cyst cancer. It is crucial to distinguish between the different categories of pancreatic cysts since the various types require different clinical treatments. In an attempt to develop a superior protocol for preoperatively differentiating between cysts, he uses separation technologies, mainly 2D chromatography (iso-electric focusing followed by reverse phase) and two-dimensional electrophoresis (2DE), to fractionate proteins from pancreatic cyst fluid samples. These samples are provided by the Department of Endocrinology of the UCLA hospital. Proteins are then identified by LC-MS/MS using the Qstar XL mass spectrometer and the MASCOT database. Overlay of the two-dimensional maps of different classes of samples can help in identifying the proteins that are closely associated with a certain category of pancreatic cyst. The identification of distinct novel protein patterns will aid in the differentiation of pancreatic cyst neoplasms and help identify novel proteins or protein patterns which may more accurately predict pancreatic cyst pathology preoperatively. This research opportunity has given Babak the chance to experience the connection between clinical medicine in endocrinology and research in basic sciences such as chemistry.

This summer, Babak participated in a summer internship program at Schering Plough pharmaceuticals in New Jersey. His research was in medicinal chemistry, involving the chemical synthesis of a new drug that relieves nasal congestion. He would like to thank Schering Plough for their generous funding and the great summer research experience they provided him.

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Mr. Omid Kohannim
Mentor: Dr. Aldons J. Lusis
Funding: Beckman Scholar
Title: Discovering Potential Candidate Genes for
Hypercholesterolemia in Mouse Models

(Left to Right) Dr. Peter Gargalovic, Omid Kohannim, Dr. Aldons J. Lusis

Omid Kohannim is a fourth-year Honors Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics major, Mathematics minor student pursuing a research project under the mentorship of Dr. Aldons J. Lusis in the Depatment of Medicine at UCLA. Omid is investigating the genetic components of hypercholesterolemia, a major risk factor of atherosclerosis, in mouse models. This positional cloning project began when a Quantitative Trait Locus (QTL) was identified in mouse chromosome 15, correlating with differences in blood cholesterol between two particular strains of mice: Balb/cJ and MRL/mpJ. These two strains of mice were then bred for many generations in a selective way in order for potential candidate genes to be identified. Omid compared the nucleotide sequence and mRNA expression levels of these genes between the two strains, and found Zhx2, a known zinc-finger transcription factor, to be differentially expressed. This suggested that Zhx2 is regulating a gene that plays a role in biochemical pathways relevant to cholesterol. Currently, siRNA, microarray and transgenic experiments are being conducted to confirm this proposed function of Zhx2 both in mice and human cells. Omid plans to pursue medical practice and research in the future. He is thankful to Dr. Aldons J. Lusis as well as the Beckman Foundation for providing him with this research opportunity.

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Ms. Alissa Minkovsky
Mentor: Dr. Christopher Denny
Funding: Beckman Scholar
Title: Establishing stable expression of EWS/FLI1 in primary cell lines in the search to find a Ewing's Sarcoma cell of origin

Left to right: Christopher Denny, Alissa Minkovsky, and Gary Potikyan

Ewing’s sarcoma is a poorly lethal pediatric cancer characterized by a chromosomal translocation that results in the juxtaposition of the EWS gene on chromosome 22 with one of five different ETS family transcription factors of chromosome 11, the most common of which is the Fli1 gene. Alissa Minkovsky, a Junior Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics Major, is studying this EWS/Fli1 chimeric gene in the lab of Dr. Christopher Denny her first year here at UCLA. She is working, with the guidance of Gary Potikyan, towards attaining stable expression of the EWS/Fli1 protein in murine embryonic stem cells by altering tumor suppression pathways in order to come closer to finding the cell of origin in EFTs. Stable expression of EWS/Fli1 has been achieved in NIH3T3 murine cell lines which already possess numerous mutations in tumor suppression pathway genes but expression has been toxic to most primary cell lines. Strong evidence exists that alteration of the INK4a/ARF network, is necessary for oncogenesis in Ewing’s. The knockdown of p16, a protein that is upstream in the p53 and RB tumor suppressor pathways, will hopefully make expression of EWS/Fli1 stable in mouse embryonic cells so that the cell types that do tolerate expression of EWS/Fli1 when the ES cells are differentiated in an tetracycline-inducible system can be identified. Alissa is studying towards a MD/PhD and a career in biomedical research.

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Ms. Noa Simchoni
Mentor: Dr. Genhong Cheng
Funding: Schering-Plough Scholar
Title: Differentiating Early-Stage Viral and Bacterial Lung Infections via Innate Immune Responses

(left to right: Dr. Genhong Cheng, Noa Simchoni, Dr. Paul Dempsey)

Noa Simchoni is a fourth year student, double majoring in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics and in Psychology. She has been working in the lab of Dr. Genhong Cheng since Fall Quarter of 2004. The lab focuses on host immune and inflammatory responses to infections, cancers and metabolic challenges. Noa has focused on the innate immune system, starting off by looking at signaling through conserved molecular pathways related to Toll signaling through NFkB. Since mid 2005, she has been focused on determining which soluble inflammatory mediators are involved in very early host responses to bacterial and viral infections. For successful clearance, these two infection types require vastly different acquired immune responses. Based on the assumption that the early-stage innate immune response to these infections should direct the acquired response, the early responses should be able to differentiate between infections of either type. The eventual goal of this project is to generate a panel of soluble mediators capable of differentiating the two infection types given a blood sample. Such a panel could serve as an early detection mechanism for identifying contact with an agent and could assist in identifying at-risk prior to symptom development and full blown illness. After graduation, Noa is interested in participating in Teach For America prior to pursuing a joint MD/PhD degree.

Noa is grateful for the research opportunity given by Dr. Cheng and the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. She would also like to thank Dr. Paul Dempsey and the rest of the Cheng lab for their guidance and support.

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Profiles of Students