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The Undergraduate Research
Scholars Program

2008-2009


Ms. Reena Bakshi
Ms. Tamara Bendahan
Ms. Sarah Bittick
Ms. Sarah Briley
Ms. Gloria Chi
Ms. Jenny Dinh
Ms. Stephanie Dong
Ms. Kelly Fan
Ms. Danielle Farzam
Ms. Briana Fodor
Mr. Steven Gardner
Ms. Monica Gobrial
Mr. David Goldenberg
Mr. Peter Greene

Ms. Reena Bakshi
Mentor: Mr. Gal Bitan
Funding: Alcott Scholar
Title: Investigating the Effects of a Novel Small Molecule Inhibitor on Amyloid-β Fibrils

Left to Right: Dr. Gal Bitan, Reena Bakshi, Dr. Sharmistha Sinhas

Reena is currently a fourth year student majoring in Physiological Science. She began working in Dr. Gal Bitan’s lab during Summer 2007 and under his and Dr. Sharmishtha Sinhas’s guidance has been able to learn much about the many different ways being studied to combat Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by dementia. Pathologically it consists of plaque deposits and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. The proteinaceous component of these plaques include Amyloid-β (Aβ), which exists in two major forms: Aβ40 and Aβ42. Reena’s previous work primarily focused on testing the ability small molecules to inhibit the formation of fibrils by Aβ40 and Aβ42. Currently, she is testing this same inhibitor against other amyloidogenic proteins, such as β2-Microglobulin, Insulin, Prion, Calcitonin, and Lysozyme.

Reena is very grateful for the support and mentorship she has been receiving from Dr. Bitan throughout her time in the lab. She has gained invaluable experiences and is truly thankful for his continued assistance. Reena would also like to thank Dr. Sinhas for her patience and constant stimulation in pushing her towards greater scientific excellence.

 

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Ms. Tamara Bendahan
Mentor: Dr. Joshua Trachtenberg
Funding: Alcott Scholar
Title: Impact of Quality and Noise on the Development and Maintenance of Retinotopic Maps

Tamara Bendahan and Dr. Joshua Trachtenberg

Tamara Bendahan is a 4th year Psychobiology major with a minor in Biomedical Research. She has been conducting research in the lab of Dr. Joshua Trachtenberg since Spring 2008. Under the guidance of Ryan Wyatt, a Post Doctoral student, Tamara studies the effect of quality and noise in the development and maintenance of retinotopic maps.

Past studies have suggested that early visual experience ultimately sculpts and consolidates the retinotopic maps within the visual cortex into its adult form. Diminished refinement of cortical maps during what is termed the critical period has been implicated in autism spectrum disorders. Previous experiments have shown that deprivation of visual stimuli through eye suturing during the critical period, prevents the normal pruning of retinotopic maps. However, recent evidence has suggested that the quantity of information entering the visual cortex may not play as fundamental a role as the quality (signal: noise). This will be this first study to utilize a novel, non-invasive, temporally precise mechanism to add “noise” to the visual cortex at various points in development.

After graduating, Tamara hopes to attend medical school and continue research in the field of Neurobiology. She would like to thank Alcott Estates for their generous scholarship, URC/CARE for providing her with this opportunity, and Dr. Joshua Trachtenberg and the members of the Trachtenberg lab for their guidance and support.

 

 

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Ms. Sarah Joy Bittick
Mentor: Dr. Peggy Fong
Funding: Miller Scholar
Title:
Batis maritima as a facilitator for salt marsh plant growth into salt pannes

Sarah Joy Bittick, Sarah Bryson and Dr. Peggy Fong

Sarah Joy Bittick is a forth year marine biology major who plans on pursuing a career in marine ecology research especially as in pertains to environmental policy and community education. For the past three years she has been a student in Dr. Peggy Fong’s lab in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. The first two years she worked on various projects as a part of the Student Research Program (SRP). Last spring she went with Dr. Fong on the Marine Biology Quarter (MBQ) to Mo’orea and gained valuable independent research experience.

Sarah Joy’s current project began in July 2008 and will be continued throughout the 2008-2009 academic year thanks to support through the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. Sarah Joy is studying the ability of the salt marsh plant Batis maritima to facilitate the growth of other salt marsh plants into areas, called salt pannes, with very harsh conditions as a result of some sort of disturbance. These salt pannes are bare of any vegetation and for this reason have very little moisture in the soil and are more saline than other areas since water evaporates so quickly. Salt pannes are often formed when a large storm causes debris, called wrack, to wash up with the tide. This layer of wrack kills the underlying plants and leaves the soil bare. At this point, it is very difficult for most marsh plants to recolonize the area largely because of the increased salinity. However, Batis is more tolerant of the saline conditions and it is often found to be the initial colonizer in these disturbed areas. Batis ameliorates the harsh soil conditions, potentially increasing the ability of other marsh plants to colonize the salt pannes. In December 2008, Sarah Joy will be transplanting 120 Salicornia plants, which is a common salt marsh species, into salt pannes in the salt marsh at Point Mugu Naval Air Base in Ventura County. These plants will be divided among 20 sites, 10 of which have Batis and 10 do not, and growth and survival will be recorded weekly throughout the winter and spring. Sarah Joy’s hypothesis is that growth and survival rates will be higher in the sites that also have Batis growing within them. If this is the case, one mechanism responsible for recovery in the salt marsh ecosystem will be better understood. Sarah Joy has also collected soil samples from each of her sites and is analyzing the salinity in areas with and without Batis to see if salinity is lower in areas in which Batis is growing.

Sarah Joy would like to thank the Miller Family for the Holmes O. Miller Scholarship, Dr. Fong for her support of undergraduate research, and Sarah Bryson for allowing Sarah Joy to work on this project and for help with the experimental design.

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Ms. Sarah Briley
Mentor: Dr,. Peggy Fong
Funding: Miller Scholar
Title: Factors affecting reproduction of a temperate reef fish, Lythrypnus dalli, and consequent implications in population regulation

Dr. Peggy Fong, Sarah Briley and Sara Painter

Sara Briley is a fourth year student majoring in marine biology.  She has been working in the Fong lab since her second year starting in fall of 2006.  She was also fortunate enough to study with Dr. Fong in Mo’orea, French Polynesia Spring of 2008 in UCLA’s Marine Biology Quarter.  Dr. Fong’s research centers on the importance of disturbance in controlling community structure in various coastal ecosystems.  Throughout the years she has been able to hone her research skills working on a variety of projects under this theme. 

This past summer, Sara worked as a research/dive assistant for Dr. Fong’s graduate student Sara Painter conducting research on Catalina Island.  Briley and Painter are interested in understanding population dynamics, specifically density dependent control of population sizes through regulation of reproduction.  Much work has been done on the effect of mortality on population regulation, but Briley and Painter are interested in the role of reproduction in population regulation and what factors are involved in determining the reproductive rate contributing to this population regulation.  In the specific experiment conducted this summer, they are looking at how population size and size of individuals in a population affects the reproductive output of a species of fish, Lythrypnus dalli, the Catalina blue banded goby. 

Sara will be graduating this spring and plans to pursue a career in marine conservation, either through research, education, or non-profit work.  She wishes to thank the Wasserman family for their generous contribution and Dr. Fong, Sara Painter and the rest of the lab for their guidance and enthusiasm.

 

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Ms. Gloria Chi
Mentor: Dr. James Waschek
Funding: Boyer Scholar
Title:
The interaction of oxysterols and the Liver X receptor pathway with Sonic hedgehog signaling in medulloblastoma cells

(Dr. James Waschek, Gloria Chi, Dr. Pawel Niewiadomski)

Gloria is a fourth year student majoring in Biology and minoring in Public Health. She is continuing her fourth year of research at Dr. Waschek's lab under the guidance of Dr. Pawel Niewiadomski.

Sonic hedgehog (Shh) is a protein involved in the development of the nervous system by defining the polarity of various tissues along the anterior/posterior and dorsal/ventral axes in vertebrates and invertebrates. The formation of human tumors such as medulloblastoma (MB), which arise from granule cell precursors (GCPs), is associated with constitutively active Shh mutants. Loss of function of the PATCHED (PTCH) tumor suppressor gene is the most common cause of constitutively active Shh. The protein product of this gene is the 12-trans-memberane-spanning Shh receptor Patched1 (Ptc1).

Specific products of sterol synthesis, including cholesterol and specific oxysterols, are required for Shh pathway signal transduction in MB cells. Impaired sterol synthesis causes a decreased response of the cell to Shh. Liver X receptors (LXRs) are members of a family of nuclear hormone receptors and have a variety of physiological functions such as lipid and glucose metabolism and cholesterol homeostasis. LXRs are activated by specific oxysterols, which may activate Hh signaling.

The purpose of this project is to investigate the importance of oxysterol and Liver X receptor signaling in the pathogenesis of MB. Gloria will use a cell line (MB1717) derived from a Ptc heterozygous mouse model containing MB. She will use several different oxysterols that have different affinities for Liver X receptor as well as specific activators of the Liver X receptor pathway to investigate the pathway and interaction of oxysterols and Liver X receptor.

Gloria plans to obtain an MD, MPH after graduating from UCLA. She would like to thank Dr. Waschek, Dr. Pawel Niewiadomski and the Waschek Lab for their help, support, and encouragement. She would also like to thank the Boyer Scholarship Foundation and URC/CARE for giving her this excellent opportunity

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Ms. Jenny Dinh
Mentor: Dr. Utpal Banerjee
Funding: Boyer Scholar
Title: Functional and expression-based analysis of Transaldolase (TAL) in Drosophila melanogastor

Dr. John Olson and Jenny Dinh

Jenny is a fourth year majoring in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology and minoring in Biomedical Research. Since her first research experience as a second year in the HHMI-funded Undergraduate Research Consortium in Functional Genomics (URCFG), Jenny became fascinated with the Drosophila model system, and using genetics to dissect the expression and function of uncharacterized genes. Under the mentorship of Dr. Uptal Banerjee and Dr. John Olson, she is currently characterizing an enhancer-trap line inserted near Tal in the Drosophila genome by using a novel lineage tracing system to mark real-time expression with red fluorescent protein (RFP) and past expression with green fluorescent protein (GFP). Transaldolase (TAL) is an enzyme of the pentose phosphate pathway ( PPP), which produces NADPH and ribose 6-phosphate for nucleotide incorporation. NADPHs produced in this pathway are essential for lipid biosynthesis and thus proper myelination of nerve cells. Previous human studies have implicated TAL in multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease leading to progressive loss of oligodendrocytes and demyelination in the central nervous system. A recent clinical study conducted by British researchers reported that a leukemia drug, alemtuzumab , significantly halts and even reverse the effects of MS. Combined with our preliminary characterization in the imaginal eye discs and lymph gland of the Drosophila larvae, Tal holds a promising link between hematopoiesis and MS. Thus, this project will provide valuable insights into MS and the regulation of hematopoiesis in humans.

Jenny will be attending pharmacy school after graduating from UCLA this Spring. Last but not least, she would like to extend her gratitude to Dr. Uptal Banerjee and Dr. John Olson for their support and giving her the opportunity to contribute to their research efforts. Also thanks to Tina and Dr. Ira Clark for their invaluable advice.

 

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Ms. Stephanie Dong
Mentor: Dr. Barney Schlinger
Funding: Alcott Scholar
Title: The Effect of Steroid Hormones on Cell Proliferation in the Ventricular Zone of the Adult Zebra Finch Brain

Anahid Mirzatoni, Stephanie Dong, Dr. Barney Schlinger

Stephanie Dong is a fourth-year student majoring in Physiological Science, with a minor in Asian Languages. She has been conducting research in Dr. Barney Schlinger’s neuroendrocinology laboratory in the Department of Physiological Science since her third year.

Stephanie has been focusing on the acute effects of steroid hormones on cell proliferation in the
ventricular zones of the adult zebra finch songbird brain in vitro. Steroid hormones are involved
in (1) producing cells that later migrate to the telencephalonic song nuclei, where they become
active neurons in the zebra finch song pathway, and (2) sexual dimorphism in the brain. However, the exact roles of specific hormones and the process by which these hormones affect sexual dimorphism are not well understood.

Stephanie tested the acute effects of aminoglutethimide and ketoconazole, which are inhibitors of the CYP11A1 and CYP17 enzymes, respectively. CYP11A1, or side-chain cleavage, catalyzes the conversion of cholesterol to pregnenolone. CYP17 catalyzes the conversion of progestin or prengnane precursors into androgens. Stephanie has also investigated the role of estradiol
directly in her studies, and is currently working on a study involving the difference in cell proliferation between short-term and long-term incubation periods. For all her studies, Stephanie has been using a brain cell culture method that subjects the brain slices to a series of incubations for the purpose of reducing endogenous factors, treatment, and fixation, followed by immunocytochemistry techniques to visually label the proliferated cells. With the other members of her lab, Stephanie hopes to make a comprehensive analysis of the different steroid hormones and inhibitors that have been used, which will hopefully elucidate a clearer picture of the role of steroid hormones on cell proliferation in the zebra finch brain.

Stephanie will be graduating in spring of 2009 and pursuing medical school afterwards. She would like to thank and express her appreciation for Dr. Barney Schlinger and Ms. Anahid Mirzatoni for their continued support, guidance, and patience, as well as the rest of the Schlinger lab. Stephanie also sincerely thanks the Rosalind Alcott Estate and URC/CARE for supporting
her research and her interest in neuroendocrinology.

 

 

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Mr. Kelly Fan
Mentor: Dr. Michael Teitell
Funding: Alcott Scholar
Title:
Elucidating the Role of PNPase in Maintaining Mitochondrial Homeostasis

Mr. Kelly Fan and Dr. Michael Teitell

Kelly Fan is a fourth year MIMG major. He is currently conducting research in Michael Teitell’s laboratory. The Teitell Lab studies a 14-kDa oncoprotein T cell leukemia/lymphoma 1 (TCL1) whose dysregulation contributes to the development of mature B and T cell leukemias and lymphomas in humans and transgenic mice. The Teitell Lab recently identified polynucleotide phosphorylase (PNPase), an 85-kDa evolutionarily conserved 3’ to 5’ exoribonuclease and RNA polymerase, as a binding partner for TCL1. It has established that PNPase localizes in the intermembrane space of the mitochondria and is critical in maintaining mitochondrial homeostasis.

Kelly’s current project aims at determining whether the catalytic activities of PNPase are necessary for maintaining mitochondrial function. To determine whether the catalytic activities of PNPase are necessary for mitochondrial homeostasis maintenance, Kelly plans to perform PNPase reconstitution experiments with PNPase knockout cells. PNPase loxP/loxP mouse embryonic fibroblast (MEF) cells from PNPase conditional knockout mice have been isolated. Full-length PNPase, deletion mutants of PNPase, and catalytically inactive point mutants of PNPase will be expressed in the PNPase knockout cells by viral infection followed by knocking out endogenous PNPase. Kelly will then construct growth assay curves on MEF cells with endogenous PNPase knocked-out and those without PNPase knocked-out to determine whether the rescue of mitochondrial dysfunction requires the catalytic activity of PNPase.

After graduating from UCLA, Kelly plans attend medical school. Kelly would like to thank Dr. Michael Teitell and everyone in the Teitell laboratory. He would also like to graciously thank his donors for their support.

 

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Ms. Danielle Farzam
Mentor: Dr. Anahid Jewett
Funding: Alcott Scholar
Title:
Monocyte Induced Tumor Cell Resistance to Natural Killer Cell Cytotoxicity

Dr. Anahid Jewett and Danielle Farzam

Danielle Farzam is a fourth year undergraduate student majoring in Neuroscience. She has been working in the Weintraub Center for Reconstructive Biotechnology in the UCLA School of Dentistry under the guidance of Dr. Anahid Jewett since April 2007.

Dr. Jewett’s lab studies the interactions between immune cell effectors and tumor cells in order to determine the mechanisms for induction of survival and resistance in tumors during cancer. They have found the transcription factor NFkB to be the essential survival and resistance factor in tumor cells, thereby inactivating the function of Natural Killer cells. Additionally, they have identified monocytes as the primary immune cells responsible for upregulating the NFkB transcription factor, and thus promoting tumor resistance.

Danielle is currently working to determine the mechanisms for induced resistance in oral tumor cells. She has identified NFkB as a primary factor in oral tumor survival as well as the ability of monocytes to upregulate NFkB in oral tumors. She is in the process of determining the mechanism for this immune cell- tumor cells interaction by studying the levels of secreted cytokines, Natural Killer cell mediated cytotoxicity, and the expression of cell surface receptors. Further, she plans to subject the tumor cells and immune cells to various immunological therapies in order to inhibit monocyte inactivation of Natural Killer cell function, and ultimately induce tumor cell death. The goals of her research are to contribute to immunological therapy for oral cancer.

Danielle will be graduating from UCLA in Spring of 2009 and attending Dental school in the Fall. She would like to thank Dr. Jewett and the Weintraub Center research team for all their guidance throughout her research endeavors. She would also like to extend her sincere gratitude to the UCLA URC/ CARE Center and the Rosalind W. Alcott Estate for supporting and encouraging her research interests.

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Ms. Briana Fodor
Mentor: Dr. Peggy Fong
Funding: Bonner Scholar
Title:
The effects of sedimentation, nutrient increases, and herbivore decreases on percent coral cover in the coral reefs of Isla Contadora, Panama

Dr. Peggy Fong and Briana Fodor

Briana Fodor is a fourth year Marine Biology major. She has been working in the lab of Dr. Peggy Fong since 2008, under the mentorship of Ranjan Muthukrishnan. Briana will be looking at the effects of sedimentation, nutrient increases, and the lack of herbivores on coral reefs.

Coral reefs are very important ecosystems to tropical regions of the world, where people rely on them both economically and culturally. During the summer of 2008 Briana traveled to Isla Contadora, Panama with Mr. Muthukrishnan to set up a long term research project that will look at what effect sedimentation, nutrient increases, and lack of herbivory have on the percent cover of coral. These sites were set up during mid September, and every two weeks Mr. Muthukrishnan, who is still in Panama, will be taking photo quadrats of these sites and sending them to Briana. She will then be analyzing these pictures throughout the year by calculating the percent cover of coral and algae in each. These three conditions, which are all changes potentially caused by humans, are projected to cause a decrease in percent coral cover and an increase in algal cover, greatly harming the global tropical communities.

Briana would like to give a huge thanks to Dr. Fong and Mr. Muthukrishnan; without their guidance and support she would not be able to conduct this research. She would also like to thank the URC/ CARE and the Bonner Estate Scholarship.

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Mr. Steven Gardner
Mentor: Dr. Anna Taylor
Funding: Alcott Scholar
Title: Injury severity and dexamethasone treatment differentially modify hippocampal neuron density and neuroendocrine outcomes of Traumatic Brain
Injury (TBI)


Steven Gardner and Dr. Anna Taylor

Stephen Gardner is a fourth year undergraduate student majoring in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics (MIMG) with a minor in
Neuroscience.  He is currently applying to medical school and has an interest in diagnostic medicine.   He began researching in Dr. Anna N. Taylor's lab during fall quarter of his second year at UCLA. After a year of
working for her, he became assigned to the traumatic brain injury (TBI) studies.  The most common battlefield injury is brain trauma and since the mechanisms of TBI are unclear, much basic research in TBI is needed. 

Sponsored by the Veterans Administration, the Taylor lab is looking to characterize the effects of TBI with a rat model.  Stephen is specifically working to measure the changes of the body's response to stress after TBI and elucidate the pathways affected. Normally, when the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis of the central nervous system is activated by stress, the body responds by producing corticosterone (cortisol in humans), eliciting the fight-or-flight response.  The Taylor lab hypothesizes that TBI damages the hippocampus, the master regulator of the HPA axis, thereby altering the negative feedback of corticosterone production.  The lab is currently using injections of dexamethasone, an analog of corticosterone, to measure the effectiveness of the feedback loop.  Stephen is also working to examine post-TBI brain to look for neuronal changes that may explain the behavioral and physiological differences.

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Ms. Monica Gobrial
Mentor: Dr. David Shapiro
Funding: Alcott Scholar
Title: Physiological Characteristics of Traditional Chinese Medicine Based IBS Subgroups

Monica Gobrial and Dr. David Shapiro

Monica Gobrial is an undergraduate in her senior year at UCLA majoring in Psychobiology. She is working in the UCLA Psychophysiology lab under the guidance of Dr. David Shapiro. Her research focus is exploring stress responses in patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and exploring the biological characteristics of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic functional gastrointestinal disorder characterized by recurrent symptoms of abdominal pain or discomfort combined with alteration in bowel function. IBS is thought to be a stress-related disorder and affects approximately 15% of the U.S. population. Dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system is hypothesized to contribute to the symptoms seen in IBS. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views IBS patients as a population whose digestive symptoms result from a broader underlying multisystemic imbalance and dysregulation. Monica is working with the lab to investigate TCM patterns of dysregulation in IBS and to help discover novel diagnostic and treatment approaches to IBS.

Monica would like to extend her sincere gratitude to Dr. Shapiro for his guidance and encouragement and to Dr. Audrey Cramer and URC/CARE for their support.

 

 

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Mr. David Goldenberg
Mentor: Dr. Warren Grundfest
Funding: Alcott Scholar
Title: Ultrasound Phantoms for the Characterization of Novel Transducers

David Goldenberg and Dr. Warren Grundfest

David Goldenberg has worked with Dr. Warren Grundfest since Spring 2007 in the Department of Bioengineering, researching hard and soft tissue mimicking materials for the construction of ultrasound phantoms. Ultrasound phantoms are substances that mimic the ultrasonic properties of specific tissues.

Ultrasound imaging has been used to detect density or acoustic impedance changes in tissues. It can be utilized in air- or water-filled organs, at bone/soft tissue interfaces, and with foreign objects in soft tissue. Ultrasound imaging of soft tissues is well established, but the imaging of hard tissue surfaces and abnormalities has not found widespread clinical ap­plication in the United States. Hard tissue phantoms that mimic the acoustic properties of human tissues are required to better understand the interaction of acoustic waves with bones and joints in order to develop and calibrate ultrasound imaging systems. Because several studies have demonstrated accurate soft tissue phantoms, David is developing hard tissue mimicking materials for the characterization of the lab’s novel flexible, conformable ultrasound transducer. After being able to craft phantoms that accurately mimic speed of sound, acoustic impedance, and attenuation of bone, David will design a novel anthropomorphic phantom consisting of fractured hard tissue submerged in soft tissue to simulate a broken bone in vivo.

 

 

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Mr. Peter Greene
Mentor: Dr. Verne Schumaker
Funding: Alcott Scholar
Title: Characterization of Pre-β HDL and its effects on reverse cholesterol transport

Dr. Verne Schumaker and Peter Greene

Peter Greene is a 27 year old transfer student who is in his senior year at UCLA. He is planning to graduate in the spring with a BS degree in biochemistry. After performing professionally as a ballet dancer throughout the country for five years, Peter discovered a passion for science and formed a new dream of becoming a doctor. To that end, he pursued his dream at UCLA where for the past nine months he has been able to work in Dr. Verne Schumaker’s lab focused on lipid research.

Through the characterization of proteins associated with HDL, the good cholesterol, Dr. Schumaker’s lab endeavors to elucidate the causes of atherosclerosis. Most recently, Dr. Schumaker’s lab has begun a project to clarify the mechanism by which new HDL is formed and altered in the body to eliminate cholesterol from the peripheral cells of the body, a process called reverse cholesterol transport. It is known that HDL is formed in the liver and is secreted as small pre-β-HDL that, on maturation and uptake of cholesterol, forms large α-HDL but it is not known what regulates the process of growth, uptake and maturation. It is believed that better understanding the reverse cholesterol transport system will lead to novel therapies for heart disease similar to the 1980’s statin revolution.

Peter would like to thank Dr. Schumaker and William Munroe for this opportunity and for their patience as he takes his first steps into the world of research.

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Profiles of Students