Dedicated Undergraduate Researchers Motivated to Succeed
You won’t find the “Fas pathway” on any hiking map, but thousands of researchers around the world are avidly studying the cellular receptor for clues that could have historic impact not only on disease but on science’s understanding of life and death.
One of those scientists is UAB senior Bliss Chang, with a double major in chemistry and biology and concentrations in biochemistry and molecular biology. In a nutshell, Fas is a chemical receptor on the surface of a cell that plays a role in a process known as “cell apoptosis,” a sort of pre-programmed death, as the body’s cells continuously die off to make room for new ones. If that Fas “switch” determines whether cells live or die, is it possible to turn it on and off in the lab? Could a new generation of oncology drugs kill off cancer cells internally by activating their apoptosis process?
“Research is a voyage into uncharted waters,” Chang says. ‘I’ve truly enjoyed the intellectual challenge posed by the various steps of a project. One of the key elements of a qualified researcher is the ability to troubleshoot a problem — and those problems don’t always come with a straightforward troubleshooting guide. They require thinking critically regarding an experiment, and analyzing in minute detail what might be causing a deviation from the desired result. The desire to succeed and obtain tangible results is what always motivates me forward.” Chang plans to enroll in a joint M.D./Ph.D. program and eventually to teach medicine at a leading medical research university.
Roxanne Lockhart knows first-hand how spinal cord injury can affect a family. So it’s no surprise that she’s gravitated toward molecular biology, a field that could hold the answer to therapies for brain and spinal cord traumas.
Lockhart was a senior in the Math and Science Department of the Alabama School of Fine Arts when she was assigned a senior research project. For her subject matter, she chose the work of UAB’s Candace Floyd, Ph.D.
“I was able to spend my senior year of high school working with Dr. Floyd, and I immediately loved conducting research,” says Lockhart. “And when she found out I was going to attend UAB, she said I could keep working in her lab.”
Now a senior biology major at UAB, Lockhart is studying the effect of a drug known as thiamet-G, that may have the effect of reducing the process of inflammation, a major factor in cells damaged by traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her studies are concentrated in molecular biology, with mentoring by Farah Lubin, Ph.D., in the Department of Neurobiology.
Her plans after graduation are to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. degree, and continue clinically relevant research in her field. She was recently honored by a Beckman Scholars award, an honor aimed at helping “exceptional students in the biological, chemical, and biomedical sciences learn how to conduct independent research in a nurturing environment.”
“When I graduate from UAB,” she says, “I plan to receive an M.D./Ph.D. degree and continue clinically relevant research.”