Biochemistry major shares experience in prestigious research project

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File Under: biochemistry, cooperative education, research

Mount senior biochemistry major Carrie Lunsford knew she needed research experience as an undergraduate student to position her for graduate school. The 2011 graduate of Badin High School heard about an opportunity to apply for a research internship through the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). More than 1,500 undergraduate students from around the United States apply for a research internship each year with the program, but only about 150 students are accepted. This year, Carrie was one of them. Her poster presentation, "Lipid-bound vs. Lipid-free Distribution of HDL Proteins in Human Plasma" earned "Honorable Mention."  Here is Carrie's story.

This summer I had the opportunity to be apart of the University of Cincinnati Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). SURF offers undergraduate students the opportunity to perform hands-on research in laboratories along side faculty mentors. The program also includes various social and academic programs to make for a truly enriching experience.

As a part of SURF, I worked in a research lab in the Department of Pathology at UC's Reading Campus. My mentor, Dr. W. Sean Davidson, and I spent the summer researching High Density Lipoproteins (HDL).

High density lipoproteins are small dense particles made up of clusters of lipids stabilized by proteins. Research has shown that high levels of HDL in plasma are known to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease in individuals. Sean's lab is interested in better understanding these protective effects of HDL.

Sean and I studied several of the proteins associated with HDL. Specifically, we wanted to understand what fraction of these proteins were lipid-bound or directly associated with the HDL versus what fraction were lipid-free or not directly associated with HDL.

This research stands to be important because the lipid-bound versus lipid-free distribution of these proteins may vary in diseased and normal individuals. Quantifying the fractions of the proteins in these two states could lead to the development of drugs with the potential to manipulate the state of the proteins to favor more or less association with lipid, and thus a healthy profile.

For 10 weeks, I performed hands-on research in the lab. I ran experiments on human plasma. Sean and I used ELISA (Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay) kits to quantify how much protein was in our samples. I also attended lab meetings and shared my findings with the other members of the Davidson Lab. The work I did was eye opening. I was able to experience what a career in academic research would be like.

Going into this fellowship, I was insanely nervous. This was my first experience with real world biochemistry, outside the classroom. Looking back on my SURF experience. I am so glad that I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and apply for SURF.  I gained valuable professional experience while at the same time learning a ton about working in a lab. I also got my first taste of presenting my research at the SURF capstone poster session. Most importantly, I developed a sense of confidence in myself as a researcher and as a biochemist.

Looking forward, I am excited about the future. I plan to graduate from the Mount in May of 2015. I am interested in attending graduate school, but am also open to starting an engaging career in biochemistry. Right now, I am focusing on deciding which path will be best for me.

I had an incredible SURF experience and would recommend this program or others like it to anyone majoring in a research related field. It is important to not only be a well-rounded student, but also to show professional experience.